The Eternal Lover

Part II

Chapter IX

The Fight

Edgar Rice Burroughs

AFTER NU, the son of Nu, had left his father and his father’s people to go in search of Nat-ul and Hud, the warrior chief had sat in silence for many minutes. Beside him sat Tha, father of Nat-ul, and round about squatted the other members of the tribe. All were silent in the face of the sorrow that had overtaken their chief and his principal lieutenant. Nu and Nat-ul were great favorites among their savage fellows. Not so, however, Hud, and the anger against him was bitter.

Presently Nu, the chief, spoke.

“We cannot go in search of a new home,” he said, “leaving two of our children behind.”

His listeners knew that he ignored Hud—that Hud, in bringing this sorrow upon the tribe, had forfeited his rights among them. They were satisfied that it should be so. A young warrior stood up. With his spear he drew a line upon the ground from east to west and lying just north of him.

“Nu, the son of Nu, passed through the ordeals with me—we became men and warriors upon the same day. Together we hunted our first lion.” He paused, and then, pointing to the line he had drawn upon the ground, continued: “Never shall I cross this line until I have found Nu, the son of Nu.”

As he ceased speaking he drew himself to his full height and with arms folded across his broad chest turned to face his chief.

From the tribe came grunts of approval. All eyes turned toward Nu. What would he do? The young warrior’s act was nothing short of rebellion. Suddenly Aht, brother of Nat-ul, sprang to his feet and stood beside the defiant warrior. He said nothing—his act proclaimed his intention.

Nu, the chief, looked at the two young men from beneath his shaggy brows. The watchers were almost certain that a half smile played grimly about his grim countenance. He, too, arose. He walked to where the two stood and ranged himself beside them.

Tha was the first to guess the significance of the act, and the instant that he did so he leaped to Nu’s side. Then the others understood, and a moment later the whole tribe was ranged with their backs to Dag’s line, facing toward the south. They were dancing and shouting now. The men waved their stone axes or threw their long spears high in air. The women beat their palms together, and the little children ran skipping about, getting in everyone’s way.

After a few minutes of this Nu started off toward the south, telling off a score of men to remain with the women and children who were to follow slowly back toward their former dwellings while the chief with the balance of the fighting men searched rapidly ahead for signs of Nu and Nat-ul.

First they came upon the dead body of Hud within the cave in the face of the Barren Cliffs. From there they discovered Nu’s spoor and faint traces of the older spoor of the girl, showing that Nu had not overtaken her at this point.

On they went along the beach toward their old caves, and everywhere the signs of one or the other of those they followed were distinguishable. It was dark when they reached the caves, and the following morning they had difficulty in again picking up the spoor because of the fact that the tide had obliterated it where it had touched the sandy beach at low tide. Now Nu separated his warriors into three parties. One, with which he remained, was to keep south along the beach, the second was to work into the jungle for a mile and then turn south, while the third was to search straight inland toward the west. In this way one of them must come upon those they sought, or some sign of them.

Tha was in command of the central party, and Aht was with him. Dag was with Nu, the chief. They beat rapidly along the beach, and spread out across it from the water to the jungle, that nothing might escape their observation.

Several times they followed false leads into the jungle, so that they lost much time, with the result that darkness came upon them without their having discovered the two they sought.

They camped upon the sand just outside the jungle, building a ring of fires about them to keep off the wild beasts. Then they lay down to sleep—all but two who kept watch and tended the fires.

Dag was one of the watchers. As the night grew darker he became aware of a glow in the south. He called his companion’s attention to it.

“There are men there,” he said. “That is the light from beast-fires. Listen!”

Savage yells rose faintly from the distance, and in the direction of the lights. Dag was on the point of arousing Nu when his keen eyes detected something moving warily between the jungle and the camp. Evidently it had but just crept out of the dense vegetation. Ordinarily Dag might have thought it a beast of prey; but with the discovery of the nearness of a camp of men, he was not so sure.

True, men seldom crept through the jungle after darkness had fallen; but there was something about the movements of this creature that suggested the crawling of a man on all fours.

Dag circled the camp, apparently oblivious of the presence of the intruder. He threw a stick upon a blaze here, and there he stamped out some smoking faggots that had fallen inside the ring. But all the while he watched the movements of the thing that crept through the outer darkness toward the camp.

He could see it more distinctly now, and was aware that from time to time it cast a backward glance over its shoulder.

