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Chapter 21 Conclusion

  • Upon reaching the street, they started for the palace, its white wall_leaming under the mid-morning sun. No citizen of Sephar was abroad; but th_arching men were conscious of watching eyes at windows of the buildings o_ither side.
  • The palace grounds, too, were deserted as they swept across the palace ground_nd dashed against the great double doors. They might as well have sought t_orce the palace walls so strongly barred were the heavy planks.
  • As they stood debating their next step, a shower of spears, arrows and club_ell suddenly upon them from above, killing several before Tharn could giv_he order to withdraw.
  • At a safe distance from the windows, Tharn, Vulcar and Katon held a brie_ouncil of war, finally agreeing upon a strategic maneuver that held promis_f being effective.
  • Eight warriors left the group, returning with a heavy log, free of branches.
  • This was carried, four men to a side, to within a short distance from th_arred entranceway. Now, eight replacements came forward, took up the massiv_ree trunk and started at a run toward the doors, the log's heavy base aime_t a point where the two rough-hewn sections joined.
  • Within a dozen paces of their objective, they swerved sharply to their lef_nd sent the great timber crashing through the slender stone columns of _arge window.
  • Following the log came those who had carried it, pouring through to th_allway beyond. It was deserted; evidently the defenders were grouped at th_pstairs windows, intending to stage their defense from that point.
  • A second later the palace doors were thrown wide and, notwithstanding a heav_arrage from overhead, the rebels soon over-ran the central hallway.
  • Halfway up the wide staircase they were met by a withering volley from th_pper passageway and stairhead. But Tharn raised his voice once more in th_wesome war challenge of his people, and which seemed to lift his follower_odily to the top of the steps.
  • Here, fighting was fast and furious. Although outnumbered at first by four t_ne, the insurgents made up that handicap by the intensity of their assault; and slowly but steadily Pryak's loyal troops were being pushed back.
  • Tharn was in his element! Knife and spear had been cast aside or lost; hi_nly weapons were his mighty hands. Yet his was the most feared figure amon_he rebels, as was attested to by the mound of strangled and broken guard_trewn about him.
  • Several times he saw Katon battling away close by, a long knife in eithe_and. Once, an enemy in a badly torn tunic was preparing to drive a knife int_is unsuspecting back. Tharn had torn a spear from the fingers of _eighboring comrade and without pausing to judge distance, had thrown i_cross the hall to pass half its length into the side of Katon's would-b_layer. The man had fallen, while Katon, unaware of his narrow escape, wa_inishing the warrior with whom he had been engaged.
  • Of Vulcar, Brutan and Rotark, Tharn had seen nothing since the battle began.
  • During momentary lulls he had time to wonder how they were faring—if, somewhere in this madhouse of fighting, bellowing men, they were managing t_eep their skins whole.
  • Gradually the palace defenders were weakening, losing heart as their list o_asualties grew. Already, the men of Tharn's party had sensed victory wa_lowly but surely passing into their hands.
  • And then came the unexpected, the one contingency which none of the rebe_eaders had forseen.
  • A ringing shout sounded from the open doorway, and through the gap cam_riests from the temple of Sephar's God. Instead of waiting for the freedom- hungry prisoners to take their first objective, then march against the Hous_f God, the cunning arch priest had sent every man he could muster t_einforce the palace garrison.
  • There must have been a hundred of them, fresh and—for priests—eager fo_attle. They fell upon the revolters from behind, spreading death an_onsternation in the thinning ranks of those from Sephar's pits.
  • Encouraged by aid from this wholly unexpected quarter, the palace defender_egained their fading morale and renewed the attack with reckless fury.
  • The end had come. Bitter was the realization to Tharn who, until now, had bee_ertain nothing could prevent his men from taking Sephar. He smarted under th_nowledge that wily old Pryak had outwitted them after all.
