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Chapter 12 Tarzan and the Ant-men by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Son of The First Woman strode proudly through the forest. He carried a spear, jauntily, and there were a bow and arrows slung to his back. Behind him came ten other males of his species, similarly armed, and each walked as though he owned the earth he trod. Toward them along the trail, though still beyond their sight, or hearing, or smell, came a woman of their kind. She, too, walked with fearless step. Presently her eyes narrowed and she paused, up-pricking her great, flat ears to listen; sniffing the air. Men! She increased her gait to a trot, bearing down upon them. There was more than one—there were several. If she came upon them suddenly they would be startled, filled with confusion, and no doubt she could seize one of them before they took to flight. If not—the feathered pebbles at her girdle would seek one out.
For some time men had been scarce. Many women of her tribe who had gone out into the forest to capture mates had never returned. She had seen the corpses of several of these herself, lying in the forest. She had wondered what had killed them. But here were men at last, the first she had discovered in two moons, and this time she would not return empty-handed to her cave.

At a sudden turning of the forest trail she came within sight of them, but saw, to her dismay, that they were still a long way off. They would be sure to escape if they saw her, and she was upon the point of hiding when she realized that already it was too late. One of them was pointing at her. Loosing a missile from her girdle and grasping her cudgel more firmly she started toward them at a rapid, lumbering run. She was both surprised and pleased when she saw that they made no attempt to escape. How terrified they must be to stand thus docilely while she approached them. But what was this? They were advancing to meet herl And now she saw the expressions upon their faces. No fear there—only rage and menace. What were the strange things they carried in their bands? One who was running toward her, the nearest, paused and hurled a long pointed stick at her. It was sharp and when it grazed her shoulder it brought blood. Another paused and holding a little stick across a longer stick, the ends of which were bent back with a piece of gut, suddenly released the smaller stick, which leaped through the air and pierced the flesh beneath one of her arms. And behind these two the others were rushing upon her with similar weapons. She recalled the corpses of women she had seen in the forest and the dearth of men for the past several moons, and though she was dull of wit yet she was not without reasoning faculties and so she compared these facts with the occurrences of the past few seconds with a resultant judgment that sent her lumbering away, in the direction from which she had come, as fast as her hairy legs could carry her, nor did she once pause in her mad flight until she sank exhausted at the mouth of her own cave.

The men did not pursue her. As yet they had not reached that stage in their emancipation that was to give them sufficient courage and confidence in themselves to entirely overcome their hereditary fear of women. To chase one away was sufficient. To pursue her would have been tempting Providence.

When the other women of the tribe saw their fellow stagger to her cave and sensed that her condition was the result of terror and the physical strain of long flight they seized their cudgels and ran forth, prepared to meet and vanquish her pursuer, which they immediately assumed to be a lion. But no lion appeared and then some of them wandered to the side of the woman who lay panting on her threshold.

“From what did you run?” they asked her in their simple sign language.

“Men,” she replied.

Disgust showed plainly upon every face, and one of them kicked her and another spat upon her.

“There were many,” she told them, “and they would have killed me with flying sticks. Look!” and she showed them the spear wound, and the arrow still embedded in the flesh beneath her arm. “They did not run from me, but came forward to attack me. Thus have all the women been killed whose corpses we have seen in the forest during the past few moons.”

This troubled them. They ceased to annoy the prostrate woman. Their leader, the fiercest of them, paced to and fro, making hideous faces. Suddenly she halted.

“Come!” she signaled. “We shall go forth together and find these men, and bring them back and punish them.” She shook her cudgel above her head and grimaced horribly.

The others danced about her, imitating her expression and her actions, and when she started off toward the forest they trooped behind her, a savage, bloodthirsty company—all but the woman who still lay panting where she had fallen. She had had enough of man—she was through with him forever.

“For this you shall die!” screamed Caraftap, as he rushed upon Tarzan of the Apes in the long gallery of the slaves’ quarters in the quarry of Elkomeolhago, king of Veltopismakus.

The ape-man stepped quickly aside, avoiding the other, and tripped him with a foot, sending him sprawling, face downward, upon the floor. Caraftap, before he arose, looked about as though in search of a weapon and, his eyes alighting upon the hot brazier, he reached forth to seize it. A murmur of disapproval rose from the slaves who, having been occupied nearby, had seen the inception of the quarrel.

“No weapons!” cried one. “It is not permitted among us. Fight with your bare hands or not at all.”

But Caraftap was too drunk with hate and jealousy to hear them or to heed, and so he grasped the brazier and, rising, rushed at Tarzan to hurl it in his face. Now it was another who tripped him and this time two slaves leaped upon him and wrenched the brazier from his hand. “Fight fair!” they admonished him, and dragged him to his feet.

