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ERB’S RABBIT HOLE:
TARZAN AND THE ANT MEN
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Well, here we are inside the Royal Dome, shrunk to one quarter our normal size, after just discovering that the power of the reduction apparatus may diminish at any time, causing instant death if occurring inside the dome structure. In other words, there is a time clock running in the background but we cannot see it. So, good luck Tarzan.
Chapter Fifteen: The Dungeon
Through several chambers and corridors they were conducted toward the center of the dome on the same level as the chamber in which they had left the king and the walmak until finally they were thrust into a small chamber and a heavy door slammed and barred behind them.
There was no candle in the chamber. A faint light, however, relieved the darkness so that the interior of the room was discernable. The chamber contained two benches and a table – that was all. The light which faintly illuminated it entered through a narrow embrasure which was heavily barred, but it was evidently daylight.
“We are alone,” whispered Komodoflorensal, “and at last we can converse; but we must be cautious,” he added. “Trust not too far the loyalty of even the stones of your chamber!” he quoted.
“Where are we?” asked Tarzan. “You are more familiar with Minunian dwellings than I.”
“We are upon the highest level of the Royal Dome of Elkomoelhago,” replied the prince. “With no such informality does a king visit the other domes of his city. You may rest assured that this is Elkomoelhago’s. We are in one of the innermost chambers, next to the central shaft that pierces the dome from its lowest level to its roof. For this reason we do not need a candle to support life – we will obtain sufficient air through this embrasure. And now, tell me what happened within the room with Elkomoelhago and Zoanthrohago.”
“I discovered how they reduced my stature,” replied Tarzan, “and, furthermore, that at almost any time I may regain my full size – an occurrence that may eventuate from three to thirty-nine moons after the date of my reduction. Even Zoanthrohago cannot determine when the thing will happen.”
“Let us hope that it does not occur while you are in this small chamber,” exclaimed Komodoflorensal.
“I would have a devil of a time getting out,” agreed Tarzan.
“You would never get out,” his friend assured him. “While you might, before your reduction, have crawled through some of the larger corridors upon the first level, or even upon many of the lower levels, you could not squeeze into the smaller corridors of the upper levels, which are reduced in size as the necessity for direct supports for the roof increase as we approach the apex of the dome.”
“Then it behooves me to get out of here as quickly as possible,” said Tarzan.
Komodoflorensal shook his head. “Hope is a beautiful thing, my friend,” he said, “but if you were a Minunian you would know that under such circumstances as we find ourselves it is a waste of mental energy. Look at these bars,” and he walked to the window and shook the heavy irons that spanned the embrasure. “Think you that you could negotiate these?”
“I haven’t examined them,” replied the ape-man, “but I shall never give up hope of escaping; that your people do is doubtless the principle reason that they remain forever in bondage. You are too much a fatalist, Komodoflorensal.”
As he spoke Tarzan crossed the room and standing at the prince’s side took hold of the bars at the window. “They do not seem overheavy,” he remarked, and at the same time exerted pressure upon them. They bent! Tarzan was interested now and Komodoflorensal, as well. The ape-man threw all his strength and weight into the succeeding effort with the result that two bars, bent almost double, were torn from their setting.
Komodoflorensal gazed at him in astonishment. “Zoanthrohago reduced your size, but left you with your former physical prowess,” he cried.
“In no other way can it be accounted for,” replied Tarzan, who now, one by one, was removing the remaining bars from the window embrasure. He straightened one of the shorter ones and handed it to Komodoflorensal. “This will make a good weapon,” he said, “if we are forced to fight for our liberty,” and then he straightened another for himself.
The Trohanadalmakusian gazed at him in wonder. “And you intend,” he demanded, “to defy a city of four hundred and eighty thousand people, armed only with a bit of iron rod?”
“And my wits,” added Tarzan.
“You will need them,” said the prince.
“And I shall use them,” Tarzan assured him.
“When shall you start?” asked Komodoflorensal, chaffingly.
“Tonight, tomorrow, next moon – who knows?” replied the ape-man. “Conditions must be ripe. All the time I shall be watching and planning. In that sense I started to escape the instant I regained consciousness and knew that I was a prisoner.”
Komodoflorensal shook his head.