  • He might, under cover of the raging turmoil, have turned his back on friend_nd supporters to seek out Dylara's cell and escape with her from Sephar. Bu_he thought was gone as it was born; and the Cro-Magnard sought to rally hi_haken followers to the task of cutting a pathway back to the street. Onc_utside, some of them might manage to flee into the jungle—a far cry fro_heir ambitious dream of taking Sephar!
  • It began to appear, however, that leaving the palace was to be infinitely mor_ifficult than forcing an entrance had been. Again and again his men wer_epulsed by the white-faced but unflinching priests at the foot of th_taircase. Steadily the number of rebels grew less; and while they took mor_ives than they gave, there were too many to outlast.
  • Suddenly there rose above the pandemonium within, a chorus of savage crie_rom outside the open doors. Tharn straightened as though struck by an unsee_pear. His eyes went wide with incredulous astonishment bordering o_isbelief; then from his powerful lungs broke an answering shout that paled t_nsignificance the tumult about him.
  • Swarming into the hall below, came a host of strange, warlike fighting-men, naked except for panther- and leopard-skins about their loins. Splendid, beautifully proportioned barbarians they were, heavy war-spears gripped i_owerful right hands, sun-bronzed skins rippling under the play of corde_uscles.
  • At their head was the stalwart figure of a man such as never before had bee_een within Sephar's borders. Four inches above six feet he stood, slim of hi_nd broad of shoulder—a wealth of black hair held from his eyes by a strip o_ured snakeskin.
  • "Father!" burst from Tharn's lips.
  • At sound of his cry, the leader of the newcomers looked sharply in hi_irection.
  • "Kill!" shouted young Tharn, bringing one hand out in a sweeping gestur_oward the frozen ranks of priests.
  • In response, the Cro-Magnards threw themselves at the white-clad enemy. At th_ame time Tharn, the younger, leaped into action, shouting words o_nstruction and encouragement to his friends.
  • The end came quickly. Torn at from two sides, the priests broke and fled i_ll directions, the cave-men in hot pursuit. At sight of this, the origina_efenders threw down their weapons and surrendered on the spot.
  • Now came Tharn, the elder, striding forward to greet his son. Behind hi_rowded others of the tribe, wide smiles on their lips.
  • "We have searched long for you, my son," said the chief. "At times we wer_lose to giving up; it was not until yesterday that one of us found where yo_nd a girl had followed a game trail leading to this place."
  • "You could not have arrived at a better time!"
  • The chief smiled. Katon, watching from the background, marveled at th_triking resemblance of father to son when both smiled.
  • "At first," said the Cro-Magnard leader, "we were almost afraid to leave th_ungle's edge. But no one was about the openings in the walls, and as you_rail led straight toward one of them, we decided to follow it. Then, too, al_f us were curious to see what manner of people lived in such strange caves.
  • "No one tried to stop us. In fact, we saw no one at all. I was beginning t_onder if we were the only ones here until we heard sounds of fighting comin_rom here. The rest you know."
  • His son nodded. "Soon I shall tell you what I have gone through since I las_aw you. But first I have something to do."
  • He hesitated. How should he go about telling his father? He hoped Dylara woul_ot exhibit that temper of hers the first time she met the chief.
  • "What must you do?" the chief asked, glancing sharply at the face of his son.
  • "I have taken a mate!" There—it was out!
  • His father never batted an eye.
  • "Where is she?"
  • "Somewhere in this place. A prisoner, I suppose. Katon, here, may be able t_ind her. She—she may not seem pleased that I have come for her."
  • Those last words came out with an effort. But sooner or later his father wa_ound to learn he had taken a mate by force.
  • The elder man pursed his lips to keep from smiling. He was shrewd enough t_ome very close to the true state of affairs. But what of it? His ow_ourtship had been none too easy. Afterward, Nada and he had been closer tha_ords could express. He had never, nor would ever, lose the pain that had com_hen she had been taken captive by some strange tribe so many years ago.
  • Katon, at mention of his name, had stepped forward.
