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Chapter 9 Tarzan and the Ant-men by Edgar Rice Burroughs

When Tarzan of the Apes regained consciousness he found himself lying upon an earthen floor in a large chamber. As he first opened his eyes, before complete consciousness returned, he noticed that the room was well, but not brilliantly, lighted, and that there were others there besides himself. Later, as he commenced to collect and dominate his faculties of thought he saw that the room was lighted by two immense candles that appeared to be fully three feet in diameter and, though evidently partially melted away, yet at least five feet tall. Each supported a wick fully as large as a man’s wrist and though the manner of their burning was similar to the candles with which he was familiar, yet they gave off no smoke, nor were the beams and boards of the ceiling directly above them smoke-blackened.
The lights, being the most noticeable things in the room, had been the first to attract the ape-man’s attention, but now his eyes wandered to the other occupants of the room. There were fifty or a hundred men of about his own height; but they were garbed and armed as had been the little men of Tro-hanadalmakus and Veltopismakus. Tarzan knit his brows and looked long and steadily at them. Who were they? Where was he?

As consciousness spread slowly throughout his body he realized that he was in pain and that his arms felt heavy and numb. He tried to move them, only to discover that he could not—they were securely bound behind his back. He moved his feet—they were not secured. At last, after considerable effort, for he found that he was very weak, he raised himself to a sitting posture and looked about him. The room was filled with warriors who looked precisely like the little Veltopismakusians, but they were as large as normal men, and the room itself was immense. There were a number of benches and tables standing about the floor and most of the men either were seated upon the benches or lay stretched upon the hard earth. A few men moved about among them and seemed to be working over them. Then it was that Tarzan saw that nearly all within the chamber were suffering from wounds, many of them severe ones. The men who moved about among them were evidently attending to the wounded, and those, who might have been the nurses, were garbed in white tunics like the high caste slaves of Trohanadalmakus. In addition to the wounded and the nurses there were a half dozen armed warriors who were uninjured. One of these was the first to espy Tarzan after he had raised himself to a sitting posture.

“Ho!” shouted he. “The giant has come into his senses,” and crossing the room he approached the ape-man. Standing before him, his feet widespread, he eyed Tarzan with a broad grin upon his face. “Your great bulk availed you little,” he taunted, “and now we are as large as you. We, too, are giants, eh?” and he turned to his fellows with a laugh in which they joined him.

Seeing that he was a prisoner, surrounded by enemies, the ape-man fell back upon that lifelong characteristic of the wild beast-sullen silence. He made no reply, but only sat there regarding them with the savage, level gaze of the brute at bay.

“He is dumb like the great beast-women of the caves,” said the warrior to his fellows.

“Perhaps he is one of them,” suggested another.

“Yes,” seconded a third, “perhaps he is one of the Zertalacolols.”

“But their men are all cowards,” urged the first speaker; “and this one fought like a warrior born.”

“Yes, with his bare hands he fought till he went down.”

“You should have seen how he threw diadets and warriors as one might pick up tiny pebbles and hurl them afar.”

“He would not give a step, or run; and always he smiled.”

“He does not look like the men of the Zertalacolols; ask him if he is.”

He who had first addressed him put the question to Tarzan, but the ape-man only continued to glare at them.

“He does not understand me,” said the warrior. “I do not think that he is a Zertalacolol, though. What he is, however, I do not know:”

He approached and examined Tarzan’s wounds. “These will soon be healed. In seven days, or less, he will be fit for the quarries.”

They sprinkled a brown powder upon his wounds and brought him food and water and the milk of antelopes, and when they found that his arms were swelling badly and becoming discolored they brought an iron chain and, fastening one end about his waist with a clumsy padlock, secured him to a ring in the stone wall of the chamber, and cut the bonds from his wrists.

As they believed that he did not understand their language they spoke freely before him, but as their tongue was almost identical with that employed by the Trohanadalmakusians Tarzan understood everything that they said, and thus he learned that the battle before the city of Adendrohahkis had not gone as well for the Veltopismakusians as Elkomoelhago, their king, had desired. They had lost many in killed and prisoners and in return had not killed near so many of the enemy and had taken comparatively few prisoners, though Elkomoelhago, he learned, considered him worth the entire cost of the brief war.

