"It was here we found the dead guards. Where, or in what direction, the Hair_en took Alurna is not known. Vulcar and his men followed this trail away fro_ephar."
The guard detailed to show Tharn the scene of Alurna's capture had told all h_new. To the cave man it more than sufficed; following a trail left less tha_ sun before would not tax his prowess.
"You have told me enough," Tharn assured him. "Hasten back to your chief an_ell him I will return soon—his daughter with me."
The Cro-Magnard, a slight smile touching his lips, watched the retreatin_igure until it disappeared around a bend of the trail. Even then he did no_ove, but stood quiet, arms folded across his swelling chest, drawing grea_raughts of humid air deep into his lungs.
Free! Gone were stone walls, cold floors and barred doors. No longer must h_o only where others permitted. There were soft grasses and growing thing_bout him. Overhead was the limitless blue of space; and there was Dyta, th_un, sending golden spears to prick, with welcome heat, the smooth skin of th_ave lord.
Siha, the wind, moving in little eddies and gusts, brought to his nostrils _eavy pungent cloying odor belonging only to the jungle; the combined essenc_f uncounted varieties of plants, together with the comingled scent of endles_mall life that makes of the jungle a teeming city in itself. Overhead, littl_obar, the monkey, sat on a low-hanging branch and scolded roundly the two- legged creature in the trail below.
Yes, it was good to be free again. Good to know the pure pleasure of unlimite_istas of trees and plains. A vision of his father's caves and the members o_is tribe rose before him, bringing the pangs of homesickness. Bu_uperimposed on the familiar scene came, unbidden, the lovely face and softl_ounded figure of Dylara.
Siha veered sharply and came sweeping at right angles across the path. Thar_tiffened for strong in his nostrils was the scent of Tarlok, the leopard. H_as instantly alert—a wary jungle denizen who wheeled and faced upwind, eye_arrowed, the sharp blade of flint ready in his right hand.
The strength of the great cat's scent faded as the creature moved farthe_way. Whether or not it had caught Tharn's scent did not interest the cave- man, now; a retreating danger ceased to be of interest.
For a few minutes Tharn carefully went over the floor of the trail at th_oint where the abduction had taken place, as well as the neighborin_ndergrowth. Soon he found the several hiding places of the Hairy Ones; and _it later he came upon the delicate footmarks of Alurna within the trai_tself. One of these prints was almost obliterated by the broad square mark o_ great naked foot; it was here Mog's initial leap had ended beside the girl.
Dropping to hands and knees, Tharn placed sensitive nostrils close to th_arks. To that unbelievably keen organ was borne the individual scent spoor o_lurna, as well as that of Mog, the sullen. Immediately there were engraved o_harn's memory, scent impressions he would recognize among a hundred other_or a long time to come.
He found more of Mog's footprints, all leading along the path and away fro_ephar. He followed these, increasing his pace when they showed no indicatio_f swerving from the trail. Satisfied that locating Alurna's captor was only _atter of following the path underfoot, Tharn went on. He felt no inclinatio_o hurry. Too long had he been denied freedom from supervision. The sooner h_ound the missing girl, the sooner he must return to Sephar—even though he an_ylara were to be freed the moment he returned.
As he strolled along, he was reminded of the bow and arrows hanging at hi_ack—these and a stone knife and a grass rope were the weapons he had chose_hen preparing to leave Sephar.
The bow, he found, was fashioned from a hard black wood. Its inner surface wa_early flat; the outer quite round. Both ends were gracefully tapered, eac_otched to hold a string of catgut.
The arrows were made from the same wood as the bow. Their heads were of flint, painstakingly shaped into the likeness of a small leaf, and exceedingly sharp.
Each head was fitted snugly into a deep groove, packed about with a clay-lik_ubstance and hardened by fire until nearly impossible to loosen. Near th_utt of each arrow a thin rounded bit of wood had been inserted to guide it_light.
Bordering the trail some fifty paces ahead, stood a small tree. During som_ecent storm a lightning bolt had torn a jagged streak in its bole, close t_he ground, leaving a strip of white wood gleaming in the sun.
Partly through accident and partly by clear reasoning, Tharn drew the bow wit_he finished technique of a veteran archer. His left arm, stiffly extended, pointed straight at the selected mark; his right hand, fingers hooked abou_he string, came smoothly back to a point just below the lobe of his righ_ar.
There sounded a singing "twang" and a polished bolt flashed in the sunlight, passed the tree's bole by a good foot and disappeared into the foliage.
Tharn ruefully rubbed an angry welt on his left wrist where the bowstring ha_tung him. He understood, now, why many of Sephar's warriors wore wristbands.
With his knife he hacked off a strip of his loin cloth. This he bound abou_is left wrist, then took up the bow, his chin set in determined lines.
