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TARZAN AND THE CITY OF GOLD
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Poor Tarzan is being swept downstream in a swollen river headed for a waterfall one hundred feet high. If he can’t escape the river’s current he is a sure goner. So much for Valthor and the City of Ivory. They will soon be forgotten.
Chapter Five: The City of Gold
As Tarzan battled for his life in the swirling waters of the swollen river he lost all sense of time; the seemingly interminable struggle against death might have been enduring without beginning, might endure without end, in so far as his numbed senses were concerned. His efforts to delay the apparently inevitable end were now purely mechanical, instinctive reactions to the threat against self-preservation. The cold water had sapped the vitality of his mind as well as of his body, yet, while his heart beat, neither would admit defeat; subconsciously, without active volition, they sought to preserve him. It was well that they did.
Turnings in the river cast him occasionally against one shore and then the other. Always, then, his hands reached up in an attempt to grasp something that might stay his mad rush toward the falls and death; and at last success crowned their efforts – his fingers closed upon the stem of a heavy vine that trailed down the bank into the swirling waters, closed and held.
Instantly, almost miraculously, new life seemed to be instilled into the veins of the ape-man by the feel of that stout support in his grasp. Quickly he seized it with both hands; the river clutched at his body and tried to drag it onward toward his doom; but the vine held, and so did Tarzan.
Hand over hand the man dragged himself out of the water and onto the bank, where he lay for several minutes, then he rose slowly to his feet, shook himself like some great lion, and looked about him in the darkness, trying to penetrate the impenetrable night. Faintly, as through shrubbery, he thought that he saw a light shining dimly in the distance. Where there was a light, there should be men. Tarzan moved cautiously forward to investigate.
He knew that he had crossed the river but that he was a long distance from the point at which he had entered it. He wondered what had become of Valthor; and determined, after he had investigated the light, to start up the river in search of him; even though he feared that his companion had been swept away by the flood, as he had.
But a few steps from the river Tarzan encountered a wall, and when he was close to the wall he could no longer see the light. Reaching upward, he discovered that the top of the wall was still above the tips of his outstretched fingers; but walls that were made to keep one out also invited one to climb them. The ape-man, filled with the curiosity of the beast, desired more than ever to investigate the light he had seen.
Stepping back a few paces, he ran toward the wall and sprang upward. His extended fingers gripped the top of the wall and clung there. Slowly he drew himself up, threw a leg upon the capstones, and looked to see what might be seen upon the opposite side of the wall.
He did not see much; a square of dim light forty or fifty feet away; that was all, and it did not satisfy his curiosity. Silently he lowered himself to the ground upon the same side as the light and moved cautiously forward. Beneath his bare feet he felt stone flagging, and guessed that he was in a paved courtyard.
He had crossed about half the distance to the light when the retreating storm flashed a farewell bolt from the distance. This distant lighting but barely sufficed to momentarily relieve the darkness surrounding the ape-man, revealing a low building, a lighted window, a deeply recessed doorway in the shelter of which stood a man. It also revealed Tarzan to the man in the doorway.
Instantly the silence was shattered by the brazen clatter of a gong. The door swung open, and men bearing torches rushed out. Tarzan, impelled by the natural caution of the beast, turned to run; but as he did so, he saw other open doors upon his flanks; and armed men with torches were rushing from these as well.
Realizing that flight was useless, Tarzan stood still with folded arms as the men converged upon him from three directions. Perhaps his insatiate curiosity prompted him to await quietly the coming of the men as much as a realization of the futility of flight. Tarzan wanted to see what the men were like and what they would do. He knew that he must be in the city of gold, and his imagination was inflamed. If they threatened him, he could still fight; if they imprisoned him, he could escape; so, at least, thought Tarzan, whose self-confidence was in proportion to his great size and his giant strength.
The torches carried by some of the men showed Tarzan that he was in a paved, quadrangular courtyard enclosed by buildings upon three sides and the wall he had scaled upon the fourth. Their light also revealed the fact that he was being surrounded by some fifty men armed with spears, the points of which were directed toward him in a menacing circle.