  • "This," Tharn said, "is Katon—my friend."
  • There was immediate approval in the eyes of both the blue-eyed Sepharian an_he Cro-Magnard chief.
  • "Dylara probably is in the slave quarters," Katon said. "If you will come wit_e, I will lead you there."
  • And shortly thereafter, father and son stood before a great door while Kato_emoved its heavy bar.
  • They entered a huge, sunlit room crowded with women, young and old, who shran_way from them in alarm.
  • There was one, however, who did not draw away. Her lovely face was registerin_stonishment and disbelief—and hope. One hand lifted slowly to her throat a_he stared into the eyes of Tharn's father.
  • Nor was she alone in displaying tangled emotions. Tharn, the elder, was gazin_t the woman as though unable to credit the evidence of his own eyes.
  • And then the man found his voice.
  • "Nada!" It was more gasp than a word.
  • "Tharn—my mate!"
  • An instant later she was caught up in his arms.
  • Young Tharn looked on in bewilderment, not grasping, at first, th_ignificance of that single word his father had uttered. Then, as the chie_urned toward him, an arm about the woman's shoulders, he understood.
  • Then his arm, too, was about her: and after twelve long years, father, son, and mother were reunited.
  • None of the three had much to say during the next few minutes. There was a_normous lump in Nada's throat, making speech impossible. She could not tak_er eyes from the splendid young man who, until a few days ago, she ha_hought to be dead. He was everything Dylara had said he was. She remembere_im as she had last seen him—a straight-backed, sturdy-legged youngster, whos_nquisitive nature and complete lack of fear had given her so many anxiou_oments. Even at that early age he had shown promise of the extraordinar_hysical development he now possessed.
  • But her greatest pride and satisfaction came from what she could see in thos_rank, compelling gray eyes—eyes mirroring a fine, sensitive soul and a_qually fine mind.
  • "Tell me," Nada said at last, "how did you know I was here?"
  • "I did not know," admitted her mate. "Did you, Tharn?"
  • Their son shook his head. "I never dreamed you were in Sephar. As a matter o_act, we came here to find a girl—Dylara, my—my mate. We thought she would b_ith the slaves."
  • Then it was that he saw a shadow come into Nada's eyes—a shadow which wipe_way his smile and closed a cold hand about his heart.
  • "Nada!" he exclaimed. "What is wrong? Has something happened to her?"
  • "She is … gone," his mother said dully.
  • "Gone?"
  • "Yes. Pryak gave her to a man from a land far to the south of Sephar. He ha_aken her there with him."
  • Tharn's face was white beneath its layer of tan. "How long since?" he demande_oarsely.
  • "This is the third day."
  • Without another word the young man wheeled and started for the door. Before h_ould reach it, however, strong fingers closed on his arm.
  • His father had stopped him. "Wait, Tharn. Where are you going?"
  • "After Dylara," said his son grimly.
  • "Of course; but do not leave so—so abruptly. Let us talk this over before yo_tart. Some of our men will go with you, once we have eaten and slept."
  • "I am neither tired nor hungry," retorted his son. "I am going alone; other_ould only delay me."
  • Katon chose this moment to intervene. "Wait a few hours, Tharn. There is muc_eft to be done here, and we need your help. A new king must be chosen an_rder restored to the palace and city. Once that is done there will be a feas_or all of us; then, after a good sleep, you can set out after Dylara. You ca_vertake those who have her within two or three suns."
  • Nada ended the discussion. "Stay until morning, my son," she pleaded. "I hav_ut found you; I cannot bear to let you go so soon."
  • The smile came back to Tharn's face. "As you will," he conceded. "But whe_yta comes again, I must leave you."
  • So it was decided, and the four went down to the lower floor to join th_thers.
  • That night, in the great dininghall of Sephar's palace, a happy throng sa_bout a long, wide table laden to its edges with an abundance of foods. At th_ead sat Katon; at his right hand was Tharn, the elder; and, on his left, wa_harn, the younger, his mother beside him.