“Had it a companion, or companions? Was something following it?” Dag scrutinized the black face of the jungle beyond the creeping thing.

“Ah! so that was it?”

A dark shadow had stepped from the somber wood upon the trail of the creature that was now half way across the open space between the jungle and the camp. Dag needed no second glance to attest the identity of the newcomer. The lithe body, the black mass that marked the bristling mane, the crouching pose, the two angry splotches of yellow-green fire—no doubt here. It was Zor, the lion, stalking his prey.

Dag whispered a word to his companion who came to his side. The two stood looking straight toward the nearer creature, with no attempt to disguise the fact that they had discovered it.

“It is a man,” whispered Dag’s companion.

And then, with a frightful roar, Zor charged, and the creature before it rose upon two feet full in the light of the nearer blaze. With a cry that aroused the whole camp Dag leaped beyond the flaming circle, his spear hand back thrown, the stone head, laboriously chipped to a sharp point, directed at the charging Zor.

The weapon passed scarce a hand’s breadth from the shoulder of Zor’s prey and buried itself in the breast of the beast. At the same instant Dag leaped past the fugitive, placing himself directly in the path of the lion with only an ax and knife of stone to combat the fury of the raging, wounded demon of destruction.

Over his shoulder he threw a word to the one he had leaped forth to succor.

“Run within the beast-fires, Nat-ul,” he cried; “Zor’s mate is coming to his aid.”

And sure enough, springing lightly across the sands came a fierce lioness, maned like her lord.

Now Dag’s fellow warrior had sprung to his side, and from the camp were running the balance of the savage spearmen. Zor, rearing upon his hind feet, was striking at Dag who leaped nimbly from side to side, dodging the terrific blows of the mighty, taloned paws, and striking the beast’s head repeatedly with his heavy ax. The other warrior met the charge of the infuriated lioness with his spear. Straight into the broad breast ran the sharp point, the while the man clung tenaciously to the haft, whipped hither and thither as the beast reared and wheeled and struck at him with her claws.

Now Nu, the chief, and his fellows arrived upon the scene. A score of spears bristled from the bodies of Zor and his mate. Axes fell upon their heads, and Nu, the mighty, leaped upon Zor’s back with only his stone knife. There he clung to the thick mane, driving the puny weapon time and again into back and side until at last the roaring, screaming beast rolled over upon its side to rise no more.

The lioness proved more tenacious of life than her lord, and though bristling with spears and cut to ribbons with the knives of her antagonists she charged into close quarters with a sudden rush that found one of the cave men a fraction of a second too slow. The strong claws raked him from neck to groin and as he fell the mighty jaws closed with a sickening crunch upon his skull.

At bay over her victim the lioness stood growling and threatening, while the wild warriors danced in a circle about her awaiting the chance to rush in and avenge their comrade.

Within the circle of fires Nat-ul replenished the blaze, keeping the whole scene brilliantly lighted for the warriors. That she had stumbled upon men of her own tribe so unexpectedly seemed little short of miraculous. She could scarce wait for the battle with the lions to be concluded, so urgent was the business that filled her thoughts.

But at last Zor’s savage mate lay dead, and as Nu, the chief, returned to the camp Nat-ul leaped forward to meet him.

“Quick!” she cried. “They are killing Nu, thy son,” and she pointed toward the south in the direction of the glare that was now plainly visible through the darkness.

Nu did not wait to ask questions then. He called his warriors about him.

“Nat-ul says that they slay Nu, the son of Nu, there,” he said, pointing toward the distant fire-glow. “Come!”

As Nat-ul led them along the beach and through the jungle she told Nu, the chief, all that had transpired since Hud had stolen her away. She told of her wanderings, and of the Boat Builders. Of how one had chased her, and of the terrible creature that had seized and carried her to its nest. She told of the strange creature that crawled into the shelter where she was confined, leaping upon the back of Tur. And of how she slipped out of the shelter as the two battled, and escaped into the jungle, wriggling her hands from their bonds as she ran. She shuddered as she told Nu of the gauntlet of savage beasts she had been forced to run between the beast-fires of the Boat Builders and the safety of the jungle trees.

“I rested for the balance of the night in a great tree close beside the village of the strangers,” she said. “Early the next morning I set out in search of food, intending to travel northward until I came to our old dwellings where I could live in comparative safety.

“But all the time I kept wondering what it might have been that leaped upon Tur’s back in the shelter the night before and the more I thought about it the more apparent it became that it might have been a man—that it must have been a man, for what animal could pass through the beast-fires unseen?