“Who are you?” demanded one of the men as the cordon drew tightly about him. The language in which the man spoke was the same as that which Tarzan had learned from Valthor, the common language of the enemy cities of Athne and Cathne.
“I am a stranger from a country far to the south,” replied the ape-man.
“What are you doing inside the walls of the palace of Nemone?” The speaker’s voice was threatening, his tone accusatory. Tarzan sensed that the presence of a stranger here was a crime in itself; but this made the situation all the more interesting; while the name, Nemone, possessed a quality that fired his interest.
“I was crossing the river far above here when the flood caught me and swept me down; it was only by chance that I finally made a landing here.”
The man who had been questioning him shrugged. “Well,” he admitted, “it is not for me to question you anyway. Come! You will have a chance to tell your story to an officer; but he will not believe it either.”
As the men conducted Tarzan toward one of the buildings, he thought that they seemed more curious than hostile. It was evident, however, that they were only common warriors without responsibility and he that might find the attitude of the officer class entirely different.
They conducted him into a large, low-ceilinged room which was furnished with rough benches and tables; upon the walls hung weapons, spears and swords; and there were shields of elephant hide studded with gold bosses. But there were other things in this strange room that compelled the interest of the ape-man far more than did the weapons and the shields; upon the walls were mounted the heads of animals; there were the heads of sheep and goats and lions and elephants. Among these, sinister and forbidding, were the scowling heads of men. The sight of them reminded Tarzan of the stories Valthor had told him of these men of Cathne.
Two men guarded Tarzan in one corner of the room, while another was dispatched to notify a superior of the capture; the remainder loafed about the room, talking, playing games, cleaning their weapons. The prisoner took the opportunity to examine his captors.
They were well set up men, many of them not ill-favored, though for the most part of ignorant and brutal appearance. Their helmets, habergeons, wristlets, and anklets were of elephant hide heavily embossed with gold studs. Long hair from the manes of lions fringed the tops of their anklets and wristlets and was also used for ornamental purposes along the crests of their helmets and upon some of their shields and weapons. The elephant hide that composed their habergeons was cut into discs, and the habergeon fabricated in a manner similar to that one of ivory which Valthor had worn. In the center of each shield was a heavy boss of solid gold. Upon the harnesses and weapons of these common soldiers was a fortune in the precious metal.
ERB sketches of these apparels are on pages 286-287 of the recently published Tarzan and the City of Gold. Also, on page 286 is a sketch of Nemone’s chariot which will be introduced at a later time.
While Tarzan, immoble, silent, surveyed the scene with eyes that seemed scarcely to move yet missed no detail, two warriors entered the room; and the instant that they crossed the threshold silence fell upon the men congregated in the chamber; and Tarzan knew by that these were officers, though their trappings would have been sufficient evidence of their superior stations in life.
Habergeons and helmets, wristlets and anklets were all of gold and ivory, as were the hilts and scabbards of their short, dagger-like swords. The two presented a gorgeous picture against the background of the grim room and relatively somber trappings of the common soldiers.
At a word of command from one of the two, the common warriors fell back, clearing one end of the room; then the two seated themselves at a table and ordered Tarzan’s guards to bring him forward. As the Lord of the Jungle halted before them both men surveyed him critically.
“Why are you in Othnar?” demanded one who was evidently the superior, since he propounded all the questions during the interview.
Tarzan answered this and other questions as he had answered similar ones at the time of his capture, but he sensed from the attitudes of the two officers that neither was impressed with the truth of his statements. They seemed to have preconceived a conviction concerning him that nothing which he might say could alter.
“He does not look much like an Athnean,” remarked the younger man.
“That proves nothing,” snapped the other. “Naked men look like naked men. He might pass for your own cousin were he garbed as you are garbed.”
“Perhaps you are right, but why is he here? A man does come alone from Thenar to raid in Othnar. Unless –” he hesitated; “unless he was sent to assassinate the Queen!”
“I had thought of that,” said the older man. “Because of what happened to the last Athnean prisoners we took, the Athneans are very angry with the Queen. Yes, they might easily attempt to assassinate her.”
