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OTIS ADELBERT KLINE

TAM, SON OF THE TIGER

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RGL e-Book Cover 2018©

Serialised in Weird Tales, Jun-Dec 1931
US book edition: Avalon Books, New York, 1962

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Built from image files of the Weird Tales serial
Version Date: 2018-01-23
Produced by Paul Sandery and Roy Glashan

The text of this book is in the public domain in Australia.
All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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Illustration

"Tam. Son of the Tiger," Avalon Books, New York, 1962



BIBLIGRAPHIC NOTE

This complete and unabridged e-book edition of "Tam, Son of the Tiger" was built from a donated set of image files of the six issues of Weird Tales in which the novel was first published in 1931. With a view to preserving the "feel" of the original, it is divided into six parts, each of which is preceded by a copy of the corresponding magazine cover. It also includes all original illustrations, along with the publisher's blurbs and synopses.

—Roy Glashan, 22 January 2018.



TABLE OF CONTENTS



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



PART ONE

Illustration

Weird Tales, Jun-Jul 1931, with first part of "Tam, Son of the Tiger"



Illustration

Tam dangled limply from her mouth.



I. — THE MAN-EATER

BURMA—land of mystery, of gilded Buddhas and almond-eyed dancing-girls, of patient elephants piling teak, of shaven, yellow-robed priests, smoldering incense, and the silver tinkle of temple bells.

The jungle—teeming with tropical life and potential death.

In its upper branches were the feathered inhabitants. Liquid tones of sweet-voiced songsters competed with the harsh, raucous cries of parrots and crows. Flashes of brightly pigmented plumage contrasted with the greens and browns of the vegetation. Peacocks proudly spread their painted fans.

A little lower, monkeys chattered at spider-limbed gibbons with faces like little old men. A sleek, well-fed leopard basked on a thick limb, its mottled hide blending perfectly with the black and gold shadows that descended through the leafy canopy.

And on the forest floor, creeping through the undergrowth with cat-like stealth, was that most cunning and ferocious of all jungle creatures—the man-eating tiger.

The leopard bristled, laid back its small ears, and growled softly at sight of the huge striped terror passing beneath. The monkeys and gibbons heard that growl and scampered away through the branches. A rusty black crow cocked its head to one side and stared for a moment with beady eyes. Then it uttered a sharp, rasping "caw!" that plainly said "tiger!" to all jungle inhabitants. The peafowls rose, en masse, with a thunderous whir of wings.

And the tiger, snarling its anger at this premature exposure of its presence, and knowing that all concealment was at an end, charged straight for the human being, straggling behind the others, which it had marked for its prey.


MAJOR CHARLES EVANS, young American philanthropist and sportsman, had come to Burma with a twofold purpose: to gather chaulmoogra seeds for planting on the Hawaiian land which he had donated to the leper colony at Kalaupapa, and to hunt tigers. With him were his wife, Lucille, and his two-year-old son, Tam.

After a boat trip down the Irrawaddy and up the Mu from Mandalay, they had come to the village of Kyokta, near which it was said the chaulmoogra might be found. Scouts under the leadership of Zahn, son of the village tajies, or headman, had quickly located several extensive stands of the trees, and toward one of these Evans and his wife journeyed after a night in a Kyokta hut. They were guided by Zahn and his friends, who carried baskets for gathering the fruit from which the seeds were to be later removed. Tam had been left at the village in the care of his colored nurse maid, Clarabelle Jackson, who had accompanied them from the United States.

Zahn proudly marched at the head of the, procession. Just behind him walked the American and his wife. Major Evans was tall, broad-shouldered and athletic. He wore high laced boots, khaki trousers, a shooting-jacket with large pockets, and a pith helmet. Beside him walked his pretty young wife, dressed exactly like her husband, but so small and daintily feminine that even in mannish clothes there was no mistaking her sex. Four villagers who acted as gun-bearers came behind them, carrying two heavy, double-barreled .450 Bury rifles, a Winchester and a Savage. The major had high hopes of stalking a tiger, but not the slightest suspicion that, at that very moment, the striped death was stalking his own party.

Following the gun-bearers were a score of villagers with the baskets and bags which were to be filled with the fruit of the chaulmoogra. And at the rear trailed Kru Muang, youthful chum of Zahn. The handle of his basket was slung over one arm, and he was using his spear as a staff.