“You have no faith in me?” demanded Tarzan.
“That is precisely what I have – faith,” replied Komodoflorensal. “My judgment tells me that you cannot succeed and yet I shall cast my lot with you, hoping for success, yes, believing in success. If that is not faith I do not know what it might be called.”
The ape-man smiled. He seldom, if ever, laughed aloud. “Let us commence,” he said. “First we will arrange these rods so that they will have the appearance, from the doorway, of not having been disturbed, for I take it we shall have an occasional visitor. Someone will bring us food, at least, and whoever comes must suspect nothing.”
Together they arranged the rods so that they might be quickly removed and as quickly replaced. By that time it was getting quite dark within the chamber. Shortly after they had finished with the rods their door opened and two warriors, lighting their way with candles, appeared escorting a slave who bore their food in bucket-like receptacles and water in bottles made of glazed pottery.
As they were going away again, after depositing the food and drink just inside the doorway, taking their candles with them, Komodoflorensal addressed him.
“We are without candles, warrior,” he said to the nearer. “Will you not leave us with one of yours?”
“You need no candle in this chamber,” replied the man. “One night in darkness will do you good, and tomorrow you return to the quarry. Zoanthrohago is done with you. In the quarry you will have plenty of candles,” and he passed out of the chamber, closing the door behind him.
The two slaves heard the heavy bolt shot into place upon the opposite side of the door. It was very dark now. With difficulty they found the receptacles containing the food and water.
“Well?” inquired Komodoflorensal, dipping into one of the food jars. “Do you think it is going to be so easy now, when tomorrow you will be back in the quarry, perhaps five hundred huals belowground.”
“But I shall not be,” replied Tarzan, “and neither shall you.”
“Because, since they expect to remove us to the quarries tomorrow, it follows that we must escape tonight,” explained Tarzan.
Komodoflorensal only laughed.
When Tarzan had eaten his fill he arose and walked to the window, where he removed the bars and, taking the one that he had selected for himself, crawled through the passage that he led to the opposite end of the embrasure, for even so close to the apex of the dome the wall was quite thick, perhaps ten huals. The hual, which is about three inches in length by our standards, constitutes the Minunian basic unit of measure, corresponding most closely to our foot. At this high level the embrasure was much smaller than those opening at lower levels, practically all of which were of sufficient size to permit a warrior to walk erect within them, but here Tarzan was forced to crawl upon all fours.
At the far end he found himself looking out into a black void above which the stars were shining and about the size of which were dotted vague reflections of inner lights, marking the lighted chambers within the dome. Above him it was but a short distance to the apex of the dome, below was a sheer drop of four hundred huals.
Tarzan, having seen all that could be seen from the mouth of the embrasure, returned to the chamber. “How far is it, Komodoflorensal,” he asked, “from the floor of this embrasure to the roof of the dome?”
“Twelve huals, perhaps,” replied the Trohanadalmakusian.
Tarzan took the longest of the bars from the embrasure and measured it as best as he could. “Too far,” he said.
“What is too far?” demanded Komodoflorensal.
“The roof,” explained Tarzan.
“What difference does it make where the roof is – you did not expect to escape by way of the roof of the dome, did you?”
“Most certainly – had it been accessible,” replied the ape-man; but now we shall have to go by way of the shaft, which will mean crossing entirely through the dome from the interior shaft to the outer periphery. The other route would have entailed less danger of detection.”
Komodoflorensal laughed aloud. “You seem to think that to escape a Minunian city it is only necessary to walk out and away. It cannot be done. What of the sentries? What of the outer patrols? You would be discovered before you were half-way down the outside of the dome, provided that you could get that far without falling to your death.”
“Then perhaps the shaft would be safer,” said Tarzan. “There would be less likelihood of discovery before we reached the bottom, for from what I could see it is as dark as pitch in the shaft.”
“Clamber down the inside of the shaft!” exclaimed Komodoflorensal. “You are mad! You could not clamber from this level to the next without falling, and it must be a full four hundred huals to the bottom.”
“Wait!” Tarzan admonished him.
Komodoflorensal could hear his companion moving around in the dark chamber. He heard the scraping of metal on stone and presently he heard a pounding, not loud, yet heavy.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Wait!” said Tarzan.