“For what other reason would a stranger enter the palace grounds? He would know that he must die if he were caught.”
“Of course, and this man expected to die; but he intended killing the Queen first. He was willing to martyr himself for Athne.”
Tarzan was almost amused as he contemplated the ease with which these two convinced themselves that what they wanted to believe true, was true; but he realized that this form of one-sided trial might prove disastrous to him if his fate were to be decided by such a tribunal and so he was prompted to speak.
“I have never been to Athne,” he said quietly. “I am from a country far to the south. An accident brought me here. I am not an enemy. I have not come to kill your Queen or any other. Until today I did not know that your city existed.” This was a long speech for Tarzan of the Apes. He was almost positive that it would not influence his captors, yet there was a chance that they might believe him. He wished to remain among these people until his curiosity concerning them had been satisfied, and he felt that he might only do this by winning their confidence; if they imprisoned him, he would see nothing while he was in prison; and when he got out of prison, he would see but little more; as he would then be concerned only with the business of escape.
Men are peculiar, and none knew this better than Tarzan, who, because he had seen rather less of men than of beasts, had been inclined to study those whom he had seen. Now he was studying the two men who were questioning him. The elder he judged to be a man accustomed to the exercise of great power; cunning, ruthless, cruel. Tarzan did not like him. His was the instinctive appraisal of the wild beast.
The younger man was of an entirely different mold. He was intelligent rather than cunning; his countenance bespoke a frank and open nature. The ape-man judged that he was both honest and courageous. It was true that he had agreed with all that the elder man had said, almost in contradiction of his own original statement that Tarzan did not resemble an Athnean; but in that the ape-man saw confirmation of his belief in the younger man’s intelligence. Only a fool contradicts his superior for no good purpose.
While he was certain that the younger man had little authority, compared with that exercised by his superior, yet Tarzan thought best to address him rather than the other because he thought that he might win an ally in the younger of the two officers.
“Are these men of Athne like me?” he asked.
For an instant the officer hesitated; then he said, quite frankly, “No, they are not like you. You are unlike any man I have seen.”
“Are their weapons like my weapons?” continued the ape-man. “There are mine over in the corner of the room; your men took them away from me. Look at them.”
Even the elder officer seemed interested. “Bring them here,” he ordered one of the warriors.
The man brought them and laid them on the table before the two officers; the spear, the bow, the quiver of arrows, the grass rope, and the knife. The two men picked them up one by one and examined them carefully. Both seemed interested.
“Are they like the weapons of the Athneans?” demanded Tarzan. Of course he knew that they were not, but he thought it best not to acquaint these men with the fact that he had been consorting with one of their enemies.
“They are nothing like them,” admitted the younger man. “What do you suppose this thing is for, Tomos?” he asked his companion as he examined Tarzan’s bow.
“It may be a snare of some type,” replied Tomos; “probably for small animals – it would be useless against anything large.”
“Let me take it,” suggested Tarzan, “and I will show you how it is used.”
The younger man handed the bow to the ape-man.
“Be careful, Gemnon,” cautioned Tomos; “this may be a trick, a subterfuge by which he hopes to get possession of a weapon with which to kill us.”
“He cannot kill us with that thing,” replied Gemnon. “Let’s see how he uses it. Go ahead – let’s see how, what did you say your name is?”
“Tarzan,” replied the Lord of the Jungle, “Tarzan of the Apes.”
“Well, go ahead, Tarzan; but see that you do not attempt to attack any of us.”
Tarzan stepped to the table and took an arrow from his quiver; then he glanced about the room. On the wall at the far end a lion’s head with open mouth hung near the ceiling. With what appeared but a single swift motion he fitted the arrow to the bow, drew the feathered shaft to his shoulder, and released it.
Every eye in the room had been upon him, for the common warriors had been interested spectators of what had been transpiring; every eye saw the shaft quivering now where it protruded from the center of the lion’s mouth; and an involuntary exclamation broke from every throat, an exclamation in which were mingled surprise and applause.
“Take the thing away from him, Gemnon,”snapped Tomos. “It is not a safe weapon in the hands of an enemy.”