How they had changed themselves into men of his own stature Tarzan could not comprehend, nor did any of the remarks he overheard shed any light upon this mystery of mysteries. But the climax of improbability was attained a few days later when he saw pass through the corridor, upon which the room of his incarceration was located, a file of warriors as large as he, each of whom was mounted upon a huge antelope fully as tall at the shoulder as the great eland, though obviously, from its contour and markings, a Royal Antelope, which is the smallest known. Tarzan ran his brown fingers through his thatch of black hair and gave up attempting to solve the enigmas that surrounded him.

His wounds healed quickly, as did those of the Veltopismakusians who were convalescing about him, and upon the seventh day a half-dozen warriors came for him and the chain was removed from about his waist that he might accompany them. His captors had long since ceased to address him, believing that he was ignorant of their language, which meant to them that he was as speechless as an Alalus, since they could conceive of no language other than their own; but from their conversation, as they led him from the chamber and along a circular corridor, he discovered that he was being taken before their king, Elkomoelhago, who had expressed a desire to see this remarkable captive after he had recovered from his wounds.

The long corridor, through which they were proceeding, was lighted partially by small candles set in niches and by the light from illuminated chambers the doors of which opened upon it. Slaves and warriors moved in two continuous and opposing lines through this corridor and every one that crossed it. There were high caste slaves in white tunics with the red emblems of their owners and their own occupation insignia upon them; there were green-tunicked slaves of the second generation with their master’s insignia upon breast and back in black, and green-tunicked slaves of the first generation with a black emblem upon their breasts denoting the city of their nativity and their master’s emblem upon their backs; there were warriors of every rank and position; there were the plain leather trappings of the young and poor, and the jewel-studded harness of the rich; and passing all these in both directions and often at high speed were other warriors mounted upon the mighty antelopes that were still the greatest wonder that had confronted Tarzan since his incarceration in the city of Veltopismakus.

At intervals along the corridor Tarzan saw ladders extending to a floor above, but as he never saw one descending to a lower level he assumed that they were then upon the lowest floor of the structure. From the construction that he noted he was convinced that the building was similar to the dome he had seen in the course of construction in the city of Adendrohahkis; but when he permitted his mind to dwell upon the tremendous proportions of such a dome capable of housing men of his own size he was staggered. Had Adendrohahkis’ dome been duplicated in these greater dimensions, though in the same proportions, it would have been eight hundred eighty feet in diameter and four hundred forty feet high. It seemed preposterous to think that any race existed capable of accomplishing such an architectural feat with only the primitive means that these people might be able to command, yet here were the corridors with the arched roofs, the walls of neatly laid boulders and the great chambers with their heavy ceiling beams and stout columns, all exactly as he had seen the dome in Trohanadalnuikus, but on a vastly larger scale.

As his eyes and mind dwelt upon these enigmas which confronted them his escort led him from the circular corridor into one that ran at right angles to it where presently they stopped at the entrance to a chamber filled with row upon row of shelving packed full with all manner of manufactured articles. There were large candles and small candles, candles of every conceivable size and shape; there were helmets, belts, sandals, tunics, bowls, jars, vases and the thousand other articles of the daily life of the Minunians with which Tarzan had become more or less familiar during his sojourn among the Trohanadalmakusians.

As they halted before the entrance to this room a white-tunicked slave came forward in response to the summons of one of the warriors of the escort.

“A green tunic for this fellow from Trohanadalmakus,” he ordered.

“Whose insignia upon his back?” inquired the slave.

“He belongs to Zoanthrohago,” replied the warrior.

The slave ran quickly to one of the shelves from which he selected a green tunic. From another he took two large, wooden blocks upon the face of each of which was carved a different device. These he covered evenly with some sort of paint or ink, slipped a smooth board inside the tunic, placed one of the dies face downward upon the cloth, tapped it smartly with a wooden mallet several times and then repeated the operation with the other die upon the reverse side of the tunic. When he handed the garment to Tarzan with the instructions to don it the ape-man saw that it bore a device in black upon the breast and another upon the back, but he could not read them—his education had not progressed thus far.

The slave then gave him a pair of sandals and when he had strapped these to his feet the warriors motioned him on down the corridor, which, as they proceeded, he was aware changed rapidly in appearance. The rough boulder walls were plastered now and decorated with colored paintings portraying, most often, battle scenes and happenings of the bunt, usually framed in panels bordered in intricate, formal designs. Vivid colorings predominated. Many-hued candles burned in frequent niches. Gorgeously trapped warriors were numerous. The green-tunicked slave almost disappeared, while the white tunics of the higher caste bondsmen were of richer material and the slaves themselves were often resplendently trapped with jewels and fine leather.

