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TARZAN AND THE CITY OF GOLD
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
As most ERB fans are aware, ERB’s plots have an uncanny way of changing gears well into the story. First, he sets you up with long drawn out planning or sets out wanting to do one thing when the story is suddenly interrupted by something totally out of left field. Well, friends, you’ve been warned.
Chapter Four: Down the Flood
The new day dawned cloudy and threatening. The season of rains was over, but it appeared that a belated storm was gathering above the lofty peaks through which Tarzan and Valthor were searching for the elusive valley of Thenar. The chill of night was dissapated by kindly warmth of sunlight. The two men shivered as they rose from their rude beds among the branches of a tree.
“We shall eat later,” announced Tarzan, “after a little climbing has put warmth into our blood.”
“If we are lucky enough to find anything to eat,” rejoined Valthor.
“Tarzan seldom goes hungry,” replied the ape-man. “He will not go hungry today. When Tarzan is ready to hunt, we shall eat.”
Down the box canyon they went until Tarzan found a place where they might ascend the precipitous side wall; then they toiled upward, the warrior from Athne confident that each step would be his last as he clung to the steep face of the canyon wall but too proud to reveal his fear to the agile ape-man climbing so easily above him. But he did not fall, and at last the two stood upon the summit of the mighty ridge that led upward toward lofty peaks.
Valthor’s heart was pounding and he was breathing heavily, but Tarzan showed no sign of exertion. He was about to continue on up the ridge, when he glanced at his companion and saw his condition; then he squatted on the ground with a laconic “Rest now”; and Valthor was glad to rest.
All day they moved toward the northeast. Sometimes it rained a little, and always it threatened to rain more. A great storm seemed always to be gathering, yet it never broke during the long day. Tarzan made a kill before noon, and they ate; but immediately afterward they started on again. The cold, damp, sunless air offered them no incentive for tarrying on the way.
It was late in the afternoon when they ascended out of a deep gorge and stood upon a lofty plateau. In the near foreground were no mountains, but at a distance lofty peaks were visible dimly through a light drizzle of rain. Suddenly Valthor voiced an exclamation of elation. “We have found it!” he cried. “There is Xarator!”
Tarzan looked in the direction that the other pointed and saw a mighty, flat-topped peak in the distance, already above which low clouds were reflecting a dull red light. “So that is Xarator!” he remarked. “And Thenar is directly east of it?”
“Yes,” replied Valthor; “which means that Othnar must be just below the edge of this plateau, almost directly in front of us. Come!”
The two walked quickly over the level, grassy ground for a mile or two to come at length to the edge of the plateau beyond which, and below them, stretched a wide valley.
“We are almost at the southern end of Othnar,” said Valthor. “There is Cathne, the city of gold. See it – in the bend in the river at this end of that forest? It is a rich city, but the people are the enemies of my people.”
Through the rain, Tarzan saw a walled city between a forest and a river. The houses were nearly all white, and there were many domes of dull yellow. The river, which ran between them and the city, was spanned by a bridge that was also a dull yellow color in the twilight of the late afternoon storm. Tarzan saw that the river extended the full length of the valley, a distance of fourteen or fifteen miles, being fed by smaller streams coming down out of the mountains. Also extending the length of the valley was what appeared to be a well-marked road. Near the center of the valley it branched, one fork following an affluent of the main stream with which it disappeared into the mouth of a canyon on the eastern side of the valley. Directly below them and extending to the northern extremity of Othnar was a level plain dotted with trees; across the river, a forest stretched from the farther bank to the steep hills that bounded Othnar on the east and southeast.
Tarzan’s eyes wandered back to the city of Cathne. “Why do you call it the city of gold?” he asked.
“Do you not see the golden domes and the bridge of gold?” demanded Valthor.
“Are they covered with gold paint?” inquired Tarzan.
“They are covered with solid gold,” replied Valthor. “The gold on some of the domes is an inch thick, and the bridge is built of solid blocks of gold.”
Tarzan lifted his eyebrows. As he looked down upon this seemingly deserted and peaceful valley he could not but conjure another picture – a picture of what it would be if word of these vast riches were carried to the outside world, bringing the kindly beneficences of modern civilization and civilized men to Othnar. How the valley would hum and roar with the sweet music of mill and factory! What a gorgeous spectacle would be painted against the African sky by tall chimneys spouting black smoke to hang like a sable curtain above the golden domes of Cathne!
Tarzan rarely sees civilization as a good thing. That last sentence summarizes his opinion of civilized man – a spoiler of nature. Greed, fever for gold, and murderous intent, are the footprints of this system, which seems to always balance itself in the end, but first must go through horrible times. It is the same opinion YHWH had after the Noah’s Flood Myth: “And YHWH said, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.” (Genesis 9:21b.)
“Where do they find their gold?” he asked.
“Their mines lie in the hills directly south of the city,” replied Valthor.
“And where is your country, Thenar?” asked the ape-man.
“Just beyond the hills east of Othnar. Do you see where the river and the road cut through the forest about five miles above the city? You can see them entering the hills just beyond the forest.”
“Yes,” replied Tarzan; “I see.”