On his third attempt he hit the mark, sending an arrowhead deep into th_enter of the white patch.
The cave-man all but shouted aloud. Lovingly he ran his palms over the blac_ood. No matter what he had suffered at Sepharian hands, they had repaid man_imes over by disclosing to him the power in a gut-strung branch. Now in trut_as he lord of the jungle! He pictured Sadu dead, a few well-placed arrows i_is carcass. And shaggy-coated Conta, the cave-bear; of what protection hi_ough hide against such keen-tipped shafts?
Clearly, Tharn had forgotten the mission that had sent him into the jungle.
Everything ceased to exist for him except the bow in his hands and the quive_f arrows at his back. Although he continued on toward the west, his progres_as slow and uncertain; for the cave-man was determined to become an exper_owman without delay.
At first he was content to use nothing more difficult than tree trunks a_argets; but as he increased in skill his ambition led him to seek mor_ifficult marks.
Nobar, the monkey, industriously occupied in searching the hairs on his bell_or dried bits of dead skin, almost fell from his perch in fright as somethin_treaked past his nose with a vicious hiss. With the nimble alacrity of hi_ind he rocketed thirty feet upward, where, from a swaying vine, he hurled _orrent of verbal abuse at the grinning youth in the trail below.
The hours sped by, but Tharn never noticed. At first he lost almost ever_rrow he shot, but little by little his skill was increasing. He attempte_rawing the bow with either hand; he sought to release a second arrow befor_he first had struck; he shot at birds on the wing.
Darkness came upon him without warning. Then it was he remembered he had no_aten since morning. An inventory of his supply of arrows revealed only eigh_emained of the full two dozen he had brought from Sephar.
He would sleep now. In the morning he would find food and water. And he woul_ake his kill with an arrow—of that he was determined. The bow had proved _onderful toy; when Dyta came Tharn would prove its practical worth… .
With the first rays of the morning sun Tharn slid from his arboreal couch an_et out at a rapid trot along the trail into the west. An hour later he wa_rossing the narrow belt of grasses bordering the precipice overlooking _orest-filled valley.
Here he found where Mog and Alurna had started their tortuous descent. Here, too, were signs of the passage of other Neanderthals, and those of Vulcar'_earching party.
Before descending the cliff, Tharn turned back to the plain in search of food.
Not long after, he had completed a successful stalk of Narjok, the horne_eer, and brought it down with a single arrow. After devouring a generou_uantity of raw flank-meat, he drank deep of the waters of a small spring an_ame back to the brink of the precipice.
Tharn went down that vertical cliffside as though it were a broad staircase.
At the base he found a tangle of overlapping footsteps leading straight towar_ game trail leading into the nearby jungle. Toward its mouth moved the youn_iant; and so confident was he that Alurna had been carried along this pat_hat only by chance did he keep from losing valuable time.
As the Cro-Magnard neared the trees, the undergrowth parted with a sligh_ustle, and Gubo, the hyena, slunk deeper into the forest.
At the first sound of disturbed brush, Tharn had pivoted about and wit_nthinkable quickness unslung his bow and fitted an arrow into place. At sigh_f cowardly Gubo he smiled and relaxed; but before he turned back to th_rail, he saw signs of a recent struggle in the matted grass close by. I_ight have nothing to do with the business at hand—and, again, it might.
A brief investigation gave him the complete picture. Here, Mog had gone dow_eneath Sadu; a few paces away were the broken grasses where Alurna had bee_ossed. He knew, without troubling to look, that Mog's bones were bleachin_ehind yonder wall of verdure.
Well, the Hairy One was dead; it would save Tharn the task of killing him. No_ll that remained was to take the trail of the frightened girl at the plac_here she had plunged blindly into the dark waste of jungle. She could no_ave gotten far; and, except for the unlikely chance that one of the big cat_ad pulled her down, his mission should be finished before nightfall.
Delaying no longer, Tharn took up the trail of the princess, forging rapidl_head and following with ease the evidence of her hurried flight.
Soon he came to the tiny clearing in which Alurna had spent the previou_ight. Circling about, he quickly picked up her trail out of the glade, wen_n across a short stretch of jungle and out onto the banks of a little stream.
Here he found traces of small sandals in the soft mud. That these had not bee_ven partially obliterated by prowling beasts was evidence of the spoor'_reshness.
By this time the mid-day heat was at its strongest. Tharn paused long enoug_o slake his thirst, then set out along the same pathway taken by Alurna no_ong before.
A half hour later he was moving steadily ahead at a half trot, expecting t_ome upon the girl at any moment.
Suddenly he came to a full stop, head thrown back, sensitive nostril_earching the light breeze. And then he moved—as lightning moves.
Only the trembling of leaves marked where he had entered the trees overhead.