Tarzan and the Lost Empire

Chapter 9

Edgar Rice Burroughs

AS NIGHT FELL upon the city of Castra Sanguinarius, the gloom of the granite dungeons beneath the city’s Colosseum deepened into blackest darkness, which was relieved only by a rectangular patch of starlit sky where barred windows pierced the walls.

Squatting upon the rough stone floor, his back against the wall, Tarzan watched the stars moving in slow procession across the window’s opening. A creature of the wild, impatient of restraint, the ape-man suffered the mental anguish of the caged beast—perhaps, because of his human mind, his suffering was greater than would have been that of one of the lower orders, yet he endured with even greater outward stoicism than the beast that paces to and fro seeking escape from the bars that confine it.

As the feet of the beast might have measured the walls of its dungeon, so did the mind of Tarzan, and never for a waking moment was his mind not occupied by thoughts of escape.

Lukedi and the other inmates of the dungeon slept, but Tarzan still sat watching the free stars and envying them, when he became conscious of a sound, ever so slight, coming from the arena, the floor of which was about on a level with the sill of the little window in the top of the dungeon wall. Something was moving, stealthily and cautiously, upon the sand of the arena. Presently, framed in the window, silhouetted against the sky, appeared a familiar figure. Tarzan smiled and whispered a word so low that a human ear could scarce have heard it, and Nkima slipped between the bars and dropped to the floor of the dungeon. An instant later the little monkey snuggled close to Tarzan, its long, muscular arms clasped tightly about the neck of the ape-man.

“Come home with me,” pleaded Nkima. “Why do you stay in this cold, dark hole beneath the ground?”

“You have seen the cage in which we sometimes keep Jad-Bal-Ja, the Golden Lion?” demanded Tarzan.

“Yes,” said Nkima.

“Jad-Bal-Ja cannot get out unless we open the gate,” explained Tarzan. “I too am in a cage. I cannot get out until they open the gate.”

“I will go and get Muviro and his Gomangani with the sharp sticks,” said Nkima. “They will come and let you out.”

“No, Nkima,” said Tarzan. “If I cannot get out by myself, Muviro could not get here in time to free me, and if he came many of my brave Waziri would be killed, for there are fighting men here in far greater numbers than Muviro could bring.” After awhile Tarzan slept, and curled up within his arms slept Nkirna, the little monkey, but when Tarzan awoke in the morning Nkima was gone,

Toward the middle of the morning soldiers came and the door of the dungeon was unlocked and opened to admit several of them, including a young white officer, who was accompanied by a slave. The officer addressed Tarzan in the language of the city, but the ape-man shook his head, indicating that he did not understand; then the other turned to the slave with a few words and the latter spoke to Tarzan in the Bagego dialect, asking him if he understood it.

“Yes,” replied the ape-man, and through the interpreter the officer questioned Tarzan.

“Who are you and what were you, a white man, doing in the village of the Bagegos?” asked the officer.

“I am Tarzan of the Apes,” replied the prisoner. “I was looking for another white man who is lost somewhere in these mountains, but I slipped upon the cliffside and fell and while I was unconscious the Bagegos took me prisoner, and when your soldiers raided the Bagego village they found me there. Now that you know about me, I presume that I shall be released.”

“Why?” demanded the officer. “Are you a citizen of Rome?”

“Of course not,” said Tarzan. “What has that to do with it?”

“Because if you are not a citizen of Rome it is quite possible that you are an enemy. How do we know that you are not from Castrum Mare?”

Tarzan shrugged. “I do not know,” he said, “how you would know that since I do not even know what Castrum Mare means.”

“That is what you would say if you wished to deceive us,” said the officer, “and you would also pretend that you could not speak or understand our language, but you will find that it is not going to be easy to deceive us. We are not such fools as the people of Castrum Mare believe us to be.”

“Where is this Castrum Mare and what is it?” asked Tarzan.

The officer laughed. “You are very clever,” he said.

