Tarzan and the Forbidden City

Chapter 28

Edgar Rice Burroughs

AFTER they had rested, Herkuf, Helen, and Tarzan went to look for the boat that Herkuf had hidden, in which they were to return to the temple of Brulor in an attempt to rescue d’Arnot, Brian, and Lavac. The inlet in which he had sunk it was not a great distance from the cave they had chosen; and as almost the entire distance was through wooded country, they had no fear of being detected by the occupants of any of the Asharian galleys which occasionally passed within eyesight of the shore, as they patrolled the lower end of Horus in eternal quest of their hereditary enemies from Thobos.

When they reached the inlet, Herkuf parted the overhanging bushes and looked down into the shallow water. “This is the place,” he muttered to himself. “I know it is the place. I cannot be mistaken.”

“What’s wrong?” asked Tarzan. “Can’t you find it?”

“This is the place,” repeated Herkuf, “but the boat is not here. Though I hid it carefully, some one found it. Now all our plans are wrecked. What are we to do?”

“Can’t we walk around the end of the lake and enter the water near the temple from the Asharian shore?” asked Helen.

“The escarpment at the lower end of the lake is unscalable,” replied Herkuf. “If we went by way of Thobos, we should most certainly be captured; and although I was once a priest of Chon at Thobos, no one would know me now; and we should all be imprisoned.”

“Maybe we could build a raft,” suggested the girl.

Herkuf shook his head. “We have no tools,” he said; “and even if we had, we’d never dare attempt it, as the Asharians would be sure to discover us.”

“Must we give up, then?” demanded Helen. “Oh, we can’t do that and leave Paul and Brian and Lavac to die.”

“There is a way,” said Tarzan.

“What is it?” demanded Herkuf.

“When it is dark, I’ll swim to Ashair and steal a boat from the quay there.”

“That is impossible,” said Herkuf. “You saw with what we had to contend when we crossed last night. You wouldn’t get half way across, swimming at the surface. We’d better walk back.”

“It was only by the best of luck that we got across last night,” Tarzan reminded him. “We might not be so lucky another time; and, if we did succeed, we should still be without a boat to return to Thobos or escape through the tunnel. You know that the success of our whole plan rested upon our having a boat. I shall swim the lake tonight.”

“Don’t do it, Tarzan; please don’t,” begged Helen. “You would just be throwing your life away uselessly.”

“I do not intend to throw my life away at all,” he replied. “I have my knife.”

They returned to the cave to await darkness; and, finding it impossible to dissuade Tarzan from his plan, Herkuf and Helen finally gave up in despair; and, when darkness fell, they stood at the shore line and watched him wade into the dark waters of Horus. With straining eyes they watched his progress until he disappeared from their view in the darkness, and even then they remained where they were, staring out into the black void across the blacker waters.

Tarzan had completed about half the distance to the Asharian shore without encountering any dangers, when he saw a torch flare suddenly in the bow of a galley only a short distance from him. He watched it; and when it altered its course and came toward him, he realized that he had been discovered. To be taken now by an Asharian galley would doubtless mean death not only for him but for the men he was risking his life to save, and so he grasped at the only chance he had to elude them. Diving, he swam away, trying to escape the circle of their torch’s light; and, glancing back, he felt that he might succeed, for the light appeared to be receding; but as he rose toward the surface for air before diving again, he saw a shadowy form approaching him; and knew that at last the thing that Helen and Herkuf had so feared had happened. He recalled his words of assurance to them, “I have my knife,” and half smiled as he drew it.

On Ashair’s distant wall, a sentry saw the flare of the torch out upon the lake and summoned an officer. “A galley from Thobos,” he said, “for there are no Asharian galleys out tonight.”

The officer nodded. “I wonder why they risked a light,” he said. “They always sneak by in the night without torches. Well, it is our good luck, and because of it we shall have a prize tonight and some more victims for Atka and Brulor.”

As the great shark turned on its back to seize Tarzan, he plunged his knife into its belly and ripped it open for a distance of several feet. Mortally hurt, the great fish thrashed about in its agony, dyeing the water crimson with its blood and creating a great commotion upon the surface of the lake, a commotion that attracted the attention of those in the galley.

The ape-man, avoiding the lashing tail and angry jaws of the shark, now saw other great forms converging upon them, silent, sinister tigers of the deep attracted at first, like their fellow, by the light of the torch in the bow of the galley; but now by the blood of the wounded shark. Terrible creatures, they were coming for the kill.

His lungs bursting, Tarzan swam toward the surface for air, confident that the wounded shark would occupy the attention of the others. He knew, from the radiance of the water, that he would come up close to the galley; but he had to choose between that and death from drowning; there was no other alternative.

