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TARZAN AND THE CITY OF GOLD
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
I believe we left Tarzan when he was in the sights of a shifta’s matchlock. Will he get the shot off, or will there be an intervening force? Let’s find out.
Chapter Three: Cats By Night
As the man raised his weapon to his shoulder to fire at Tarzan, a scream of warning burst from the lips of one of his comrades, to be drowned by the throaty roar of Numa, the lion, as the swift rush of his charge carried him over the boma into the middle of the camp.
The man who would have killed Tarzan cast a quick backward glance as the warning cry apprised him of his danger; and when he saw the lion he cast away his rifle in his excitement and terror, his terrified scream mingled with the voice of Numa, and in his anxiety to escape the fangs of the man-eater he rushed into the arms of the ape-man.
The lion, momentarily confused by the firelight and the swift movement and the shouts of the men, paused, crouching, as he looked to right and left. In that brief instant Tarzan seized the fleeing shifta, lifted him high above his head, and hurled him into the face of Numa; then, as the lion seized its prey and its great jaws closed upon the head and shoulder of the hapless bandit, he motioned to his companion to follow him, and, running directly past the lion, leaped the boma at the very point that Numa had leaped it. Close at his heels was the white captive of the shiftas, and before the bandits had recovered from the first shock and surprise of the lion’s unexpected charge the two had disappeared in the shadow of the night.
Just outside the camp Tarzan left his companion for a moment while he swung into the tree where he had left his weapons and recovered them; then he led the way out of the valley up into the hills. At his elbow trotted the silent white man he had rescued from certain death at the hands of the Kaficho and Galla bandits.
During the brief encounter in the campTarzan had noted with admiration the strength, agility, and courage of the stranger who had aroused both his interest and his curiosity. Here, seemingly, was a man moulded to the dimensions of Tarzan’s own standards, a quiet, resourceful, courageous fighting man. Radiating that intangible aura which we call personality, even in his silences he impressed the ape-man with a conviction that loyalty and dependability were innate characteristics of the man; so Tarzan, who ordinarily preferred to be alone, was not displeased to have the companionship of this stranger.
The moon, almost full, had risen above the black mountain mass to the east, shedding her soft light on hill and valley and forest, transforming the scene once more into that of a new world which was different from the world of daylight and from the world of moonless night, a world of strange grays and silvery greens.
Up toward the fringe of forest that clothed the upper slopes of the foothills and dipped down into canyon and ravine the two men moved as noiselessly as the passing shadow of a cloud, yet to one hidden in the dark recesses of the wood above, their approach was not unheralded, for on the breath of Usha, the wind, it was borne ahead of them to the cunning nostrils of the prince of hunters.
Sheeta, the panther, was hungry. For several days prey had been scarce and elusive. Now, in his nostrils, the scent of the man-things grew stronger as they drew nearer. It was the pure scent of man that came to him unvitiated by the hated odor of the flame-belching thunder-stick that he feared and hated. Eagerly, Sheeta, the panther, awaited the coming of the men.
Within the forest, Tarzan sought a tree where they might lie up for the night. He had eaten and was not hungry. Whether or not his companion had eaten was his own concern. This was a law of the jungle from which Tarzan may deviate for a weak or wounded companion but not for a strong man able to provide for himself. Had he killed, he would have shared his kill; but he would not go forth and hunt for another.
Tarzan found a branch that forked horizontally. With his hunting knife he cut other branches and laid them across the two arms of the Y thus formed. Over this rude platform he spread leaves; and then he lay down to sleep, while from an adjacent tree upwind Sheeta watched him. Sheeta also watched the other man-thing on the ground between the two trees. The great cat did not move; he seemed scarcely to breathe. Even Tarzan was unaware of his presence, yet the ape-man was restless. A sense so delicate that he was not objectively aware of its existence seemed to warn him that all was not well. He listened intently and sniffed the air but detected nothing amiss. Below him, his companion was making his bed upon the ground in preference to risking the high-flung branches of the trees to which he was unaccustomed. It was the man upon the ground that Sheeta watched.
At last, his bed of leaves and grasses arranged to suit him, Tarzan’s companion lay down. Sheeta waited. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the sinuous muscles were drawing the hind quarters forward beneath the sleek body in preparation for the spring. Sheeta edged forward on the great limb upon which he crouched, but in doing so he caused the branch to move slightly and the leaves at its end to rustle just a little. Your ears or mine would not have been conscious of any noise, but the ears of Tarzan are not as yours or mine.