“I assure you,” said the ape-man, “that I am not trying to deceive you. Believe me for a moment and answer one question.”

“What is it you wish to ask?”

“Has another white man come into your country within the last few weeks? He is the one for whom I am searching.”

“No white man has entered this country,” replied the officer, “since Marcus Crispus Sanguinarius led the Third Cohort of the Tenth Legion in victorious conquest of the barbarians who inhabited it eighteen hundred and twenty-three years ago.”

“And if a stranger were in your country you would know it?” asked Tarzan.

“If he were in Castra Sanguinarius, Yes,” replied the officer, “but if he had entered Castrum Mare at the east end of the valley I should not know it; but come, I was not sent here to answer questions, but to fetch you before one who will ask them.”

At a word from the officer, the soldiers who accompanied him conducted Tarzan from the dungeon, along the corridor through which he had come the previous day and up into the city. The detachment proceeded for a mile through the city streets to an imposing building, before the entrance to which there was stationed a military guard whose elaborate cuirasses, helmets, and crests suggested that they might be a part of a select military organization.

The metal plates of their cuirasses appeared to Tarzan to be of gold, as did the metal of their helmets, while the hilts and scabbards of their swords were elaborately carved and further ornamented with colored stones ingeniously inlaid in the metal, and to their gorgeous appearance was added the final touch of scarlet cloaks.

The officer who met the party at the gate admitted Tarzan, the interpreter, and the officer who had brought him, but the guard of soldiery was replaced by a detachment of resplendent men-at-arms similar to those who guarded the entrance to the palace.

Tarzan was taken immediately into the building and along a wide. corridor, from which opened many chambers, to a large, oblong room flanked by stately columns. At the far end of the apartment a large man sat in a huge, carved chair upon a raised dais.

There were many other people in the room, nearly all of whom were colorfully garbed in bright cloaks over colored tunics and ornate cuirasses of leather or metal, while others wore only simple flowing togas, usually of white. Slaves, messengers, officers were constantly entering or leaving the chamber, The party accompanying Tarzan withdrew between the columns at one side of the room and waited there.

“What is this place?” asked Tarzan of the Bagego interpreter, “and who is the man at the far end of the room?”

“This is the throne-room of the Emperor of the West and that is Sublatus Imperator himself.”

For some time Tarzan watched the scene before him with interest. He saw people, evidently of all classes, approach the throne and address the Emperor, and though he could not understand their words, he judged that they were addressing pleas to their ruler. There were patricians among the suppliants, brown-skinned shopkeepers, barbarians resplendent in their savage finery, and even slaves.

The Emperor, Sublatus, presented an imposing figure. Over a tunic of white linen, the Emperor wore a cuirass of gold. His sandals were of white with gold buckles, and from his shoulders fell the purple robe of the Caesars. A fillet of embroidered linen about his brow was the only other insignia of his station.

Directly behind the throne were heavy hangings against which were ranged a file of soldiers bearing poles surmounted by silver eagles and various other devices, and banners, of the meaning and purpose of which Tarzan was ignorant. Upon every column along the side of the wall were hung shields of various shapes over crossed banners and standards similar to those ranged behind the Emperor. Everything pertaining to the embellishment of the room was martial, the mural decorations being crudely painted scenes of war.

Presently a man, who appeared to be an official of the court, approached them and addressed the officer who had brought Tarzan from the Colosseum.

“Are you Maximus Praeclarus?” he demanded.

“Yes,” replied the officer.

“Present yourself with the prisoner.”

As Tarzan advanced toward the throne surrounded by the detachment of the guard, all eyes were turned upon him, for he was a conspicuous figure even in this assemblage of gorgeously appareled courtiers and soldier, though his only garments were a loincloth and a leopard skin. His sun-tanned skin, his shock of black hair, and his gray eyes might not alone have marked him especially in such in assemblage, for there were other dark-skinned, black-haired, gray-eyed men among them, but there was only one who towered inches above them all and he was Tarzan. The undulating smoothness of his easy stride suggested even to the mind of the proud and haughty Sublatus the fierce and savage power of the king of beasts, which perhaps accounted for the fact that the Emperor, with raised hand, halted the party a little further from the throne than usual.