  • Earlier that afternoon the former prisoners and those nobles who had no_allen in defense of Pryak's government, had assembled in the great centra_allway to elect a new king. Tharn, to his honest surprise, had been thei_nstant and unanimous choice. But he had declined the honor, saying:
  • "There is one among you who has every right to rule over you. He, himself, i_he son of a king—one who understands all those things expected of a ruler.
  • That man is Katon of Huxla!"
  • The roar of approval which followed his words reached far beyond Sephar'_alls. Katon would have protested but he had no chance of making himsel_eard, and he accepted—hiding his pleasure as best he could. He did not drea_hat a pang that speech had cost his Cro-Magnard friend, for with those word_harn had relinquished his hope of taking the Sepharian back with him to th_aves of his father.
  • Later in the day an armed force had entered the temple of Sephar's God; an_hile the feet of those faint-hearted members in the group had dragge_omewhat, none had turned back.
  • However, no resistance had materialized; instead, a horde of priests, arm_eld high, hands empty, had welled up from the subterranean maze below th_emple and begged the new ruler to accept them as his own loyal followers.
  • Among them was the Council of Priests, intact to a man—except for one. Bu_hat one was he whom Katon—and Vulcar!—had desired most to see: Pryak, hig_riest and Sephar's former king.
  • It was then that the new king displayed his ability to make sensibl_ecisions. Before leaving the temple he had appointed Cardon as high priest t_he God-Whose-Name-May-Not-Be-Spoken. Nor could he have made a wiser choice; for Cardon was possessor of a rugged honesty as well as a lack of ambitio_eyond his position. The long-standing feud between Church and State wa_nded.
  • Once these matters had been disposed of, Katon had sent his soldiery t_ssemble the residents of Sephar at the palace grounds. When a huge throng ha_illed not only the grassy expanse but the street as well, Katon, as ruler o_ephar, had proclaimed the new government and asked that they acknowledge, a_heir king, a warrior in place of a priest.
  • The thunderous, welcoming roar which greeted his words was all that was neede_o make of Sephar a unified community. Katon had immediately proclaimed a tw_ay holiday, to be given over to feasting and drinking; and, because he was _hrewd judge of human nature, he had announced that every citizen mus_acrifice some valued article to the God, whose help had made the revolt _uccess.
  • And so it was that on this night all Sephar, from palace to city walls, was i_ merry-making mood. Within the palace dininghall, there was only a singl_iny cloud to mar the clear sky of happiness; a cloud fast losing the dark hu_t at first had assumed.
  • This bit of gloom was caused by the absence of Dylara. But when young Thar_ad had an opportunity to reflect, there had come the certainty that Dylar_ould be back with him before many suns. Tharn knew he could cover in one da_hree times the distance that the slow-moving men from Ammad could travel i_hat same period of time. And while they must camp while Dyta slept, Thar_ould go on across nocturnal jungles and plains without being forced to slac_is speed.
  • Vulcar, earthen goblet in hand, was bellowing out an anecdote of the days whe_e had been a young warrior, when the hangings behind Tharn's bench swayed a_hough touched by a random current of air.
  • Because all eyes were fixed on the speaker, and because the faint candle ligh_ailed to reach much beyond the table, none saw the half crouched figure tha_tealthily pushed aside the curtain and tip-toed into the room. The intruder'_ips were curled in a crazed grimace of hate; in one hand was clutched a lon_lade of polished stone.
  • Nada, pausing in her eating from time to time to gaze fondly at her broad- shouldered son, caught a glimpse of something moving among the shadow_irectly behind the young man. What was it that lurked there?
  • Suddenly Nada screamed—a high-pitched, tearing sound that cut through th_abble of voices about the table.
  • With the first notes of the scream, a figure behind Tharn bounded forward an_rove a flint knife deep into the naked back of the surprised Cro-Magnard.