Tarzan had stood smiling and indifferent, for the rage of others amused him where it was greater than circumstances warranted, and now he waited for Caraftap and when his adversary saw the smile upon his face it but increased his spleen, so that he fairly leaped upon the ape-man in his madness to destroy him, and Tarzan met him with the most surprising defense that Caraftap, who for long had been a bully among the slaves, ever had encountered. It was a doubled fist at the end of a straight arm and it caught Caraftap upon the point of his chin, stretching him upon his back. The slaves, who had by this time gathered in considerable numbers to watch the quarrel, voiced then—approval in the shrill, “Ee-ah-ee-ah,” that constituted one form of applause.

Dazed and groggy, Caraftap staggered to his feet once more and with lowered head looked about him as though in search of his enemy. The girl, Talaskar, had come to Tarzan’s side and was standing there looking up into his face.

“You are very strong,” she said, but the expression in her eyes said more, or at least it seemed to Caraftap to say more. It seemed to speak of love, whereas it was only the admiration that a normal woman always feels for strength exercised in a worthy cause.

Caraftap made a noise in his throat that sounded much like the squeal of an angry pig and once again he rushed upon the ape-man. Behind them some slaves were being let into the corridor and as the aperture was open one of the warriors beyond it, who chanced to be stooping down at the time, could see within. He saw but little, though what he saw was enough—a large slave with a shock of black hair raising another large slave high above his head and dashing him to the hard floor. The warrior, pushing the slaves aside, scrambled through into the corridor and ran forward toward the center. Before they were aware of his presence he stood facing Tarzan and Talaskar. It was Kalfastoban.

“What is the meaning of this?” he cried in a loud voice, and then: “Ah, ha! I see. It is The Giant. He would show the other slaves how strong he is, would he?” He glanced at Caraftap, struggling to rise from the floor, and his face grew very dark—Caraftap was a favorite of his. “Such things are not permitted here, fellow!” he cried, shaking his fist in the ape-man’s face, and forgetting in his anger that the new slave neither spoke nor understood. But presently he recollected and motioned Tarzan to follow him. “A hundred lashes will explain to him that he must not quarrel,” he said aloud to no one in particular, but he was looking at Talaskar.

“Do not punish him,” cried the girl, still forgetful of herself. “It was all Caraftap’s fault, Zuanthrol but acted in self-defense.”

Kalfastoban could not take his eyes from the girl’s face and presently she sensed her danger and flushed, but still she stood her ground, interceding for the ape-man. A crooked smile twisted Kalfastoban’s mouth as he laid a familiar hand upon her shoulder.

“How old are you?” he asked.

She told him, shuddering.

“I shall see your master and purchase you,” he announced. “Take no mate.”

Tarzan was looking at Talaskar and it seemed that he could see her wilt, as a flower wilts in noxious air, and then Kalfastoban turned upon him.

“You cannot understand me, you stupid beast,” he said; “but I can tell you, and those around you may listen and, perhaps, guide you from danger. This time I shall let you off, but let it happen again and you shall have a hundred lashes, or worse, maybe; and if I hear that you have had aught to do with this girl, whom I intend to purchase and take to the surface, it will go still harder with you,” with which he strode to the entrance and passed through into the corridor beyond.

After the Vental had departed and the door of the chamber had been closed a hand was laid upon Tarzan’s shoulder from behind and a man’s voice called him by name: “Tarzan!” It sounded strange in his ears, far down in this buried chamber beneath the ground, in an alien city and among an alien people, not one of whom ever had heard his name, but as he turned to face the man who had greeted him a look of recognition and a smile of pleasure overspread his features.

“Kom—!” he started to ejaculate, but the other placed a finger to his lips. “Not here,” he said. “Here I am Aoponato.”

“But your stature! You are as large as I. It is beyond me. What has happened to swell the race of Minunians to such relatively gigantic proportions?”

Komodoflorensal smiled. “Human egotism would not permit you to attribute this change to an opposite cause from that to which you have ascribed it,” he said.

Tarzan knit his brows and gazed long and thoughtfully at his royal friend. An expression that was of mingled incredulity and amusement crept gradually over his countenance.

“You mean,” he asked slowly, “that I have been reduced in size to the stature of a Minunian?”

Komodoflorensal nodded. “Is it not easier to believe that than to think that an entire race of people and all their belongings, even their dwellings and the stones that they were built of, and all their weapons and their diadets, had been increased in size to your own stature?”

“But I tell you it is impossible!” cried the ape-man.

“I should have said the same thing a few moons ago,” replied the prince. “Even when I heard the rumor here that they had reduced you I did not believe it, not for a long time, and I was still a bit skeptical until I entered this chamber and saw you with my own eyes.”

“How was it accomplished?” demanded Tarzan.

“The greatest mind in Veltopismakus, and perhaps in all Minuni, is Zoanthrohago,” explained Komodoflorensal. “We have recognized this for many moons, for, during the occasional intervals that we are at peace with Veltopismakus, there is some exchange of ideas as well as goods between the two cities, and thus we heard of many marvels attributed to this greatest of walmaks.”