As the party halted before the throne, Tarzan did not wait to be questioned, but, turning to the Bagego interpreter, said: “Ask Sublatus why I have been made a prisoner and tell him that I demand that he free me at once.”

The man quailed. “Do as I tell you,” said Tarzan.

“What is he saying?” asked Sublatus of the interpreter.

“I fear to repeat such words to the Emperor,” replied the man.

“I command it,” said Sublatus.

“He asked why he has been made a prisoner and demands that he be released at once.”

“Ask him who he is,” said Sublatus, angrily, “that he dares issue commands to Sublatus Imperator.”

“Tell him,” said Tarzan, after the Emperor’s words had been translated to him, “that I am Tarzan of the Apes, but if that means as little to him as his name means to me, I have other means to convince him that I am as accustomed to issuing orders and being obeyed as is he.”

“Take the insolent dog away,” replied Sublatus with trembling voice after he had been told what Tarzan’s words had been.

The soldiers laid hold of Tarzan, but he shook them off.

“Tell him,” snapped the ape-man, “that as one white man to another I demand an answer to my question. Tell him that I did not approach his country as an enemy, but as a friend, and that I shall look to him to see that I am accorded the treatment to which I am entitled, and that before I leave this room.”

When these words were translated to Sublatus, the purple of his enraged face matched the imperial purple of his cloak.

“Take him away,’ he shrieked. “Take him away. Call the guard. Throw Maximus Praeclarus into chains for permitting a prisoner to thus address Sublatus.”

Two soldiers seized Tarzan, one his right arm, the other his left, but he swung them suddenly together before him and with such force did their heads meet that they relaxed their grasps upon him and sank unconscious to the floor, and then it was that the ape-man leaped with the agility of a cat to the dais where sat the Emperor, Sublatus.

So quickly had the act been accomplished and so unexpected was it that there was none prepared to come between Tarzan and the Emperor in time to prevent the terrible indignity that Tarzan proceeded to inflict upon him.

Seizing the Emperor by the shoulder, he lifted him from his throne and wheeled him about and then grasping him by the scruff of the neck and the bottom of his cuirass, he lifted him from the floor just as several pikemen leaped forward to rescue Sublatus. But when they were about to menace Tarzan with their pikes, he used the body of the screaming Sublatus as a shield so that the soldiers dared not to attack for fear of killing their Emperor.

“Tell them,” said Tarzan to the Bagego interpreter, “that if any man interferes with me before I have reached the street, I shall wring the Emperor’s neck. Tell him to order them back. If he does, I shall set him free when he is out of the building. If he refuses, it will be at his own risk.”

When this message was given to Sublatus, he stopped screaming orders to his people to attack the ape-man and instead warned them to permit Tarzan to leave the palace. Carrying the Emperor above his head, Tarzan leaped from the dais and as he did so the courtiers fell back in accordance with the commands of Sublatus, who now ordered them to turn their backs that they might not witness the indignity that was being done their ruler.

Down the long throne-room and through the corridors to the outer court Tarzan of the Apes carried Sublatus Imperator above his head and at the command of the ape-man the black interpreter went ahead, but there was no need for him, since Sublatus kept the road clear as he issued commands in a voice that trembled with a combination of rage, fear, and mortification.

At the outer gate the members of the guard begged to be permitted to rescue Sublatus and avenge the insult that had been put upon him, but the Emperor warned them to permit his captor to leave the palace in safety, provided he kept his word and liberated Sublatus when they had reached the avenue beyond the gate.

The scarlet-cloaked guard fell back grumbling, their eyes filled with anger because of the humiliation of their Emperor. Even though they had no love for him, yet he was the personification of the power and dignity of their government, and the scene that they witnessed filled them with mortification as the half-naked barbarian bore their commander-in-chief through the palace gates out into the tree-bordered avenue beyond, while the interpreter marched ahead, scarce knowing whether to be more downcast by terror or elated through pride in this unwonted publicity.