The splendor of the scene, the brilliancy of the lighting, increased until the corridor came to an abrupt end before two massive doors of hammered gold in front of which stood gorgeously trapped warriors who halted them and questioned the commander of the escort as to their business.

“By the king’s command we bring the slave of Zoanthrohago,” replied the commander; “the giant who was taken prisoner at Trohanadalmakus.”

The warrior who had challenged them turned to one of his fellows. “Go with this message and deliver it to the king!” he said.

After the messenger had departed the warriors fell to examining Tarzan and asking many questions concerning him, to few of which could his guard give more than speculative answers, and then, presently, the messenger returned with word that the party was immediately to be admitted to the king’s presence. The heavy doors were swung wide and Tarzan found himself upon the threshold of an enormous chamber, the walls of which converged toward the opposite end, where a throne stood upon a dais. Massive wooden columns supported the ceiling, which was plastered between its beams. The beams as well as the columns were ornamented with carving, while the plastered portions of the ceiling carried gorgeous arabesques in brilliant colors. The walls were paneled to half their height, and above the paneling of wood were painted panels which Tarzan assumed depicted historical events from the history of Veltopismakus and her kings.

The room was vacant except for two warriors who stood before doors that flanked the throne dais, and as the party moved down the broad center aisle toward the throne one of these warriors signaled the leader and motioned to the door which he was guarding and which he now threw open before them, revealing a small antechamber in which were half a dozen handsomely trapped warriors seated on small, carved benches, while a seventh lolled in a high-backed chair, his fingers tapping upon its broad arms as he listened to the conversation of the others, into which he threw an occasional word that always was received with deepest attention. If he scowled when he spoke, the others scowled still more deeply; if he smiled, they broke into laughter, and scarcely for an instant did their eyes leave his face, lest they miss some fleeting index of his changing moods.

Just inside the doorway the warriors who were conducting Tarzan halted, where they remained in silence until the man in the high-backed armchair deigned to notice them, then the leader knelt upon one knee, raised his arms, palms forward, high above his head, leaned as far back as he could and in a monotonous dead level intoned his salutation.

“O, Elkomoelhago, King of Veltopismakus, Ruler of All Men, Master of Created Things, All-Wise, All-Courageous, All-Glorious! we bring these, as thou hast commanded, the slave of Zoanthrohago.”

“Arise and bring the slave closer,” commanded the man in the high-backed armchair, and then to his companions: “This is the giant that Zoanthrohago brought back from Trohanadalmakus.”

“We have heard of him, All-Glorious,” they replied.

“And of Zoanthrohago’s wager?” questioned the king.

“And of Zoanthrohago’s wager, All-Wise!” replied one.

“What think you of it?” demanded Elkomoelhago.

“Even as you think, Ruler of All Men,” quickly spoke another.

“And how is that?” asked the king.

The six looked quickly and uneasily, one at the others. “How does he think?” whispered he who was farthest from Elkomoelhago to his neighbor, who shrugged his shoulders hopelessly and looked to another.

“What was that, Gofoloso?” demanded the king. “What was that you said?”

“I was about to remark that unless Zoanthrohago first consulted our august and all-wise ruler and is now acting upon his judgment he must, almost of necessity, lose the wager,” replied Gofoloso glibly.

“Of course,” said the king, “there is something in what you say, Gofoloso. Zoanthrohago did consult me. It was I who discovered the vibratory principle which made the thing possible. It was I who decided just how the first experiments were to be carried out. Heretofore it has not been enduring; but we believe that the new formula will have a persistency of thirty-nine moons at least—it is upon this that Zoanthrohago has made his wager. If he is wrong he loses a thousand slaves to Dalfastomalo.”

“Wonderful!” exclaimed Gofoloso. “Blessed indeed are we above all other peoples, with a king so learned and so wise as Elkomoelhago.”

“You have much to be thankful for, Gofoloso,” agreed the king; “but nothing compared to what will follow the success of my efforts to apply this principle of which we have been speaking, but with results diametrically opposite to those we have so far achieved; but we work upon it, we work upon it. Some day it will come and then I shall give to Zoanthrohago the formula that will revolutionize Minuni—then with a hundred men might we go forth and conquer the world!”

Elkomoelhago now turned his attention suddenly upon the green-tunicked slave standing a short distance before him. He scrutinized him closely and in silence for several minutes.