“I have never heard a wizard spoken of in Minuni until now,” said Tarzan, for he thought that that was the meaning of the word walmak, and perhaps it is, as nearly as it can be translated into English. A scientist who works miracles would be, perhaps, a truer definition.

“It was Zoanthrohago who captured you,” continued Aopo-nato, “encompassing your fall by means at once scientific and miraculous. After you bad fallen he caused you to lose consciousness and while you were in that condition you were dragged hither by a score of diadets hitched to a hastily improvised litter built of small trees tied securely one to the other, after their branches had been removed. It was after they had you safely within Veltopismakus that Zoanthrohago set to work upon you to reduce your stature, using apparatus that he has built himself. I have heard them discussing it and they say that it did not take him long.”

“I hope that Zoanthrohago has the power to undo that which he has done,” said the ape-man.

“They say that that is doubtful. He has never been able to make a creature larger than it formerly was, though in his numerous experiments he has reduced the size of many of the lower animals. The fact of the matter is,” continued Aopo-nato, “that he has been searching for a means to enlarge the Veltopismakusians so that they may overcome all the other peoples of Minuni, but he has only succeeded in developing a method that gives precisely opposite results from that which they seek, so, if he cannot make others larger, I doubt if he can make you any larger than you now are.”

“I would be rather helpless among the enemies of my own world,” said Tarzan, ruefully.

“You need not worry about that, my friend,” said the prince gently.

“Why?” asked the ape-man.

“Because you have very little chance of reaching your own world again,” said Komodoflorensal a trifle sadly. “I have no hope of ever seeing Trohanadalmakus again. Only by the utter overthrow of Veltopismakus by my father’s warriors could I hope for rescue, since nothing less could overcome the guard in the quarry mouth. While we often capture slaves of the white tunic from the enemies’ cities, it is seldom that we gather in any of the green tunic. Only in the rare cases of utter surprise attacks by daylight do any of us catch an enemies’ green slaves above ground, and surprise day attacks may occur once in the lifetime of a man, or never.”

“You believe that we will spend the rest of our lives in this underground hole?” demanded Tarzan.

“Unless we chance to be used for labor above ground during the daytime, occasionally,” replied the prince of Trohanadalmakus, with a wry smile.

The ape-man shrugged. “We shall see,” he said.

After Kalfastoban had left, Caraftap had limped away to the far end of the chamber, muttering to himself, his ugly face black and scowling.

“I am afraid that he will make you trouble,” Talaskar said to Tarzan, indicating the disgruntled slave with a nod of her shapely head, “and I am sorry, for it is all my fault.”

“Your fault?” demanded Komodoflorensal.

“Yes,” said the girl. “Caraftap was threatening me when Aopontando interfered and punished him.”

“Aopontando?” queried Komodoflorensal.

“That is my number,” explained Tarzan.

“And it was on account of Talaskar that you were fighting? I thank you, my friend. I am sorry that I was not here to protect her. Talaskar cooks for me. She is a good girl.” Komodoflorensal was looking at the girl as he spoke and Tarzan saw how her eyes lowered beneath his gaze and the delicate flush that mounted her cheeks, and he realized that he was downwind from an idea, and smiled.

“So this is the Aoponato of whom you told me?” he said to Talaskar.

“Yes, this is he.”

“I am sorry that he was captured, but it is good to find a friend here,” said the ape-man. “We three should be able to hit upon some plan of escape,” but they shook their heads, smiling sadly.

For a while, after they had eaten, they sat talking together, being joined occasionally by other slaves, for Tarzan had many friends here now since he had chastized Caraftap and they would have talked all night had not the ape-man questioned Komodoflorensal as to the sleeping arrangements of the slaves.

Komodoflorensal laughed, and pointed here and there about the chamber at recumbent figures lying upon the hard earthen floor; men, women and children sleeping, for the most part, where they had eaten their evening meal.

“The green slaves are not pampered,” he remarked laconically.

“I can sleep anywhere,” said Tarzan, “but more easily when it is dark. I shall wait until the lights are extinguished.”

“You will wait forever, then,” Komodoflorensal told him.

“The lights are never extinguished?” demanded the ape-man.

“Were they, we should all be soon dead,” replied the prince. “These flames serve two purposes-they dissipate the darkness and consume the foul gases that would otherwise quickly asphyxiate us. Unlike the ordinary flame, that consumes oxygen, these candles, perfected from the discoveries and inventions of an ancient Minunian scientist, consume the deadly gases and liberate oxygen. It is because of this even more than for the light they give that they are used exclusively throughout Minuni. Even our domes would be dark, ill-smelling, noxious places were it not for them, while the quarries would be absolutely unworkable.”

“Then I shall not wait for them to be extinguished,” said Tarzan, stretching himself at full length upon the dirt floor, with a nod and a “Tuano!”—a Minunian “Good night!”—to Talaskar and Komodoflorensal.

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