The city of Castra Sanguinarius had been carved from the primeval forest that clothed the west end of the canyon, and with unusual vision the founders of the city had cleared only such spaces as were necessary for avenues, buildings, and similar purposes. Ancient trees overhung the avenue before the palace and in many places their foliage overspread the low housetops, mingling with the foliage of the trees in inner courtyards.

Midway of the broad avenue the ape-man halted and lowered Sublatus to the ground. He turned his eyes in the direction of the gateway through which the soldiers of Sublatus were crowding out into the avenue.

“Tell them,” said Tarzan to the interpreter, “to go back into the palace grounds; then and then only shall I release their Emperor,” for Tarzan had noted the ready javelins in the hands of many of the guardsmen and guessed that the moment his body ceased to be protected by the near presence of Sublatus it would be the target and the goal of a score of the weapons.

When the interpreter deliver the ape-man’s ultimatum to them, the guardsmen hesitated, but Sublatus commanded them to obey, for the barbarian’s heavy grip upon his shoulder convinced him that there was no hope that he might escape alive or uninjured unless he and his soldiers acceded to the creature’s demand. As the last of the guardsmen passed back into the palace courtyard Tarzan released the Emperor and as Sublatus hastened quickly toward the gate, the guardsmen made a sudden sally into the avenue.

They saw their quarry turn and take a few quick steps, leap high into the air and disappear amidst the foliage of an overhanging oak. A dozen javelins hurtled among the branches of the tree. The soldiers rushed forward, their eyes strained upward, but the quarry had vanished.

Sublatus was close upon their heels. “Quick!” he cried. “After him! A thousand denarii to the man who brings down the barbarian.”

“There he goes!” cried one, pointing.

“No,” cried another. “I saw him there among the foliage. I saw the branches move,” and he pointed in the opposite direction.

And in the meantime the ape-man moved swiftly through the trees along one side of the avenue, dropped to a low roof, crossed it and sprang into a tree that rose from an inner court, pausing there to listen for signs of pursuit. After the manner of a wild beast hunted through his native jungle, he moved as silently as the shadow of a shadow, so that now, although he crouched scarce twenty feet above them, the two people in the courtyard below him were unaware of his presence.

But Tarzan was not unaware of theirs and as he listened to the noise of the growing pursuit, that was spreading now in all directions through the city, he took note of the girl and the man in the garden beneath him. It was apparent that the man was wooing the maid, and Tarzan needed no knowledge of their spoken language to interpret the gestures, the glances, and the facial expressions of passionate pleading upon the part of the man or the cold aloofness of the girl.

Sometimes a tilt of her head presented a partial view of her profile to the ape-man and he guessed that she was very beautiful, but the face of the young man with her reminded him of the face of Pamba the rat.

It was evident that his courtship was not progressing to the liking of the youth and now there were evidences of anger in his tone. The girl rose haughtily and with a cold word turned away, and then the man leaped to his feet from the bench upon which they had been sitting and seized her roughly by the arm. She turned surprised and angry eyes upon him and had half voiced a cry for help when the rat-faced man clapped a hand across her mouth and with his free arm dragged her into his embrace.

Now all this was none of Tarzan’s affair. The shes of the city of Castra Sanguinarius meant no more to the savage ape-man than did the shes of the village of Nyuto, chief of the Bagegos. They meant no more to him than did Sabor the lioness and far less than did the shes of the tribe of Akut or of Toyat the king apes—but Tarzan of the Apes was often a creature of impulses; now he realized that he did not like the rat-faced young man, and that he never could like him, while the girl that he was maltreating seemed to be doubly likable because of her evident aversion to her tormentor.