“From what city do you come?” demanded the king, at last

“O, All-Glorious Elkomoelhago,” spoke up the leader of the escort, “the poor ignorant creature is without speech.”

“Utters he any sound?” inquired the king.

“None since he was captured, Master of Men,” replied the warrior.

“He is a Zertalacolol,” stated Elkomoelhago. “Why all this silly excitement over one of these low, speechless creatures?”

“See now!” exclaimed Gofoloso, “how quickly and surely the father of wisdom grasps all things, probing to the bottom of all mysteries, revealing their secrets. Is it not marvelous!”

“Now that the Sun of Science has shone upon him even the dullest may see that the creature is indeed a Zertalacolol,” cried another of the king’s companions. “How simple, how stupid of us all! Ah, what would become of us were it not for the glorious intelligence of the All-Wise.”

Elkomoelhago was examining Tarzan closely. He seemed not to have heard the eulogies of his courtiers. Presently he spoke again.

“He has not the features of the Zertalacolols,” he pondered musingly. “See his ears. They are not the ears of the speechless ones, nor his hair. His body is not formed as theirs and his head is shaped for the storing of knowledge and the functioning of reason. No, he cannot be a Zertalacolol.”

“Marvelous!” cried Gofoloso. “Did I not tell you! Elkomoelhago, our king, is always right?”

“The most stupid of us may easily see that he is not a Zertalacolol, now that the king’s divine intelligence has made it go plain,” exclaimed the second courtier.

At this juncture a door, opposite that through which Tarzan had been brought into the apartment, opened and a warrior appeared. “O, Elkomoelhago, King of Veltopismakus,” he droned, “thy daughter, the Princess Janzara, has come. She would see the strange slave that Zoanthrohago brought from Trohanadalmakus and craves the royal permission to enter.”

Elkomoelhago nodded his assent “Conduct the princess to us!” he commanded.

The princess must have been waiting within earshot immediately outside the door, for scarcely had the king spoken when she appeared upon the threshold, followed by two other young women, behind whom were a half dozen warriors. At sight of her the courtiers rose, but not the king.

“Come in, Janzara,” he said, “and behold the strange giant who is more discussed in Veltopismakus than Veltopismakus’ king.”

The princess crossed the room and stood directly in front of the ape-man, who remained standing, as he had since he had entered the chamber, with arms folded across his broad chest, an expression of absolute indifference upon his face. He glanced at the princess as she approached him and saw that she was a very beautiful young woman. Except for an occasional distant glimpse of some of the women of Trohanadalmakus she was the first Minunian female Tarzan had seen. Her features were faultlessly chiseled, her soft, dark hair becomingly arranged beneath a gorgeous, jeweled headdress, her clear skin shaming the down of the peach in its softness. She was dressed entirely in white, befitting a virgin princess in the palace of her sire; her gown, of a soft, clinging stuff, fell in straight and simple lines to her arched insteps. Tarzan looked into her eyes. They were gray, but the shadows of her heavy lashes made them appear much darker than they were. He sought there an index to her character, for here was the young woman whom his friend, Komodoflorensal, hoped some day to espouse and make queen of Trohanadalmakus, and for this reason was the ape-man interested. He saw the beautiful brows knit into a sudden frown.

“What is the matter with the beast?” cried the princess. “Is it made of wood?”

“It speaks no language, nor understands any,” explained her father. “It has uttered no sound since it was captured.”

“It is a sullen, ugly brute,” said the princess. “I’ll wager to make it utter a sound, and that quickly,” with which she snatched a thin dagger from her belt and plunged it into Tarzan’s arm. With such celerity had she moved that her act had taken all who witnessed it by surprise; but she had given the Lord of the Jungle an instant’s warning in the few words she had spoken before she struck and these had been sufficient for him. He could not avoid the blow, but he could and did avoid giving her the satisfaction of seeing her cruel experiment succeed, for he uttered no sound. Perhaps she would have struck again, for she was very angry now, but the king spoke sharply to her.

“Enough, Janzara!” he cried. “We would have no harm befall this slave upon whom we are conducting an experiment that means much to the future of Veltopismakus.”

“He has dared to stare into my eyes,” cried the princess, “and he has refused to speak when he knew that it would give me pleasure. He should be killed!”

“He is not yours to kill,” returned the king. “He belongs to Zoanthrohago.”

“I will buy him,” and turning to one of her warriors, “Fetch Zoanthrohago!”

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