And Komodoflorensal waited, wondering. It was Tarzan who spoke next.
“Could you find the chamber in which Talaskar is confined in the quarry?” he asked.
“Why?” demanded the prince.
“We are going after her,” explained Tarzan. “We promised that we would not leave without her.”
“I can find it,” said Komodoflorensal, rather sullenly Tarzan thought.
For some time the ape-man worked on in silence, except for the muffled pounding and the scraping of iron on stone, or of iron on iron.
“Do you know everyone in Trohanadalmakus?” Tarzan asked, suddenly.
“Why no,” replied Komodoflorensal. “There are a million souls, including all the slaves. I could not know them all.”
“Did you know by sight all those that dwelt in the royal dome?” continued the ape-man.
“No, not even those who lived in the royal dome,” replied the Trohanadalmakusian; “though doubtless I knew practically all of the nobles, and the warrior class by sight if not by name.”
“Did anyone?” asked Tarzan.
“I doubt it,” was the reply.
“Good!” exclaimed Tarzan.
Again there was a silence, broken again by the Englishman.
“Can a warrior go anywhere without question in any dome of his own city?” he inquired.
“Anywhere, under ordinary circumstances, except into the king’s dome, in daytime.”
“One could not go about at night, then?” asked Tarzan.
“No,” replied his companion.
“By day, might a warrior go and come in the quarries as he pleased?”
“If he appeared to be employed he would not be questioned, ordinarily.”
Tarzan worked a little longer in silence. “Come!” he said presently; “we are ready to go.”
“I shall go with you,” said Komodoflorensal, “because I like you and because I think it would be better to be dead than a slave. At least we shall have some pleasure out of what remains to us of life, even though it be not a long life.”
“I think we shall have some pleasure, my friend,” replied Zuanthrol. “We may not escape, but, like you, I should rather die now than remain a slave for life. I have chosen tonight for our first step toward freedom, because I realize that once returned to the quarry our chances for a successful break for liberty will be reduced to almost nothing, and tonight is our only night aboveground.”
“How do you propose that we escape from this chamber?”
“By way of the central shaft,” replied Tarzan; “but first tell me, may a white-tunicked slave enter the quarries freely by day?”
Komodoflorensal wondered what bearing all these seeming immaterial questions had upon the problem of their escape; but he answered patiently.
“No, white tunics are never seen in the quarries.”
“Have you the iron bar that I straightened for you?”
“Then follow me through the embrasure. Bring the other rods that I shall leave in the opening. I will carry the bulk of them. Come!”
Komodoflorensal heard Tarzan crawling into the embrasure, the iron rods that he carried breaking the silence of the little chamber. Then he followed. In the mouth of the embrasure he found the rods that Tarzan had left for him to carry. There were four rods, the ends of each bent into hooks. It had been upon this work that Tarzan had been engaged in the darkness. Komodoflorensal wondered to what purpose. Presently his further advance was halted by Tarzan’s body.
“Just a moment,” said the ape-man. “I am making a hole in the window ledge. When that is done we shall be ready.” A moment later he turned his head back toward his companion. “Pass along the rods,” he said.
After Komodoflorensal had handed the hooked rods to Tarzan he heard the latter working with them, very quietly, for several minutes, and then he heard him moving his body about in the narrow confines of the embrasure and presently when the ape-man spoke again the Trohanadalmakkusian realized that he had turned around and that his head was close to that of his companion.
“I shall go first, Komodoflorensal,” he said. “Come to the edge of the embrasure and when you hear me whistle once, follow me.”
“Where?” asked the prince.
“Down the shaft to the first embrasure that will give us foothold, and let us pray that there is one directly below this within the next eighteen huals. I have hooked the rods together, the upper end hooked into the hole I made in the ledge, the lower end dangling down a distance of eighteen huals.”
“Good-bye, my friend,” said Komodoflorensal.
Tarzan smiled and slipped over the edge of the embrasure. In one hand he carried the rod that he had retained as a weapon, with the other he clung to the window ledge. Below him for eighteen huals dangled the slender ladder of iron hooks, and below this, four hundred huals of pitchy darkness hid the stone flagging of the inner courtyard. Perhaps it roofed the great central throneroom of the king, as was true in the royal dome of Adendrohahkis; perhaps it was but an open court. The truth was immaterial if the frail support slipped from the shallow hole in the ledge above, or if one of the hooks straightened under the weight of the ape-man.