The man had bent the girl’s frail body back upon the bench. His lips were close to hers when there was a sudden jarring of the ground beside him and he turned astonished eyes upon the figure of a half-naked giant. Steel-gray eyes looked into his beady black ones, a heavy hand fell upon the collar of his tunic, and he felt himself lifted from the body of the girl and then hurled roughly aside.

He saw his assailant lift his victim to her feet and his little eyes saw, too, another thing: the stranger was unarmed! Then it was that the sword of Fastus leaped from its scabbard and that Tarzan of the Apes found himself facing naked steel. The girl saw what Fastus would do. She saw that the stranger who protected her was unarmed and she leaped between them, at the same time calling loudly, “Axuch! Sarus! Mpingu! Hither! Quickly!”

Tarzan seized the girl and swung her quickly behind him, and simultaneously Fastus was upon him. But the Roman had reckoned without his host and the easy conquest over an unarmed man that he had expected seemed suddenly less easy of accomplishment, for when his keen Spanish sword swung down to cleave the body of his foe, that foe was not there.

Never in his life had Fastus witnessed such agility. It was as though the eyes and body of the barbarian moved more rapidly than the sword of Fastus, and always a fraction of an inch ahead.

Three times Fastus swung viciously at the stranger, and three times his blade cut empty air, while the girl, wide-eyed with astonishment, watched the seemingly unequal duel. Her heart filled with admiration for this strange young giant, who, though he was evidently a barbarian, looked more the patrician than Fastus himself. Three times the blade of Fastus cut harmlessly through empty air—and then there was a lightning-like movement on the part of his antagonist. A brown hand shot beneath the guard of the Roman, steel fingers gripped his wrist, and an instant later his sword clattered to the tile walk of the courtyard. At the same moment two white men and a Negro hurried breathlessly into the garden and ran quickly forward—two with daggers in their hands and one, the black, with a sword.

They saw Tarzan standing between Fastus and the girl. They saw the man in the grip of a stranger. They saw the sword clatter to the ground, and naturally they reached the one conclusion that seemed possible—Fastus was being worsted in an attempt to protect the girl against a stranger.

Tarzan saw them coming toward him and realized that three to one are heavy odds. He was upon the point of using Fastus as a shield against his new enemies when the girl stepped before the three and motioned them to stop. Again the tantalizing tongue that he could almost understand and yet not quite, as the girl explained the circumstances to the newcomers while Tarzan still stood holding Fastus by the wrist.

Presently the girl turned to Tarzan and addressed him, but he only shook his head to indicate that he could not understand her; then, as his eyes fell upon the Negro, a possible means of communicating with these people occurred to him, for the Negro resembled closely the Bagegos of the outer world.

“Are you a Bagego?” asked Tarzan in the language of that tribe.

The man looked surprised. “Yes,” he said, “I am, but who are you?”

“And you speak the language of these people?” asked Tarzan, indicating the young woman and Fastus and ignoring the man’s query.

“Of course,” said the Negro. “I have been a prisoner among them or many years, but there are many Bagegos among my fellow prisoners and we have not forgotten the language of our mothers.”

“Good,” said Tarzan. “Through you this young woman may speak to me.”

“She wants to know who you are, and where you came from, and what you were doing in her garden, and how you got here, and how you happened to protect her from Fastus, and-” Tarzan held up his hand. “One at a time,” he cried. “Tell her I am Tarzan of the Apes, a stranger from a far country, and I came here in friendship seeking one of my own people who is lost.”

Now came an interruption in the form of loud pounding and hallooing beyond the outer doorway of the building.

“See what that may be, Axuch,” directed the girl, and as the one so addressed, and evidently a slave, humbly turned to do her bidding, she once more addressed Tarzan through the interpreter.

“You have won the gratitude of Dilecta,” she said, “and you shall be rewarded by her father.”

At this moment Axuch returned followed by a young officer. As the eyes of the newcomer fell upon Tarzan they went wide and he started back, his hand going to the hilt of his sword, and simultaneously Tarzan recognized him as Maximus Praeclarus, the young patrician officer who had conducted him from the Colosseum to the palace.

