Within Pellucidar one time is as good as another.
There were no nights to mask our attempted escape.
All must be done in broad daylight--all but the work
I had to do in the apartment beneath the building.
So we determined to put our plan to an immediate test
lest the Mahars who made it possible should awake before
I reached them; but we were doomed to disappointment,
for no sooner had we reached the main floor of the building
on our way to the pits beneath, than we encountered hurrying
bands of slaves being hastened under strong Sagoth guard
out of the edifice to the avenue beyond.
Other Sagoths were darting hither and thither in search
of other slaves, and the moment that we appeared we were
pounced upon and hustled into the line of marching humans.
What the purpose or nature of the general exodus we did
not know, but presently through the line of captives ran
the rumor that two escaped slaves had been recaptured--a
man and a woman--and that we were marching to witness
their punishment, for the man had killed a Sagoth
of the detachment that had pursued and overtaken them.
At the intelligence my heart sprang to my throat,
for I was sure that the two were of those who escaped
in the dark grotto with Hooja the Sly One, and that Dian
must be the woman. Ghak thought so too, as did Perry.
"Is there naught that we may do to save her?" I asked Ghak.
"Naught," he replied.
Along the crowded avenue we marched, the guards showing
unusual cruelty toward us, as though we, too, had been
implicated in the murder of their fellow. The occasion
was to serve as an object-lesson to all other slaves of
the danger and futility of attempted escape, and the fatal
consequences of taking the life of a superior being,
and so I imagine that Sagoths felt amply justified in making
the entire proceeding as uncomfortable and painful to
us as possible.
They jabbed us with their spears and struck at us with the
hatchets at the least provocation, and at no provocation
at all. It was a most uncomfortable half-hour that we
spent before we were finally herded through a low entrance
into a huge building the center of which was given up
to a good-sized arena. Benches surrounded this open
space upon three sides, and along the fourth were heaped
huge bowlders which rose in receding tiers toward the roof.
At first I couldn't make out the purpose of this mighty
pile of rock, unless it were intended as a rough and
picturesque background for the scenes which were enacted
in the arena before it, but presently, after the wooden
benches had been pretty well filled by slaves and Sagoths,
I discovered the purpose of the bowlders, for then
the Mahars began to file into the enclosure.
They marched directly across the arena toward the rocks upon
the opposite side, where, spreading their bat-like wings,
they rose above the high wall of the pit, settling down
upon the bowlders above. These were the reserved seats,
the boxes of the elect.
Reptiles that they are, the rough surface of a great stone
is to them as plush as upholstery to us. Here they lolled,
blinking their hideous eyes, and doubtless conversing with
one another in their sixth-sense- fourth-dimension language.
For the first time I beheld their queen. She differed
from the others in no feature that was appreciable
to my earthly eyes, in fact all Mahars look alike to me:
but when she crossed the arena after the balance of her
female subjects had found their bowlders, she was preceded
by a score of huge Sagoths, the largest I ever had seen,
and on either side of her waddled a huge thipdar,
while behind came another score of Sagoth guardsmen.
At the barrier the Sagoths clambered up the steep side
with truly apelike agility, while behind them the haughty
queen rose upon her wings with her two frightful dragons
close beside her, and settled down upon the largest
bowlder of them all in the exact center of that side of
the amphitheater which is reserved for the dominant race.
Here she squatted, a most repulsive and uninteresting queen;
though doubtless quite as well assured of her beauty
and divine right to rule as the proudest monarch of the
And then the music started--music without sound! The Mahars
cannot hear, so the drums and fifes and horns of earthly
bands are unknown among them. The "band" consists of a
score or more Mahars. It filed out in the center of the
arena where the creatures upon the rocks might see it,
and there it performed for fifteen or twenty minutes.
Their technic consisted in waving their tails and moving
their heads in a regular succession of measured movements
resulting in a cadence which evidently pleased the eye
of the Mahar as the cadence of our own instrumental music
pleases our ears. Sometimes the band took measured steps
in unison to one side or the other, or backward and again
forward--it all seemed very silly and meaningless to me,
but at the end of the first piece the Mahars upon the
rocks showed the first indications of enthusiasm that I
had seen displayed by the dominant race of Pellucidar.
They beat their great wings up and down, and smote their rocky
perches with their mighty tails until the ground shook.
Then the band started another piece, and all was again
as silent as the grave. That was one great beauty about
Mahar music--if you didn't happen to like a piece that was
being played all you had to do was shut your eyes.
When the band had exhausted its repertory it took wing
and settled upon the rocks above and behind the queen.
Then the business of the day was on. A man and woman were
pushed into the arena by a couple of Sagoth guardsmen.
I leaned forward in my seat to scrutinize the female--hoping
against hope that she might prove to be another than Dian
the Beautiful. Her back was toward me for a while,
and the sight of the great mass of raven hair piled high
upon her head filled me with alarm.
Presently a door in one side of the arena wall was opened
to admit a huge, shaggy, bull-like creature.
"A Bos," whispered Perry, excitedly. "His kind roamed
the outer crust with the cave bear and the mammoth ages
and ages ago. We have been carried back a million years,
David, to the childhood of a planet--is it not wondrous?"
