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Volume 7497

Chapter 6
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
           Well, here we are in the impenetrable darkness of a dungeon in the City of Gold, waiting patiently to get our first glimpse of the beautiful, but disturbed, Queen Nemone. And just who is that other guy in the room? Let’s find out.

Chapter Six: The Man Who Stepped On A God

            Now that the torches were gone the room was very dark, but Tarzan lost no time in starting to investigate his prison. First he groped his way to the door, which he found to be constructed of solid planking with a small, square hole cut in it about the height of his eyes. There was no sign of lock or latch upon the inside and no way of ascertaining how it was secured from the outside.

            Leaving the door, Tarzan moved slowly along the walls, feeling carefully over the stone surface. He knew that the other occupant of the cell was sitting on a bench in one corner at the far end. He could still hear him breathing. As he examined the room Tarzan approached closer and closer to his fellow prisoner.

            In the rear wall the ape-man discovered a window. It was small and high set. The night was so dark that he could not tell whether it opened onto the outdoors or into another apartment of the building. As an avenue of escape the window appeared quite useless, as it was much too small to accomodate the body of a man.

            As Tarzan was examining the window he was close to the corner where the other man sat, and now he heard a movement there. He also noticed that the fellow’s breathing had increased in rapidity, as though he were nervous or excited. At last a voice sounded through the darkness.

            “What are you doing?” it demanded.

            “Examining the cell,” replied Tarzan.

            “It will do you no good, if you are looking for a way to escape,” said the voice. “You won’t get out of here until they take you out, no more than I shall.”

            Tarzan made no reply. There seemed nothing to say; and Tarzan seldom speaks, even when others might find much to say. He went on with his examination of the room. Passing the other occupant, he felt along the fourth and last wall; but his search revealed nothing to repay the effort. He was in a small, rectangular cell of stone that was furnished with a long bench at one end and had a door and a window letting into it.

            Tarzan walked to the far end of the room and sat down upon the bench. He was cold, wet, and hungry; but he was unafraid. He was thinking of all that had transpired since night had fallen and left him to the mercy of the storm; he wondered what the morrow held for him. It occurred to him that perhaps he had made a mistake in not attempting a break for liberty before his captors had succeeded in locking him in a cell from which there seemed little likelihood that he could escape at all, for in common with all animals he loathed captivity. However, here he was, locked up securely; and there seemed nothing to do but make the best of it. Some day they would take him out or unlock his cell door; then, unless he had learned that their intentions toward him were prompted by friendliness, he would take advantage of any opportunity that might be offered to escape.

            Presently the man in the corner of the cell addressed him. “Who are you?” he asked. “When they brought you in I saw by the light of the torches that you are neither a Cathnean nor an Athnean.” The man’s voice was coarse, his tones gruff; he demanded rather than requested. This did not please Tarzan, so he did not reply. “What’s the matter?” growled his fellow prisoner. “Are you dumb?” His voice was raised angrily.

            “Nor deaf,” replied the ape-man. “You do not have to shout at me.”

            The other was silent for a short time; then he spoke in an altered tone. “We may be locked in this hole together for a long time,” he said. “We might as well be friends.”

            “As you will,” replied Tarzan, his involuntary shrug passing unnoticed in the darkness of the cell.

            “My name is Phobeg,” said the man; “what is yours?”

            “Tarzan,” replied the ape-man.

            “Are you either Cathnean or Athnean?”

            “Neither; I am from a country far to the south.”

            “You would be better off had you stayed there,” offered Phobeg. “How do you happen to be here in Cathne?”

            “I was lost,” explained the ape-man, who had no intention of telling the entire truth and thus identifying himself as a friend of one of the Cathnean enemies. “I was caught in the flood and carried down the river to your city. Here they captured me and accused me of coming to assassinate your Queen.”

            “So they think you came to assassinate Nemone! Well, whether you did come for that purpose or not will make no difference.”

            “What do you mean?” demanded Tarzan.

            “I mean that in any event you will be killed in one way or another,” explained Phobeg; “whatever way will best amuse Nemone.”

            “Nemone is your Queen?” inquired the ape-man indifferently.

            “By the mane of god, she is all that and more!” exclaimed Phobeg fervently. “Such a queen there never has been in Onthar or Thenar before nor ever will be again. By the teeth of the great one! She makes them all stand around, the priests, the captains, and the councilors.”

            “But why should she have me destroyed who am only a stranger that became lost?”