“Lay off your sword, Maximus Praeclarus,” said the young girl, “for this man is no enemy.”

“And you are sure of that, Dilecta?” demanded Praeclarus. “What do you know of him?”

“I know that he came in time to save me from this swine who would have harmed me,” said the girl haughtily, casting a withering glance at Fastus.

“I do not understand,” said Praeclarus. “This is a barbarian prisoner of war who calls himself Tarzan and whom I took this morning from the Colosseum to the palace at the command of the Emperor, that Sublatus might look upon the strange creature, whom some thought to be a spy from Castrum Mare.”

“If he is a prisoner, what is he doing here, then?” demanded the girl. “And why are you here?”

“This fellow attacked the Emperor himself and then escaped from the palace. The entire city is being searched and I, being in charge of a detachment of soldiers assigned to this district, came immediately hither, fearing the very thing that has happened and that this wild man might find you and do you harm.”

“It was the patrician, Fastus, son of Imperial Caesar, who would have harmed me,” said the girl. “It was the wild man who saved me from him.”

Maximus Praeclarus looked quickly at Fastus, the son of Sublatus, and then at Tarzan. The young officer appeared to be resting upon the horns of a dilemma.

“There is your man,” said Fastus, with a sneer. “Back to the dungeons with him.”

“Maximus Praeclarus does not take orders from Fastus,” said the young man, “and he knows his duty without consulting him.”

“You will arrest this man who has protected me, Praeclarus?” demanded Dilecta.

“What else may I do?” asked Praeclarus. “It is my duty.”

“Then do it,” sneered Fastus.

Praeclarus went white. “It is with difficulty that I can keep my hands off you, Fastus,” he said. “It you were the son of Jupiter himself, it would not take much more to get yourself choked. If you know what is well for you, you will go before I lose control of my temper.”

“Mpingu,” said Dilecta, “show Fastus to the avenue.”

Fastus flushed. “My father, the Emperor, shall hear of this,” he snarled; “and do not forget, Dilecta, your father stands none too well in the estimation of Sublatus Imperator.”

“Get gone,” cried Dilecta, “before I order my slave to throw you into the avenue.”

With a sneer and a swagger Fastus quit the garden, and when he had gone Dilecta turned to Maximus Praeclarus.

“What shall we do?” she cried. “I must protect this noble stranger who saved me from Fastus, and at the same time you must do your duty and return him to Sublatus.”

“I have a plan,” said Maximus Praeclarus, “but I cannot carry it out unless I can talk with the stranger.”

“Mpingu can understand and interpret for him,” said the girl.

“Can you trust Mpingu implicitly?” asked Praeclarus.

“Absolutely,” said Dilecta.

“Then send away the others,” said Praeclarus, indicating Axuch and Sarus; and when Mpingu returned from escorting Fastus to the street he found Maximus Praeclarus, Dilecta, and Tarzan alone in the garden.

Praeclarus motioned Mpingu to advance. “Tell the stranger that I have been sent to arrest him,” he said to Mpingu, “but tell him also that because of the service he has rendered Dilecta I wish to protect him, if he will follow my instructions.”

“What are they?” asked Tarzan when the question had been put to him. “What do you wish me to do?”

“I wish you to come with me,” said Praeclarus; “to come with me as though you are my prisoner. I shall take you in the direction of the Colosseum and when I am opposite my own home I shall give you a signal so that you will understand that the house is mine. Immediately afterward I will make it possible for you to escape into the trees as you did when you quit the palace with Sublatus. Go, then, immediately to my house and remain there until I return. Dilecta will send Mpingu there now to warn my servants that you are coming. At my command they will protect you with their lives. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” replied the ape-man, when the plan had been explained to him by Mpingu.

“Later,” said Praeclarus, “we may he able to find a way to get you out of Castra Sanguinarius and across the mountains.”

Tarzan and the Lost Empire - Contents    |     Chapter 10

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