“And so, after filling my stomach, I crept back through the trees to the edge of the village, and there I watched. The sun then was straight above me—half the day was gone. I could not reach the caves before darkness if anything occurred to delay me, and as I might at any moment stumble upon some of the strangers or be treed by Ur, or Zor, or Oo, I decided to wait until early tomorrow morning before setting out for the caves. There was something within me that urged me to remain. What it was I do not know; but it was as though there were two Nat-uls, one wishing to hurry away from the land of the strangers as rapidly as possible and the other insisting that it was her duty to remain. At last I could deny my other self no longer—I must stay, and so I found a comfortable position in a great tree that grows close beside the clearing where the strangers’ village stands, and there I remained until long after darkness came.

“It was then that I saw the thing within the village that sent me here. Before, I had seen your fires, and wondered who it might be that came from the north. I knew that all the strangers had returned in the afternoon, so it could be none of them, and the first tribe to the north I knew was my own, so I hoped, without believing, that it might indeed be some of thy warriors, Nu.

“And then I saw that something was going to occur in the village below me. Warriors approached a hut from which they dragged a captive. By the legs they dragged him, through the village and about it, and as they did so the women and children tortured and spat upon the prisoner.

“At first I could not see the victim plainly, but at last as they raised him to his feet and bound him to a stake where they are going to roast him alive among slow fires I saw his face.

“Oh, Nu, can you not guess who it was that had followed me so far, had overcome such dangers and fought his way through the awful waters to rescue me?”

“Nu, the son of Nu,” said the old warrior, and his chest swelled with pride as he strode through the jungle in the rear of the village.

Angry beasts of prey menaced the rescuing party upon every hand. Twice were they attacked and compelled to battle with some fierce, primordial brute; but at last they won to the edge of the jungle behind the village they sought.

There the sight that met their eyes and ears was one of wild confusion. Men and women were running hither and thither uttering shouts of rage. Beyond them was a circle of flaming brush. In the center of this, Nat-ul told the rescuers, Nu, the son of Nu, was fast bound to a stake. Slowly he was roasting to death—possibly he was already dead.

Nu gathered his warriors about him. Two he commanded to remain always beside Nat-ul. Then, with the others at his heels, his long, white feather nodding bravely above his noble head, and the shaggy pelt of Ur, the cave bear, falling from his shoulders, Nu, the chief, slunk silently out of the jungle toward the village of the excited Boat Builders.

There were forty of them, mighty men, mightily muscled. In their strong hands they grasped their formidable spears and heavy axes. In their loin cloths rested their stone knives for the moment when they closed in hand-to-hand combat with foes. In their savage brains was but a single idea—to kill—to kill—to kill!

To the outer rim of fires they came and yet the excited populace within had not discovered them. Then a girl, remembering tardily her duties at the fires, turned to throw more brush upon the blaze and saw them—saw a score of handsome, savage faces just beyond the flames.

With a scream of terror and warning she turned and scurried amongst the villagers. For an instant the hub-bub was stilled, only to break out anew at the girl’s frightened cry of: “Warriors! Warriors!”

Then Nu and his men were among them. The warriors of the Boat Builders ran forward to meet the attackers. The women and children fled to the opposite side of the enclosure. Hoarse shouts and battle cries rang out as the Cliff Dwellers hurled themselves upon the Boat Builders. A shower of long slim spears volleyed from one side, to be answered by the short, stout harpoons of the villagers.

Then the warriors rushed to closer conflict with their axes. Never after the first assault was the outcome of the battle in question—the fiercer tribe of Nu—the hunters of beasts of prey—the warrior people—were the masters at every turn. Back, back they forced the wearers of “cow” skins, until the defenders had been driven across the enclosure upon their women and children.

And now the inner circle of fires was surrendered to the invaders, and as Nat-ul sprang between the warriors of her people to be first to the side of Nu and cut away his bonds, the last of the Boat Builders turned and fled into the outer darkness, along the beach to where their boats were drawn up beyond the tide.

Nu, the chief, leaped through the flames upon the heels of Nat-ul. In the terrible heat within the two came side by side before the stake. The girl gave a single glance at the bare and smoking pole and at the ground around it before she turned and threw herself into Nu’s arms.

Nu, the son of Nu, was not there, nor was his body within the enclosure.

The Eternal Lover - Contents    |     Part II - Chapter X - Gron’s Revenge

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