“The road and the river run through the Pass of the Warriors into the Valley of Thenar; a little northeast of the center of the valley lies Athne, the city of ivory; there, beyond the pass, lies my country.”
“How far are we from Athne?” inquired Tarzan.
“About twenty-five miles, possibly a little less,” replied Valthor.
“We might as well start now, then,” suggested the ape-man, “for in this rain it will be more comfortable to be on the march than to lie up until morning; and in your city we can find a dry place to sleep I presume.”
“Certainly,” replied Valthor, “but it will not be safe to attempt to cross Othnar by daylight. We should certainly be seen by the sentries on the gates of Cathne, and as these people are our enemies the chances are that we should never cross the valley without being either killed or taken prisoners. It will be bad enough at night on account of the lions, but by day it will be infinitely worse as we shall have both men and lions to contend with.”
“What lions?” demanded Tarzan.
“The men of Cathne breed lions, and there are many at large in the valley,” explained Valthor. “That great plain that you see below us, stretching the full length of the valley on this side of the river is called the Field of the Lions. We shall be safer if we cross it after dark.”
“Whatever you wish,” agreed Tarzan with a shrug; “it is all the same to me if we start now or wait until dark.”
“It is not very comfortable here,” remarked the Athnean. “The rain is cold.”
“I have been uncomfortable before,” replied Tarzan; “rains do not last forever.”
“If we were in Athne we should be very comfortable,” sighed Valthor. “In my father’s house there are fireplaces; even now the flames are roaring about great logs, and all is warmth and comfort.”
“Above the clouds the sun is shining,” replied Tarzan, “but we are not above the clouds; we are here where the sun is not shining and there is no fire, and we are cold.” A faint smile touched his lips. “It does not warm me to speak of fires or the sun.”
“Nevertheless, I wish I were in Athne,” insisted Valthor. “It is a splendid city, and Thenar is a lovely valley. In Thenar we raise goats and sheep and elephants. In Thenar there are no lions except those that stray in from Othnar; those we kill. Our farmers raise vegetables and fruits and hay; our artisans manufacture leather goods; they make cloth from the hair of goats and the wool of sheep; our carvers work in ivory and wood.
“We trade a little with the outside world, paying for what we buy with ivory and gold. Were it not for the Cathneans we should lead a happy, peaceful life without a care.”
“What do you buy from the outside world, and of whom do you buy it?” asked Tarzan.
“We buy salt, of which we have none of our own,” explained Valthor. “We also buy steel for our weapons and black slaves and occasionally a white woman, if she be young and pretty. These things we buy from a band of shiftas. With this same band we have traded since before the memory of man. Shifta chiefs and kings of Athne have come and gone, but our relations with this band have never altered. I was searching for them when I became lost and was captured by another band.”
“Do you never trade with the people of Cathne?” asked the ape-man.
“Once each year there is a week’s truce during which we trade with them in peace. They give us gold and foodstuffs and hay in exchange for the women, the salt, and the steel we buy from the shiftas, and the cloth, leather, and ivory that we produce.
“Besides mining gold, the Cathneans breed lions for war and sport, raise fruits, vegetables, cereals, and hay and work in gold and, to a lesser extent, in ivory. Their gold and their hay are the products most valuable to us; and of these we value the hay more, for without it we should have to decrease our elephant herds.”
“Why should two peoples so dependent upon one another fight?” asked Tarzan.
Valthor shrugged. “I do not know; perhaps it is just a custom. Yet, though we talk much of wanting peace, we should miss the thrills and excitement that peace does not hold.” His eyes brightened. “The raids!” he exclaimed. “There is a sport for men! The Cathneans come with their lions to hunt our goats, our sheep, our elephants, and us. They take heads for trophies, and above all value the head of man. They try to take our women, and when they succeed then there is war, if the family of the woman seized be of sufficient importance.
“When we wish sport we go into Othnar after gold and women or just for the sport of killing men or capturing slaves. The greatest game of all is to sell a woman to a Cathnean for much gold and then take her away from him in a raid. No, I do not think that either we or the Cathneans would care for peace.”
As Valthor talked, the invisible sun sank lower into the west; heavy clouds, dark and ominous, hid the peaks to the north, settling low over the upper end of the valley. “I think we may start now,” he said; “it will soon be dark.”
Downward through a gully, the sides of which hid them from the city of Cathne, the two men made their way toward the floor of the valley. From the heavy storm clouds burst a flash of lightning followed by the roar of thunder, upon the upper end of the valley the storm god loosed his wrath; water fell in a deluge of masses wiping from their sight the hills beyond the storm.
By the time they reached level ground the storm was upon them and the gully they had descended a raging mountain torrent. The swift night had fallen; utter darkness surrounded them, darkness frequently broken by vivid flashes of lightning. The pealing of the constant thunder was deafening. The rain engulfed them in solid sheets like the waves of the ocean. It was, perhaps, the most terrific storm that either of these men had ever seen.
They could not converse; only the lightning prevented their coming separated, as it alone permitted Valthor to keep his course across the grassy floor of the valley in the direction of the city of gold where they would find the road that led to the Pass of the Warriors and on into the Valley of Thenar.