Now he grasped the upper section of his ladder with the hand that held his improvised weapon, removed the hand from the ledge and grasped the rod again, still lower down. In this way he lowered his body a few inches at a time. He moved very slowly for two reasons, the more important of which was that he feared that any sudden strains upon his series of hooks might straighten one of them and precipitate him into the abyss below; the other was the necessity for silence. It was very dark even this close to the summit of the dome, but that was rather an advantage than otherwise, for it hid his presence from any chance observer who might glance through one of the embrasures in the opposite wall of the shaft. As he descended he felt in both directions for an embrasure, but he was almost to the end of the ladder before he felt himself swing slightly into one. When he had lowered himself still farther and could look into the opening he saw that it was dark, an indication that it did not lead into an inhabited chamber, a fact for which he was thankful. He hoped, too, that the inner end of the embrasure was not barred, nor the door beyond bolted upon the outside.
He whistled once, very low, for Komodoflorensal, and an instant later he felt the movement of the iron ladder that told him his companion had commenced the descent. The embrasure in which he stood was higher than the one they had just quitted, permitting him to stand erect. There he waited for the Trohanadalmakusian who was soon standing upon the ledge beside him.
I know what you are thinking: Was that the theme music to “Mission Impossible” playing in the background. Yes, it was. However, in a Tom Cruise movie there would have been a lot of close ups and a focus on one hook gradually starting to straighten, and with the Prince swinging into the aperture just as the ladder collapses, who then reaches out and grasps the falling iron hooks in his hands before they can clang below giving away their escape.
“Whew!” exclaimed the prince, in a whisper. “I should hate to have to do that in the daytime when I could have seen all the way to the bottom. What next? We have come farther already than I ever dreamed would be possible. Now I am commencing to believe that escape may lie within the realm of possibilities.”
“We haven’t started yet,” Tarzan assured him; “but we are going to now. Come!”
Grasping their rude weapons the two walked stealthily the length of the embrasure. There were no bars to impede their progress and they stepped to the floor of the chamber beyond. Very carefully, feeling each step before he planted a foot and with his weapon extended before him, Tarzan groped his way about the chamber, which he found was fairly well filled with casks and bottles, the latter in wooden and wicker cases. Komodoflorensal was directly behind him.
“We are in one of the rooms where the nobles charged with enforcing the laws against wine have hidden confiscated liquor,” whispered the Trohanadalmakusian. “I have heard much talk concerning the matter since I was made prisoner – the warriors and the slaves, too, seem to talk of nothing else but this and the high taxes. The chances are that the door is heavily barred – they guard these forbidden beverages as never they guarded their gold or jewels.”
“I have found the passageway leading to the door,” whispered Tarzan, “and I can see a light beneath it.”
They crept stealthily the length of the passage. Each grasped his weapon more firmly as Tarzan gently tried the latch. It gave! Slowly the ape-man pushed the door ajar. Through the tiny aperture thus opened he could see a portion of the room. Its floor was strewn with gorgeous carpets, thick and soft. That portion of the wall that was revealed to him was hung with heavy fabrics woven in many colors and strange patterns – splendid, barbaric. Directly in line of his vision the body of a man lay sprawled, facedown, upon the floor – a pool of red stained a white rug beneath his head.
Tarzan opened the door a little farther, revealing the bodies of three other men. Two lay upon the floor, the third upon a low divan. The scene, gorgeous in its coloring, tragic in its suggestion of mystery and violent death, held the eyes of the ape-man yet a moment longer before he opened the door still wider and leaped quickly to the center of the room, his weapon raised and ready, giving no possible skulking foe behind the door the opportunity to fell him that would have offered had he edged into the room slowly.
A quick glance about the apartment showed the bodies of six men that had not been visible from the partially opened door. These were lying in a pile in one corner of the room.
Who are all these apparent dead guys? Is there a revolution going down? Guess we will have to wait to find out, for ERB has left us hanging once again. Remember, there is a time clock ticking in the background. Tick, tick, tick...
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