But I saw only the raven hair of a half-naked girl,
and my heart stood still in dumb misery at the sight of her,
nor had I any eyes for the wonders of natural history.
But for Perry and Ghak I should have leaped to the floor
of the arena and shared whatever fate lay in store for this
priceless treasure of the Stone Age.
With the advent of the Bos--they call the thing a thag
within Pellucidar--two spears were tossed into the arena
at the feet of the prisoners. It seemed to me that a bean
shooter would have been as effective against the mighty
monster as these pitiful weapons.
As the animal approached the two, bellowing and pawing
the ground with the strength of many earthly bulls,
another door directly beneath us was opened, and from
it issued the most terrific roar that ever had fallen
upon my outraged ears. I could not at first see
the beast from which emanated this fearsome challenge,
but the sound had the effect of bringing the two victims
around with a sudden start, and then I saw the girl's
face--she was not Dian! I could have wept for relief.
And now, as the two stood frozen in terror, I saw the author
of that fearsome sound creeping stealthily into view.
It was a huge tiger--such as hunted the great Bos
through the jungles primeval when the world was young.
In contour and markings it was not unlike the noblest
of the Bengals of our own world, but as its dimensions
were exaggerated to colossal proportions so too were
its colorings exaggerated. Its vivid yellows fairly
screamed aloud; its whites were as eider down; its blacks
glossy as the finest anthracite coal, and its coat long
and shaggy as a mountain goat. That it is a beautiful
animal there is no gainsaying, but if its size and colors
are magnified here within Pellucidar, so is the ferocity
of its disposition. It is not the occasional member
of its species that is a man hunter--all are man hunters;
but they do not confine their foraging to man alone,
for there is no flesh or fish within Pellucidar that they
will not eat with relish in the constant efforts which they
make to furnish their huge carcasses with sufficient
sustenance to maintain their mighty thews.
Upon one side of the doomed pair the thag bellowed
and advanced, and upon the other tarag, the frightful,
crept toward them with gaping mouth and dripping fangs.
The man seized the spears, handing one of them to the woman.
At the sound of the roaring of the tiger the bull's
bellowing became a veritable frenzy of rageful noise.
Never in my life had I heard such an infernal din as
the two brutes made, and to think it was all lost upon
the hideous reptiles for whom the show was staged!
The thag was charging now from one side, and the tarag
from the other. The two puny things standing between them
seemed already lost, but at the very moment that the beasts
were upon them the man grasped his companion by the arm
and together they leaped to one side, while the frenzied
creatures came together like locomotives in collision.
There ensued a battle royal which for sustained and frightful
ferocity transcends the power of imagination or description.
Time and again the colossal bull tossed the enormous tiger
high into the air, but each time that the huge cat touched
the ground he returned to the encounter with apparently
undiminished strength, and seemingly increased ire.
For a while the man and woman busied themselves only with
keeping out of the way of the two creatures, but finally I
saw them separate and each creep stealthily toward one of
the combatants. The tiger was now upon the bull's broad back,
clinging to the huge neck with powerful fangs while its long,
strong talons ripped the heavy hide into shreds and ribbons.
For a moment the bull stood bellowing and quivering
with pain and rage, its cloven hoofs widespread,
its tail lashing viciously from side to side, and then,
in a mad orgy of bucking it went careening about the
arena in frenzied attempt to unseat its rending rider.
It was with difficulty that the girl avoided the first mad
rush of the wounded animal.
All its efforts to rid itself of the tiger seemed futile,
until in desperation it threw itself upon the ground,
rolling over and over. A little of this so disconcerted
the tiger, knocking its breath from it I imagine,
that it lost its hold and then, quick as a cat, the great
thag was up again and had buried those mighty horns
deep in the tarag's abdomen, pinning him to the floor
of the arena.
The great cat clawed at the shaggy head until eyes and
ears were gone, and naught but a few strips of ragged,
bloody flesh remained upon the skull. Yet through all
the agony of that fearful punishment the thag still stood
motionless pinning down his adversary, and then the man
leaped in, seeing that the blind bull would be the least
formidable enemy, and ran his spear through the tarag's heart.
As the animal's fierce clawing ceased, the bull raised
his gory, sightless head, and with a horrid roar ran
headlong across the arena. With great leaps and bounds
he came, straight toward the arena wall directly beneath
where we sat, and then accident carried him, in one
of his mighty springs, completely over the barrier into
the midst of the slaves and Sagoths just in front of us.
Swinging his bloody horns from side to side the beast cut
a wide swath before him straight upward toward our seats.
Before him slaves and gorilla-men fought in mad stampede
to escape the menace of the creature's death agonies,
for such only could that frightful charge have been.
Forgetful of us, our guards joined in the general
rush for the exits, many of which pierced the wall
of the amphitheater behind us. Perry, Ghak, and I
became separated in the chaos which reigned for a few
moments after the beast cleared the wall of the arena,
each intent upon saving his own hide.
I ran to the right, passing several exits choked with the
fear mad mob that were battling to escape. One would
have thought that an entire herd of thags was loose
behind them, rather than a single blinded, dying beast;
but such is the effect of panic upon a crowd.