He heard; and his eyes, turning quickly, sought and found the intruder. At the same instant Sheeta launched himself at the man lying on his rude pallet on the ground below; and as Sheeta sprang so did Tarzan. What happened happened very quickly; it was a matter of seconds only.
As the two beasts sprang, Tarzan voiced a roar that was intended both to warn his companion and to distract the attention of Sheeta from his prey. The man upon the ground leaped quickly to one side, prompted more by an instinctive reaction than by reason. The panther’s body brushed him as it struck the ground, but the beasts thoughts were now upon the thing that had voiced that menacing roar rather than upon its intended prey.
Wheeling as he leaped aside, the man turned and saw the savage carnivore just as Tarzan landed full on the beast’s back. He heard the mingled growls of the two as they closed in battle, and his scalp stiffened as he realized that the sounds coming from the lips of his companion were quite as bestial as those issuing from the throat of the carnivore.
Tarzan sought a hold about the neck of the panther, while the great cat instantly attempted to roll over on its back that it might rip the body of its antagonist to shreds with the terrible talons that armed its hind feet. But this strategy the ape-man had anticipated; and rolling beneath Sheeta as Sheeta rolled, he locked his powerful legs beneath the belly of the panther; then the great cat leaped to its feet again and sought to shake the man-thing from its back; and all the while a mighty arm was tightening about its neck, closing off his wind.
With frantic leaps and bounds the panther hurled itself about in the moonlight while Tarzan’s companion stood unarmed and helpless. Twice he had tried to run in and assist the ape-man, but both times the two bodies had struck him and sent him spinning across the ground. Now he saw a new factor being injected into the battle; Tarzan has succeeded in drawing his knife. Momentarily the blade flashed before his eyes; then it was buried in the body of Sheeta. The cat, screaming from pain and rage, redoubled its efforts to dislodge the creature clinging to it in the embrace of death, but again the knife fell.
Now Sheeta stood trembling upon uncertain feet as once again the knife was plunged deeply into its side; then, his great voice forever stilled, he sank lifeless to the ground as the ape-man rolled from beneath him and sprang to his feet.
The man whose life Tarzan had saved came forward and laid a hand upon the shoulder of the ape-man, speaking a few words in a low voice but in a tongue that Tarzan did not understand though he guessed that it expressed the gratitude that the manner of the man betokened.
What the hell! No victory cry of the bull Great Ape? Perhaps, for once, Tarzan did not want to reveal his location, but that never bothered him before. Oh, well.
What thoughts were in the mind of Tarzan’s companion? Twice within an hour this strange white man had saved him from death. For what reasons, the man could not guess. That sentiments of friendship and loyalty were aroused in his breast would seem only natural if it possessed either honor or gratitude, but of this we can have no knowledge until we know him better. As yet he is not even a name to us; and, following the policy of Tarzan, we shall not judge him until we know him better; then we may learn to like him, or we may have reason to despise him.
Influenced by the attack of the panther and knowing that Numa was abroad, Tarzan, by signs, persuaded the man to come up into the tree; and here the ape-man helped him construct a nest similar to his own. For the balance of the night they slept in peace, and the sun was an hour old before either stirred the following morning; then the ape-man rose and stretched himself.
Nearby, the other man sat up and looked about him. His eyes met Tarzan’s, and he smiled and nodded. For the first time the ape-man had an opportunity to examine his new acquaintance by daylight. The man had removed his single garment for the night, covering himself with leaves and branches. Now as he arose, his only garment was a G-string, and Tarzan saw six feet of well-muscled, well-proportioned body topped by a head that seemed to bespeak breeding and intelligence. The man’s features were strong, clear cut, and harmoniously placed; the face was more noticeable for strength and rugged masculinity than for beauty.
The wild beast in Tarzan looked into the brown eyes of the stranger and was satisfied that here was one who might be trusted; the man in him noted the headband that confined the black hair, saw the strangely wrought ivory ornament in the center of the forehead, the habergeon that he was now donning, the ivory ornaments on wrists and ankles, and found his curiosity piqued.
The ivory ornament in the center of the headband was shaped like a concave, curved trowel, the point of which projected above the top of the man’s head and curved forward. His wrists and ankles were of long flat strips of ivory laid close together and fastened around the limbs by leather thongs that were laced through holes piercing the strips near their tops and bottoms. His sandals were of heavy leather, apparently elephant hide, and were supported by leather thongs fastened to the bottoms of his anklets.