            “We keep no white men prisoners, only blacks as slaves. Now, were you a woman you would not be killed; and were you a very good-looking woman (not too good-looking, however) you would be assured a life of ease and luxury. But you are only a man; so you will be killed to furnish a pleasurable break in the monotony of Nemone’s life.”

            “And what would happen to a too good-looking woman?” asked Tarzan.

            “Enough, if Nemone saw her,” replied Phobeg meaningly. “To be more beautiful than the Queens is equivalent to high treason in the estimation of Nemone. Why, men hide their wives and daughters if they think they are too beautiful; but there are few who would risk hiding an alien prisoner.

            “I know a man who has a very ugly wife,” continued Phobeg, “who never comes out of her house in the daytime. She tells her neighbors that her husband keeps her hidden for fear Nemone will see her. Then there was another who was too beautiful. Her husband tried to keep her hidden from Nemone, but one day the Queen saw her and ordered her nose and ears cut off. Yes, I am glad that I am an ugly man rather than a beautiful woman.”

            This kind of sounds like the evil Queen in Snow White, with her magic mirror: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” At least Snow White didn’t get her nose and ears cut off. The evil Queen settled for a poisoned apple instead.

            “Is the Queen beautiful?” asked Tarzan.

            “Yes, by the claws of the all-high, she is the most beautiful woman in the world.”

            “Knowing her policy, as you have explained it,” remarked the ape-man, “I can readily believe that she may be the most beautiful woman in Cathne and quite sure of remaining so as long as she lives and is Queen.”

            “Do not mistake me,” said Phobeg; “Nemone is beautiful; but,” and he lowered his voice to a whisper, “she is a she-Satan. Even I who have served her faithfully may not look to her for mercy.”

            “What did you do to get here?” inquired the ape-man.

            “I accidentally stepped on god’s tail,” replied Phobeg gloomily.

            The man’s strange oaths had not gone unnoticed by Tarzan, and now this latest remarkable reference to deity astounded him; but contact with strange peoples had taught him to learn certain things concerning them by observations and experience rather than by direct questioning, matters of religion being chief among these; so now he only commented, “And therefore you are being punished.”

            “Not yet,” replied Phobeg. “The form of my punishment has not yet been decided. If Nemone has other amusements I may escape punishment, or I may come through my trial successfully and be freed; but the chances are all against me, for Nemone seldom has sufficient bloody amusement to sate her.

            “Of course, if she leaves the decision of my guilt or innocence to the chance of an encounter with a single man I shall doubtless be successful in proving the latter, for I am very strong, and there is no better sword – or spearman in Cathne; but I should have less chance against a lion, while, faced by the eternal fires of frowning Xarator, all men are guilty.”

            Although the man spoke the language Valthor had taught the ape-man and he understood the words, the meaning of what he said was as Greek to Tarzan. He could not quite grasp what the amusements of the Queen had to do with the administration of justice even though the inferences to be derived from Phobeg’s remarks seemed apparent; the conclusion was too sinister to be entertained by the noble mind of the Lord of the Jungle.

            He was still considering the subject and wondering about the eternal fires of frowning Xarator when sleep overcame his physical discomforts and merged his speculations with his dreams; and to the south another jungle beast crouched in the shelter of a rocky ledge while the storm that had betrayed Tarzan to new enemies wasted its waning wrath and passed on into the nothingness that is the sepulcher of storms; then as the new day dawned bright and clear he arose and stepped out into the sunlight, the great lion with the golden coat and the black mane.

            He sniffed the morning air and stretched, yawning. His sinuous tail twitched nervously as he looked about over the vast domain that was his because he was there, as every wilderness is the domain of the king of beasts while his majesty is in residence.

            From the slight elevation upon which he stood, his yellow-green eyes surveyed a broad plain, tree dotted. There was game there in plenty: wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, koodoo, and hartebeest; and the king was hungry, for the rain had prevented his making a kill the previous night. He blinked his yellow-green eyes in the new sunlight and strode majestically down toward the plain and his breakfast, as, many miles to the north, a black slave accompanied by two warriors brought breakfast to another Lord of the Jungle in a prison cell in Cathne.

            At the sound of footsteps approaching his prison Tarzan awoke and arose from the cold stone floor where he had been sleeping. Phobeg sat upon the edge of the wooden bench and watched the door.

            “They bring us food or death,” he said; “one never knows.”