As he broke the surface of the water, he was close beside the galley; and warriors seized him and drew him over the gunwale. Here now was an end to all the fine plans he and Herkuf had concocted, for to fall into the hands of the Asharians must be equivalent to the signing of his death warrant; but as he looked at his captors he saw the black plumes of Thobos and heard a familiar voice call him by name. It was Thetan’s.

“We were sneaking past Ashair without lights,” he said, “on our way down river to capture a few slaves; but what in the world were you doing out here in the middle of Horus?”

“I was swimming to Ashair to steal a boat,” replied the ape-man.

“Are you crazy?” demanded Thetan. “No man could hope to live in these waters. Why, they are alive with flesh eaters.”

“So I discovered, but I think I should have gotten through. I must have been half way across. It was not my life that was at stake, Thetan, but those of my friends who are prisoners in Ashair. I must reach Ashair and get a boat.”

Thetan thought for a moment; then he said, “I’ll take you. I can land you on the shore below the city, but I advise you to give up all thought of it. You cannot enter Ashair without being discovered, and that will be the end of you.”

“I don’t want to go ashore,” replied Tarzan. “I have two companions across the lake from the city. If you will take the three of us to a point above the temple of Brulor, I won’t have to go ashore and steal a boat.”

“What good will that do you?” demanded Thetan.

“We have water suits and helmets. We are going into the temple to get our friends, and I’ve got to take Brulor and The Father of Diamonds to Herat to get him to release Magra and Gregory.”

“They’ve already escaped,” said Thetan, “and Herat is furious.” He did not say that he had helped them, as other Thobotian warriors were listening.

“That really doesn’t make much difference,” said Tarzan. “We can’t escape from Tuen-Baka without Herat’s aid. We’ll need a galley and provisions. If I bring Brulor and The Father of Diamonds to him, he’ll give us what we need, I’m sure.”

“Yes,” agreed Thetan, “but you won’t ever bring Brulor and The Father of Diamonds to Herat. What chance have you, practically unaided, to do what we have been trying to do for years?”

Tarzan shrugged. “I still must try,” he said. “Will you help me?”

“If I can’t dissuade you, I’ll help you. Where are your friends?”

Tarzan pointed in the general direction of the cave where he had left Helen and Herkuf, the torch was extinguished, and the galley’s nose turned toward the shore.

From the quay at Ashair, six galleys put out without lights into the darkness of the night to search for the quarry, which they could no longer see since the torch had been extinguished; and as they rowed from shore, they fanned out, some up river, some down, to cover the most territory in their search.

The shore line ahead of the galley bearing Tarzan was a long, black silhouette against the night sky. No landmarks were visible; and the shore was a straight, black line without breaks or indentations. Only the merest chance might bring them to the spot where Helen and Herkuf waited. When they were quite close to shore, Tarzan called Herkuf’s name in a low voice; and immediately there came an answering hail from their right. A few minutes later the keel of the galley touched gravel a few yards from shore, and Tarzan leaped out and waded to where Helen and Herkuf stood. They were amazed that he had returned so soon, amazed that he had returned at all, for they had seen the torchlit galley and believed that he had been captured by Asharians.

Briefly he explained what had occurred; and, telling Herkuf to follow with the water suits and helmets and weapons, he tossed Helen to a shoulder and waded back to the galley, which turned its nose toward Ashair as soon as Herkuf was aboard. Tarzan, Helen, and Herkuf immediately donned their water suits, leaving their helmets off, temporarily, so that they could talk.

Silently, the galley glided out into the lake, the oars dipping without noise as they were plied by thirty well trained slaves, who had learned by long experience the necessity for stealth in passing through the lower waters of Horus where Asharian galleys might be lying in wait for them—Asharian galleys and Asharian warriors who might send them to the bottom chained to their thwarts.

About mid-lake a torch suddenly burst into flame to the right of them; then another to the left, and in quick succession four more between them, forming a semi-circle toward the center of which they were moving. With the lighting of the torches, a loud Asharian war cry broke the deathly stillness of the night; and the Asharian galleys moved to encircle that of Thetan.

Nothing but immediate flight might save the Thobotians; and as the prow of the galley turned quickly toward the lower end of the lake in an effort to elude the jaws of the closing circle of enemy galleys, Tarzan called to Helen and Herkuf to don their helmets as he adjusted his own; then, seizing Helen’s hand and signalling Herkuf to follow, he leaped overboard with the girl, while Thetan urged his slaves to greater speed.

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