On each arm below the shoulder he wore an ivory disc upon which was carved a design; about his neck was a band of smaller ivory discs elaborately carved, and from the lowest of these a strap ran down to his habergeon, which was also supported by shoulder straps. Depending from each side of his headband was another ivory disc of large size, above which was a smaller disc. The larger discs covered his ears. Heavy, curved wedge-shaped pieces of ivory were held, one upon each shoulder, by the same straps that supported his habergeon.
I know: What in the hell is a habergeon? I see it is time to go medieval on you for a habergeon is a jacket of mail, shorter than a mauberk, which is a shirt of mail hanging down to mid thigh. From what we have learned so far the companion appears to be a warrior. ERB provided his readers with a sketch of how these garments looked on a warrior, and the archival material has preserved it on Page 285 of the new ERB Inc. edition.
This is the 16th book in the Tarzan series, so if you have only read half of them, you should be able to guess that at this point, Tarzan, in his curiosity – a genius at languages – to learn about his new companion it will be necessary for him to master another tongue. Tarzan is hardly ever pressed for time. He has all the time in the world to learn it.
That all these trappings were solely for purposes of ornamentation Tarzan did not believe. He saw that almost without exception they would serve as a protective against a cutting weapon such as a sword or battle-ax; and he could not but wonder where the stalwart warrior who wore them had had his genesis, for nowhere in the world, so far as Tarzan knew, was there a race of men wearing armor and ornaments such as these.
But speculation concerning this matter was relegated to the background of his thoughts by hunger and recollections of the remains of yesterday’s kill that he had hung high in a tree of the forest farther up the river; so he dropped softly to the ground, motioning for the young warrior to follow him; and set off in the direction of his cache, keeping his keen senses always on the alert for enemies.
Cleverly hidden by leafy branches, the meat was intact when Tarzan reached it. He cut several strips and tossed them down to the warrior waiting on the ground below; then he cut some for himself and crouching in a crotch proceeded to eat it raw. His companion watched him for a moment in surprise; then he made fire with a bit of steel and flint and cooked his own portion.
As he ate, Tarzan’s active mind was considering plans for the future. He had come to Abyssinia for a specific purpose, though the matter was not of such immediate importance that it demanded instant attention. In fact, in the philosophy that a lifetime of primitive environment had inspired, time was not an important consideration. The phenomena of this ivory-armored warrior aroused questions that intrigued his interest to a far greater extent than did the problems that had brought him thus far from his own stamping grounds, and he decided that the latter should wait the solving of the riddle of this seeming anachronism that his new-made acquaintance presented.
Having no other means of communication than signs rendered in exchange of ideas between the two difficult, but when they had finished their meal and Tarzan had descended to the ground he succeeded in asking his companion in what direction he wished to go. The warrior pointed in a northeasterly direction toward the high mountains; and, as plainly as he could through the medium of signs, invited Tarzan to accompany him to his country. This invitation Tarzan accepted and motioned the other to lead the way.
For days that stretched to weeks, the two men struck deeper and deeper into the heart of a stupendous mountain system. Always mentally alert and eager to learn, Tarzan took advantage of the opportunity provided by time and propinquity to learn the language of his companion, and he proved such an apt pupil that they were soon able to make themselves understood to one another.
Among the first things that Tarzan learned was that his companion’s name was Valthor, while Valthor took the earliest opportunity to evince an interest in the ape-man’s weapons; and as he was unarmed, Tarzan spent a day in making a spear and bow and arrows for him. Thereafter, as Valthor taught the Lord of the Jungle to speak his language, Tarzan instructed the former in the use of the bow, the spear being already a familiar weapon to the young warrior.
Thus the days and weeks passed and the two seemed no nearer to the country of Valthor than when they had started from the vicinity of the camp of the shiftas. Tarzan found game of certain varieties plentiful in the mountains, and it was he who kept their larder supplied. The impressive scenery that was marked by rugged grandeur held the interest of the ape-man undiminished. He hunted, and he enjoyed the beauties of unspoiled nature, practically oblivious of the passage of time.
But Valthor was less patient; and at last, one day when they found themselves at the head of a blind canyon where stupendous cliffs barred further progress, he admitted defeat. “I am lost,” he said simply.
“That,” remarked Tarzan, “I could have told you many days ago.”
Valthor looked at him in surprise. “How could you know that,” he demanded, “when you yourself do not know in what direction my country lies?”