  • Nada's terrified cry was all that saved Tharn from instant death. For he wa_ising from his stool and turning as the scream left her lips. As a result, the knife point entered his back at an angle, ripping through the muscle_here to enter the lower tip of one lung.
  • Tharn, despite his agony, reached for the would-be assassin. But another wa_here before him—Vulcar, the hawk-faced.
  • The one-time captain of Urim's guards had vaulted the table in a flying lea_nd with a powerful sweep of his arm, knocked away the knife. Then he caugh_he man about the neck and forced him into a kneeling position.
  • "So, Pryak," cried the hawk-faced one, "you would add another killing to you_ist! Long have I waited for this—now comes your reward for the death o_rim!"
  • Pryak opened his lips to plead for mercy, but before the words could come h_as whirled up from the floor as though he were a figure of straw. Then, a_he others watched in awe, Vulcar brought the screaming man down on the edg_f the massive table.
  • There was a crunching sound from splintering bones, one last nerve-tearing cr_f agony and fear—and Pryak, the ambitious, was gone to his reward.
  • As the guests stood staring down at the broken form, a thin trickle of bloo_ppeared at one corner of Tharn's mouth and coursed to his chin. Dazedly h_ifted a hand to wipe away the stain, then his knees gave way, and before th_aralyzed company could prevent, Tharn, the son of Tharn, had pitched to th_loor.
  • When complete consciousness first returned, he was aware of a great mound o_oft skins beneath him; and he opened tired eyes to a sun-flooded room. For _ittle while he was content to remain so, staring at the stone ceiling.
  • Later, he slowly turned his head and looked into the eyes of Nada. For a fe_inutes mother and son did not speak; then she reached out to touch his hand.
  • "You have come back to us, Tharn," she said softly.
  • Tharn pondered over her remark. When he spoke he was startled by th_eebleness of his voice.
  • "How long have I lain here?"
  • "Half a moon."
  • "Half a—!" He sought to sit up, but sank back as a stabbing pain shot throug_is chest.
  • "No, no, Tharn!" cried Nada. "You still are not well. The wound in your bac_s not completely healed, and the jungle fever left you only a little whil_go."
  • Tharn frowned. He was so very tired. "But—Dylara … I must go after her. _hould have found her before this. I must not lie here while she—"
  • Then, as an unsupportable weariness flooded his body, he closed his eyes. I_nother moment he was sleeping soundly.
  • Another half moon had passed. Today had dawned bright and fair. Dyta, the sun, had pulled his blazing head above the eastern earth-line an hour before, tearing the jungle fog into rapidly dissolving streamers of mist.
  • A group of three—two men and a woman—walked through twin gates in Sephar'_ock walls and moved slowly toward the somber shadows of the jungle south o_he city. A few yards short of the green wall they came to a halt on a slight, grass-covered elevation.
  • "I must leave you here," said young Tharn. "Within a few suns—a moon, a_ost—I will return. Dylara will be with me."
  • The older man nodded. "Your mother and I leave for home before long. We shal_ait there for you and your mate."
  • "You will not need to wait long," said the young man confidently.
  • He placed an arm about the man's wide shoulders, pressed the hand of hi_other in silent farewell, then turned and strode toward the wall of verdur_nd towering forest giants to the south.
  • Together, Tharn, the elder, and Nada, his mate stood on the little gree_ound, watching the lithe figure of their only son until it disappeared int_he forbidding jungle. Beyond that first rampart of lofty trees, of tangle_ines and creepers, lay a mysterious land, never before trod by any know_ember of their world. What hidden dangers lurked there? What savage tribes?
  • What unknown and terrible beasts?
  • A shudder passed through the woman's slender body. The man at her side slippe_ strong arm about the trembling shoulders in unspoken understanding.
  • "He will come back?" she asked, her voice unsteady. It was half question, hal_tatement; and in those words ran an undercurrent of mingled hope and fear.
  • "Yes," said the man, his own voice strong and very certain. "He will com_ack."