            The ape-man made no reply. He stood there waiting until the door swung open and the slave entered with the food in a rough earthen bowl and water in a glazed jug; he looked at the two warriors standing in the open doorway and at the sunlit courtyard beyond them. What was passing in that savage mind? Perhaps the warriors would have been less at ease could they have known, but the ape-man made no move. Curiosity kept him prisoner there quite as much as armed men or sturdy door, and now he looked beyond the two warriors who were eyeing him intently. They had not been on duty the night before and had not seen him, but they had heard of him. His feat with his strange weapon had been told them by their fellows.

            “So this is the wild man!” exclaimed one.

            “You had better be careful, Phobeg,” said the other: “I should hate to be locked up in a cell with a wild man”; then, laughing at his joke, he slammed the door after the slave had come out; and the three went away.

            Phobeg was appraising Tarzan with a new eye; his nakedness took on a new meaning in the light of that descriptive term, wild man.

            Phobeg noted the great height of his cellmate, the expanse of his chest, and his narrow hips; but he greatly underestimated the strength of the symmetrical muscles that flowed so smoothly beneath the bronzed hide; then he glanced at his own gnarled and knotted muscles and was satisfied.

            “So you are a wild man?” he demanded. “How wild are you?”

            Tarzan turned slowly toward the speaker. He thought that he recognized thinly veiled sarcasm in the tone of Phobeg’s voice. For the first time he saw his companion in the light of day. He saw a man a few inches shorter than himself but of mighty build, a man of great girth and bulging muscles, a man who might outweigh the Lord of the Jungle by fifty pounds. He noted his prominent jaw, his receding forehead, and his small eyes. In silence Tarzan regarded Phobeg.

            “Why don’t you answer?” demanded the Cathnean.

            “Do not be a fool,” admonished Tarzan. “I recall that last night you said that as we might be confined here for a long time we might as well be friends. We cannot be friends by insulting one another. Food is here. Let us eat.”

            Phobeg grunted and inserted one of his big paws into the pot the slave had brought. As there was no knife or fork or spoon, Tarzan had no alternative but to do likewise if he wished to eat; and so he too took food from the pot with his fingers. The food was meat; it was tough and stringy and undercooked; had it been raw Tarzan had been better suited.

            Phobeg chewed assiduously upon a mouthful of the meat until he had reduced the fibers to a pulp that would pass down his throat. “An old lion must have died yesterday,” he remarked, “a very old lion.”

            “If we acquire the characteristics of the creatures we eat, as many men believe,” Tarzan replied, “we should soon die of old age on this diet.”

            “Yesterday I had a piece of goat’s meat from Thenar,” said Phobeg. “It was strong and none too tender, but it was better than this. I am accustomed to good food. In the temple the priests live as well as the nobles do in the palace, and so the temple guard lives well on the leavings of the priests. I was a member of the temple guard. I am the strongest man in Cathne. When raiders come from Thenar, or when I am taken there on raids the nobles marvel at my strength and bravery. I am afraid of nothing. With my bare hands I have killed men. Did you ever see a man like me?”

            “No,” admitted the ape-man.

            “Yes, it is well that we should be friends,” continued Phobeg, “well for you. Everyone wants to be friends with me, for they have learned that my enemies get their necks twisted. I take them like this, by the head and the neck,” and with his great paws he went through a pantomime of seizing and twisting; “then, crack! their spines break. What do you think of that?”

            “I should think that your enemies would find that very uncomfortable,” replied Tarzan.

            “Uncomfortable!” ejaculated Phobeg. “Why, man, it kills them!”

            “At least they can no longer hear,” commented the Lord of the Jungle.

            “Of course they cannot hear; they are dead. I do not see what that has to do with it.”

            “That does not surprise me,” Tarzan assured him.

            “What does not surprise you?” demanded Phobeg. “That they are dead? or that they cannot hear?”

            “I am not easily surprised by anything,” explained the ape-man.

            Beneath his low forehead Phobeg’s brows were knitted in thought. He scratched his head. “What were we talking about?” he demanded.

            “We were trying to decide which would be more terrible,” explained Tarzan patiently, “to have you for a friend or an enemy.”

            Phobeg looked at his companion for a long time. One could almost see the laborious effort of cerebration going on beneath that thick skull. Then he shook his head. “That is not what we were talking about at all,” he grumbled. “Now I have forgotten. I never saw anyone as stupid as you. When they called you a wild man they must have meant a crazy man. And I have got to remain locked in here with you for no one knows how long.”

           “You can always get rid of me.” said Tarzan quite seriously.