“I know,” replied the ape-man, “because during the past week you have led the way toward the four points of the compass, and today we are within five miles of where we were a week ago. Across the ridge at our right, not more than five miles away, is the little stream where I killed the ibex and the gnarled old tree in which we slept that night just seven suns ago.”
Valthor scratched his head in perplexity and then he smiled. “I cannot dispute you,” he admitted. “Perhaps you are right, but what are we going to do?”
“Do you know in what direction your country lies from the camp in which I found you?”
“Thenar is due east of that point,” replied Valthor; “of that I am positive.”
“Then we are directly southwest of it now, for we have traveled a considerable distance toward the south since we entered the higher mountains. If your country lies in these mountains then it should not be difficult to find it if we can keep moving always in a northeasterly direction.”
“This jumble of mountains with their twisting canyons and gorges confuses me,” Valthor admitted. “You see, in all my life before I have never been farther from Thenar than the valley of Onthar, and both these valleys are surrounded by landmarks with which I am so familiar that I need no other guides. It has never been necessary for me to consult the positions of the sun, the moon, nor the stars before; and so they have been of no help to me since we set out in search of Thenar. Do you believe that you could hold a course toward the northeast in this maze of mountains? If you can, then you had better lead the way rather than I.”
“I can go toward the northeast,” Tarzan assured him, “but I cannot find your country unless it lies in my path.”
“If we reach a point within fifty or a hundred miles of it, from some high eminence we shall see Xarator,” explained Valthor; “and then I shall know my way to Thenar, for Xarator is almost due west of Athne.”
“What are Xarator and Athne?” demanded Tarzan.
“Xarator is a great peak the center of which is filled with fire and molten rock. It lies at the north end of the valley of Othnar and belongs to the men of Cathne, the city of gold. Athne, the city of ivory, is the city from which I come. The men of Cathne, in the valley of Othnar, are the enemies of my people.”
“Tomorrow, then,” said Tarzan, “we shall set out for the city of Athne in the valley of Thenar.”
As Tarzan and Valthor ate meat that they had cut from yesterday’s kill and carried with them, many weary miles to the south a black-maned lion lashed his tail angrily and voiced a savage growl as he stood over the body of a buffalo calf he had killed and faced an angry bull pawing the earth and bellowing a few yards away.
Rare is the beast that will face Gorgo, the buffalo, when rage inflames his red-rimmed eyes; but the great lion showed no intention of leaving its prey even in the face of the bull’s threatened charge. He stood his ground. The roars of the lion and the bull mingled in a savage, thunderous dissonance that shook the ground, stilling the voice of the lesser people of the jungle.
Gorgo gored the earth, working himself into a frenzy of rage. Behind him, bellowing, stood the mother of the slain calf. Perhaps she was urging her lord and master to avenge the murder. The other members of the herd had bolted into the thickest of the jungle leaving these two to contest with Numa his right to his kill, leaving vengeance to those powerful horns backed by that massive neck.
With a celerity and agility that belied his great weight, the bull charged. That two such huge beasts could move so quickly and so lightly seemed incredible, as it seemed incredible that any creature could either withstand or avoid the menace of those mighty horns; but the lion was ready, and as the bull was almost upon him, he leaped to one side, reared upon his hind feet and with one massive, taloned paw struck the bull a terrific blow on the side of its head that wheeled half around and sent it stumbling to its knees, half stunned and bleeding, its great jawbone crushed and splintered. And before Gorgo could regain its feet, Numa leaped full upon its back, buried his teeth in the bulging muscles of the great neck, and with one paw reached for the nose of the bellowing bull, jerking its head back with a mighty surge that snapped the vertebrae.
Instantly the lion was on his feet again facing the cow, but she did not charge. Instead, bellowing, she crashed away into the jungle leaving the king of beasts standing with his forefeet upon his latest kill.
That night Numa fed well; but when he had gorged himself he did not lie up as a lion should, but continued toward the north along the mysterious trail he had been following for many days.
Our safari has been long and hard going, but we’re still on the trail, fellow travelers, and I promise you this time we will not get lost. See you in chapter four for the first big twist.
CH. 1_CH. 2_CH. 3_CH. 4_CH. 5
CH. 6_CH. 7_CH. 8_CH. 9_CH. 10
CH. 11_CH. 12_CH. 13_CH. 14_CH. 15
CH. 16_CH. 17_CH. 18_CH. 19
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