Tarzan and the Forbidden City

Chapter 17

Edgar Rice Burroughs

ATAN THOME and Lal Taask were taking their ease on the terrace of Atka’s palace, overlooking the lake. They were treated like guests, but they knew that they were prisoners. Lal Taask would have given his soul to be well out of the country; but Atan Thome still harbored dreams of The Father of Diamonds, which he pictured as a stone as large as a football. He often amused himself by trying to compute its value; then he translated it into pounds sterling and bought yachts and castles and great country estates. He gave the most marvelous dinners that Paris had ever known, and was fawned upon by the world’s most beautiful women, whom he covered with furs and jewels. But the walls of Ashair still rose about him and, towering above those, the walls of Tuen-Baka.

As they sat there, the noble Akamen joined them. “Your enemies have probably been captured by this time,” he said.

“What will happen to them?” asked Lal Taask. He was thinking of what might be going to happen to him sooner or later.

“They shall know the wrath of Brulor,” replied Akamen.

“Who is Brulor?” asked Thome.

“Brulor is our god, The Father of Diamonds,” explained the Asharian. “His temple lies at the bottom of Lake Horus, guarded by the priests of Brulor and the waters of sacred Horus.”

“But I thought that The Father of Diamonds was a diamond,” exclaimed Atan Thome, terrified by the suggestion that it was a man.

“What do you know of The Father of Diamonds?” demanded Akamen.

“Nothing,” said Thome, hastily. “I have just heard the term.”

“Well,” said Akamen, “it’s something we are not supposed to discuss with barbarians; but I don’t mind telling you that The Father of Diamonds is the name given both to Brulor and The Father of Diamonds that reposes in the casket on the altar before his throne in the temple.”

Atan Thome breathed a sigh of relief. So there was a Father of Diamonds after all. Suddenly there came faintly to their ears a weird scream from far down the lake toward the tunnel that leads to the outside world and carries the waters of Horus down to the sea thousands of miles away.

“I wonder what that was,” said Akamen. “It sounded almost human.”

“Are there any apes around here?” asked Thome.

“No,” replied Akamen; “why?”

“That sounded a little like an ape,” said Atan Thome.

“It will be very dark inside there,” said Tarzan, as the galley in which he and his fellow prisoners were being taken to Ashair approached the mouth of the tunnel leading to Lake Horus. He spoke in English. “Each of you pick a couple of men; and when I say ‘Kreegah,’ throw them overboard. If we act very quickly, taking them off their guard, we can do it; and as soon as you have two overboard, go after more. I can’t tell either Thetan or Ogabi now, as the Asharians understand Swahili; but as soon as I give you the signal, I shall tell them.”

“And then what?” asked Lavac.

“Why, we’ll take the boat, of course,” said Gregory.

“We’re likely to be killed,” said Lavac, “but that’s all right with me.”

As the galley neared the tunnel, a warrior in the bow lighted a torch, for within the tunnel there would not be even the sky to guide the helmsman. Tarzan regretted the torch, but he did not give up his plan. Perhaps it might be more difficult now, but he felt that it still had an excellent chance to succeed.

Suddenly the ape-man sprang to his feet, and as he hurled a warrior into the water his “Kre-e-gah!” rang through the tunnel.

“Overboard with them!” he shouted, and Thetan and Ogabi grasped the intent of his plan instantly.

Chaos and confusion reigned aboard the galley, as the five desperate and determined men fell upon the Asharian warriors, throwing or pushing them overboard. The astonished Asharians were so taken by surprise that they at first fell easy victims to the plan, but later those who had escaped the first sudden rush of the prisoners, rallied and put up a defense that threatened the success of the ape-man’s bold plan.

Magra, seated amidships, was in the center of the melee. Crouched between two galley slaves, she watched the savage scene with fascinated, fearless eyes. The flaring torch in the bow of the galley painted the scene in dancing highlights and deep shadows against a background of Stygian gloom, a moving picture of embattled souls upon the brink of Hell; and through it moved, with the strength, the agility, and the majesty of a great lion, the godlike figure of the Lord of the Jungle. She saw, too, the threat of defeat that she was helpless to avert; and then she heard Thetan shout, “Help us, slaves, and win your freedom!”

Almost as one man the slaves rose in their chains and lashed out at their former masters with oars or fists. Screaming, cursing men were hurled into the black waters. A warrior lunged at Tarzan’s back with his sword; but Magra caught his ankle and tripped him, and he fell between two slaves, who pitched him overboard.

As the yells and screams echoed through the tunnel, Helen pressed closer to d’Arnot. “They are fighting back there,” she said.

“Yes,” replied the Frenchman. “The first scream was Tarzan’s warning ‘kreegah’ so you may rest assured that they are fighting.”

“At least we know that they were not all drowned,” said the girl. “Perhaps Dad is still alive, but what chance have they against all those warriors?”

“There is always a chance for the side upon which Tarzan fights,” replied d’Arnot. “I’d feel much better on your account if you were back there in the galley that he’s in.”

“If you were there, too,” she said; “otherwise I’d rather be here.”

He pressed her closer to him. “What an ironical fate that we could only have met and loved under circumstances such as these. For me, it is worth the price, no matter what that price may be. But for you—well, I wish you had never come to Africa.”

“Is that the gallant Frenchman?” she teased.

“You know what I mean.”

“Yes; but you are still glad that I came to Africa, and so am I—no matter what happens.”

Back in the rearmost galley, the last of their adversaries disposed of, the little company took stock of their losses. “Where is Ogabi?” asked Tarzan.

“An Asharian dragged him overboard,” said Magra, “poor fellow.”

“He was well avenged,” said Lavac.

“Only Helen and d’Arnot are missing now,” said Gregory. “If they weren’t drowned, they must be in one of the galleys ahead of us. Is there no way in which we might rescue them?”

“There are five galleys ahead of us,” said Thetan. “We are only four men. We would stand no chance against five galleys of Asharian warriors. The only possible hope that we may entertain of saving them is in enlisting my King’s aid, but I have already told you that the Thobotians have never been able to enter Ashair. About the best we may hope to do is to save ourselves, and that may not be so easy if any of the galleys ahead of us are lying in wait for us. We’ll have to put out our torch and take a chance in the darkness.”

When the galley finally reached the end of the tunnel and the lake spread before them, a seemingly vast expanse of water beneath the dim light of the stars, they saw the glimmering torches of five galleys far to their left and just beyond them the lights of Ashair. No galley had lain in wait for them, and the way to Thobos lay open to them.

It was shortly after dawn that they approached the quay at Thobos. A company of warriors stood ready to receive them, and even though Thetan stood in full view of them in the bow of the galley, their attitude was no less belligerent.

“They don’t seem very friendly,” remarked Magra. “Perhaps we are jumping from the frying pan into the fire.”

“Who comes?” demanded one of the warriors.

“Thetan, nephew of King Herat,” replied Thetan.

“We recognize Thetan, but the others are strangers,” said the warrior.

“They are friends,” explained Thetan.

“They are strangers, and strangers may only enter Thobos as prisoners,” insisted the warrior. “If they would land without battle, let them throw down their arms.”

Under these conditions, the party was allowed to land; but they were immediately surrounded by scowling warriors. “You know, Thetan,” said the leader, “that it is against the law to bring strangers to Thobos; and therefore, even though you be nephew to him, I must arrest you with the others and take you all before King Herat.”

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