            One gets the feeling that Tarzan is pimping Phobeg into committing an act he will surely regret. I am sure Tarzan is tired of Phobeg’s bragging and would like to teach him a lesson.

            “How can I get rid of you?” demanded the Cathnean.

            “You can twist my neck, like this,” Tarzan mimicked the pantomime in which Phobeg had explained how he’d rid himself of his enemies.

            “I could do it,” boasted Phobeg, “ but then they would kill me. No, I shall let you live.”

            “Thanks,” said Tarzan.

            “Or at least while we are locked up here together,” added Phobeg.

            Experience had taught Tarzan that the more stupid or ignorant the man the more egotistical he was likely to be, but he had never before encountered such an example of crass stupidity and stupendous egotism as Phobeg presented. To be locked up at all with this brainless mass of flesh was bad enough in itself; but to be on bad terms with it at the same time would make matters infinitely less bearable, and so Tarzan determined to brook everything other than actual physical abuse that he might lighten the galling burden of incarceration.

            Loss of liberty represented for Tarzan, at it does for all creatures endowed with brains, the acme of misery, more to be avoided than physical pain, yet, with stoic fortitude he accepted his fate without a murmer of protest; and while his body was confined between the narrow confines of four walls of stone his memories roved the jungle and the veldt and lived again the freedom and the experiences of the past.

            He recalled the days of his childhood when fierce Kala, the she-ape that had suckled him at her hairy breast in his infancy, had protected him from the dangers of their savage life; and he recalled her gentleness and her patience with this backward child who must still be carried in her arms long after the balus of her companion shes were able to scurry through the trees seeking their own food and even able to protect themselves against their enemies by flight if nothing more.

            These were his first impressions of life, dating back perhaps to his second year while he was still unable to swing through the trees or even make much progress upon the ground. After that he had developed rapidly, far more rapidly than a pampered child of civilization, for upon the quick development of his cunning and his strength depended his life.

            With a faint smile he recalled the rage of old Tublat, his foster father, when Tarzan had deliberately undertaken to annoy him. Old “Broken-nose” had always hated Tarzan because the helplessness of his long-drawn infancy had prevented Kala from bearing other apes. Tublat had argued in the meager languagae of the apes that Tarzan was a weakling that would never become strong enough or clever enough to be of value to the tribe. He wanted Tarzan killed; and he tried to get old Kerchak, the king, to decree his death; so when Tarzan grew old enough to understand, he hated Tublat and sought to annoy him in every way that he could.

            His memories of those days brought only smiles now, save only the great tragedy of his life, the death of Kala; but that had occurred later, when he was almost a grown man. She had been saved to him while he needed her most and not taken away until after he was amply able to fend for himself and meet the other denizens of the jungle upon an equal footing. But it was not the protection of those great arms and mighty fangs that he had missed, that he still missed even today; he had missed the maternal love of that savage heart, the only mother-love that he had ever known.

            And now his thoughts turned naturally to other friends of the jungle of whom Kala had been first and greatest. There were his many friends among the great apes; there was Tantor, the elephant; there was Jad-bal-ja, the Golden Lion; there was little Nkima. Poor little Nkima! Much to his disgust and amid loud howls, Nkima had been left behind this time when Tarzan set out upon his journey into the north country; but the little monkey had contracted a cold and the ape-man did not wish to expose him to the closing rains of the rainy season.

            Tarzan regretted a little that he had not brought Jad-bal-ja with him, for though he could do very well for considerable periods without the companionship of man, he often missed that of the wild beasts that were his friends. Of course the Golden Lion was sometimes an embarrassing companion when one was in contact with human beings; but he was a loyal friend and good company, for only occasionally did he break the silence.

            Tarzan recalled the day that he had captured the tiny cub and how long he had taught the bitch, Za, to suckle it. What a cub he had been! All lion from the very first. Tarzan sighed as he thought of the days that he and the Golden Lion had hunted and fought together.

            As we can see, Tarzan has a way of dealing with the fact that his liberty has been severely limited, by taking a long stroll down memory lane. It won’t be long now before he meets the supreme ERB femme fatale, so we will let him enjoy his past while he can. See you in the next chapter.


Part I

ERBzine 7496
CH. 1
_CH. 2_CH. 3_CH. 4_CH. 5
ERBzine 7497
CH. 6
_CH. 7_CH. 8_CH. 9_CH. 10
ERBzine 7498
CH. 11
_CH. 12_CH. 13_CH. 14_CH. 15
ERBzine 7499
CH. 16
_CH. 17_CH. 18_CH. 19

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