Tarzan tossed the bow to the table. “Do the Athneans use this weapon?” he asked.
Gemnon shook his head. “We know no men who use such a weapon,” he replied.
“Then you must know that I am no Athnean,” stated Tarzan, looking squarely at Tomos.
“It makes no difference where you are from,” snapped Tomos; “you are an enemy.”
The ape-man shrugged but remained silent. He had accomplished all that he had hoped for. He was sure that he had convinced them both that he was not an Athnean and had aroused the interest of the younger man, Gemnon. Something might come of this; though just what, he did not know himself.
Gemnon had leaned close to Tomos and was whispering in the latter’s ear, evidently urging some action upon him. Tarzan could not hear what he was saying. The elder man listened impatiently; it was clear that he was not in accord with the suggestions of his junior.
“No,” he said when the other was finished. “I will not permit anything of the sort. The life of the Queen is too sacred to risk by permitting this fellow any freedom. We shall lock him up for the night, and tomorrow decide what shall be done with him.” He turned to a warrior who seemed to be an underofficer. “Take this fellow to the strong house,” he said, “and see that he does not escape.” Then he rose and strode from the room, followed by his younger companion.
When they had gone, the man in whose charge Tarzan had been left picked up the bow and examined it. “What do you call this thing?” he demanded.
“A bow,” replied the ape-man.
“Will they kill a man?”
“With them I have killed men and lions and buffaloes and elephants,” replied Tarzan. “Would you like to learn how to use them?” Perhaps, he thought, a little kindly feeling in the guardroom might be helpful to him later on. Just at present he was not thinking of escape; these people and the city of gold were far too interesting to leave until he had seen more of them.
The man fingering the bow hesitated. Tarzan guessed that he wished to try his hand with the weapon but feared to delay carrying out the order of his officer.
“It will take but a moment,” suggested Tarzan. “See, let me show you.”
Half reluctantly the man handed him the bow and Tarzan selected another arrow.
“Hold them like this,” he directed and placed the bow and arrow correctly in the other’s hands. “Tell your men to stand aside; you may not shoot accurately at first. Aim at the lion’s head, as I did. Now draw the bowstring back as far as you can.”
The man, of stocky, powerful build tugged at the bowstring; but the bow that Tarzan bent so easily he could scarcely bend at all. When he released the arrow it flew but a few feet and dropped to the floor. “What’s wrong?” he demanded.
“It requires practice,” the ape-man told him.
“There is a trick to it,” insisted the underofficer. “Let me see you do it again.”
The other warriors, watching with manifest interest, whispered among themselves or commented opely. “It takes a strong man to bend that stick,” said one.
“Althides is a strong man,” retorted another.
“But he is not strong enough.”
Althides, the underofficer, watched intently while Tarzan strung the bow again and bent it; he saw how easily the stranger flexed the heavy wood, and he marveled. The other men looked on in open admiration, and this time a shout of approval arose as Tarzan’s second arrow
crowded the first in the mouth of the lion. When the symbols of high authority are absent men can be human.
Althides scratched his head. “I shall have to lock you up now,” he said, “or old Tomos will have my head on the wall of his palace; but I shall practice with this strange weapon until I learn to use it. Are you sure that there is no trick in bending that thing you call a bow?”
“There is no trick to it,” Tarzan assured him. “Make yourself a lighter bow and you will find it easier, or bring me the material and I will make one for you.”
“That I will do,” exclaimed Althides. “Come now and be locked up.”
A guard accompanied Tarzan across the courtyard to another building where he was placed in a room whlch, in the light of the torches borne by his escort, he saw had another occupant; then they left him, locking the heavy door behind them; and Tarzan heard their footsteps dying away across the courtyard as they took themselves and their torches off, leaving him in darkness.
He could not see his companion, but he could hear his breathing. He wondered with whom fate had cast him in this remote dungeon of the city of gold.
Well, Tarzan is getting his curiosity piqued in a most bizarre manner. And just who is the stranger Tarzan cannot see but hears him breathing? Friend or foe. See you in the next chapter.
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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