Presently they came within sight of the lights of the city, a few dim lights framed by the casements of windows and a moment later they were on the road and were moving northward against the full fury of the storm. And such a storm! As they moved toward its center it grew in intensity; against the wind that accompanied it they waged a grim battle that was sometimes to them and sometimes to the wind, for often it stopped them in their tracks and forced them back.
For miles they pitted their muscles against the Herculean strength of the storm god; and the rage of the storm seemed to rise against them, knowing no bounds, as though he was furious that these two puny mortals should pit their strength against his. Suddenly, as though in a last titanic effort to overcome them, the lightning burst into a mighty blaze that illuminated the entire valley for seconds, the thunder crashed as it had never crashed before, and a mass of water fell that crushed the two men to earth.
As they staggered to their feet foot-deep water swirled about their legs; they stood in a broad, racing torrent that rushed past them toward the river; but in that last effort the storm god had spent his force. The rain ceased; though a rift in the dark clouds the moon looked down, perhaps in wonder, upon a drowned world; and Valthor led the way again toward the Pass of the Warriors. The last storm of the rainy season was over.
It was seven miles from the Bridge of Gold, that is the gateway to the city of Cathne, to the ford where the road to Thenar crosses the river; and it required three hours for Valthor and Tarzan to cover the distance, two hours for the first third and one hour for the remainder; but at last they stood at the river’s brink.
A boiling flood confronted them, tearing down a widening river toward the city of Cathne. Valthor hesitated, “Ordinarily,” he said to Tarzan, “the water is little more than a foot deep. It must be three feet now.”
“And it will soon be deeper,” commented the ape-man. “Only a small portion of the storm waters have had time to reach this point from the hills and the upper valley. If we are going to cross tonight, we shall have to do it now.”
“Very well,” replied Valthor; “but follow me; I know the ford.”
As the Athnean stepped into the water the clouds closed again beneath the moon and plunged the world once more into darkness. As Tarzan followed he could scarcely see his guide ahead of him; and as Valthor knew the ford he moved more rapidly than the ape-man with the result that presently Tarzan could not see him at all, but he felt his way toward the opposite bank without thought of disaster.
The force of the stream was mighty; but mighty, too, are the thews of Tarzan of the Apes. The water, which Valthor had thought to be three feet in depth, was soon surging to the ape-man’s waist, and then he missed the ford and stepped into a hole. Instantly the current seized him and swept him away; not even the giant muscles of Tarzan could cope with the might of the flood.
The Lord of the Jungle fought the swirling waters in an effort to reach the opposite shore, but in their embrace he was powerless. Was the storm god proud or resentful to see one of his children succeed where he had failed. That is a difficult question to answer, for gods are strange creatures; they give to those that have and take from those who have not; they punish whom they love and are jealous and resentful; in which they resemble the creatures who conceived them.
Finding even his great strength powerless and weakening, Tarzan gave up the struggle to reach the opposite bank and devoted his efforts to keeping his nose above the surface of the angry flood. Even this was none too easy of accomplishment, as the rushing waters had a trick of twisting him about or turning him over. Often his head was submerged, and sometimes he floated feetfirst and sometimes headfirst; but he tried to rest his muscles as best he could against the time when some vagary of the torrent might carry him within reach of the bank upon one side or the other.
He knew that several miles below the city of Cathne the river entered a narrow gorge, for that he had seen from the edge of the plateau from which he had first viewed the valley of Othnar; and Valthor had told him that beyond the gorge it tumbled in a mighty falls a hundred feet to the bottom of a rocky canyon. Should he not succeed in escaping the clutches of the torrent before it carried him into the gorge his doom was sealed, but Tarzan felt neither fear nor panic. His life had been in jeopardy often during his savage existence, yet he still lived.
He wondered what had become of Valthor. Perhaps he, too, was being hurtled along either above or below him. But such was not the fact. Valthor had reached the opposite bank in safety and waited there for Tarzan. When the ape-man did not appear within a reasonable time, the Athnean shouted his name aloud; but though he received no answer he was still not sure that Tarzan was not upon the opposite side of the river, the loud roaring of which might have drowned the sound of the voice of either.
Then Valthor decided to wait until daylight, rather than abandon his friend in a country with which he was entirely unfamiliar. That the Athnean remained bespoke of his loyalty as well as the high esteem in which he held the ape-man, for the dangers that might beset Tarzan in Othnar would prove even a greater menace to Valthor, an hereditary enemy of the Cathneans.
Through the long night he waited and, with the coming of dawn, eagerly scanned the opposite bank of the river, his slender hope for the safety of his friend dying when daylight failed to reveal any sign of him. Then, at last, he was convinced that Tarzan had been swept away to his death by the raging flood; and, with a heavy heart, he turned away from the river and resumed his interrupted journey toward the Pass of the Warriors and the Valley of Thenar.
I know, I know. You are wondering if you’ve wasted your time reading the last four chapters, since we will hear no more from Valthor, whose only seeming purpose is to get Tarzan to the City of Gold. Well, he’s not there yet, so we must wait for the next chapter for that revelation.
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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