Suddenly the boy heard a sharp "caw!" from a near-by branch, followed by the flapping of startled peafowls, a low snarl, and the rush of a heavy body through the undergrowth behind him.

"Suar! Suar!" he shouted, springing forward. "Tiger! Tiger!" Then he uttered a single piercing shriek of terror and agony as the huge teeth of the charging man-eater sank into his shoulder, hurling him to the ground.

Half of the villagers instantly dropped their baskets and bags, and took to the trees. The others stood their ground, clutching their spears in readiness for attack, but making no move to help the stricken boy. The major wrested one of the heavy Burys from the trembling hands of a frightened gun-bearer, but before he could bring it to his shoulder a brown-skinned body flashed between him and the tiger, which was now shaking its prey as a cat shakes a mouse. It was Zahn, armed only with his spear, dashing to the rescue of his chum.

The man-eater saw him coming, and dropping its prey, launched its striped bulk through the air. Zahn halted and extended his spear, but the great carnivore swept the puny weapon aside with one huge paw, and seizing his face in its mighty jaws, bore him to earth.

Evans, who had not dared to shoot before for fear of hitting Zahn, now fired. At the impact of the heavy projectile, the tiger leaped high in the air. Just as it struck the ground the major fired again, and it sank down motionless beside the chief's son.

The sportsman reached for a second gun and advanced cautiously. Going up to the beast, he prodded it with the end of the weapon. But it was limp and lifeless. Shot first through the body, then through the head, the terrible man-eater had breathed its last.

Gingerly, the natives formed a ring around the fallen brute and his two victims. Lucille Evans glanced at Zahn, then averted her eyes with a shudder. He was past all help, his face completely bitten away. She knelt beside Kru Muang. His shoulder was cruelly torn and lacerated, but he was still breathing.

With water from her flask, and gauze from the emergency kit, she bathed his wounds. Then the major saturated them with iodine and helped her to bind them.

The natives had, meanwhile, rigged two pole litters for the fallen. The carcass of the tiger was suspended from another pole thrust through its bound feet and carried by four men. Then the sad little procession turned its footsteps back toward the village. There would be no journey to the chaulmoogra groves that day.

When they drew near to the village, the major went on ahead in order that he might break the news to the tajies before his son's mutilated body was brought in. But he met him coming out of the village at the head of a considerable body of armed men who seemed very much excited.

The major walked up to the old fellow, and said:

"It is my sad duty to inform you that your son, Zahn, has just been killed by a tiger. He died a hero, giving his life to save his chum, Kru Muang, who is being brought in badly wounded."

The old man halted, and for some time regarded him in silence, tears flooding his eyes and starting down his withered cheeks. Then he replied:

"Let us mourn together, sahib, for this day both of us have been bereaved."

"Both of us? What do you mean? Speak!"

"Your little son has just been carried off by a white tigress, sahib. We were coming out to tell you."


II. — THE WHITE TIGRESS

LEANG, the white tigress, stalked majestically through the jungle grass near the Village of Kyokta, her tail held high, and on her feline features a look of supreme satisfaction. She had just dined exceedingly well, having slain a water buffalo in the jungle, and was on her way to the river to quench the thirst which followed her feast.

Having drunk her fill at the stream, she was returning by the way she had come, when something white and spherical rolled across her path, startling her considerably. She was within fifty feet of one of the village huts, and knew that it must have come from that direction. This sphere, which caused her involuntarily to pause and then leap backward, was an affront to her dignity. Never before had she been molested by a human being. Men respected her, not only because she was a tigress, but because she was a white tigress. They did not send arrows, spears and bullets after her as they did at her common striped relatives.

She looked in the direction whence the sphere had come, and saw a tiny man-thing running toward her—a little lad with dark curly hair, wearing a loose khaki blouse, shorts, and tiny, high-laced boots. He was laughing, the spontaneous, carefree laughter of healthy childhood, as he pursued the rubber ball which he had just hurled into the jungle grass. The tigress crouched, waiting to see what he would do next.

Suddenly the boy came face to face with her—saw her for the first time. She snarled, politely warning him away, for Leang was not a man-eater. Furthermore, she had so stuffed herself with buffalo flesh that she would not be able to eat a morsel for many hours to come.

But this boy, it seemed, was not so ready to run from her as had been most other humans she had encountered.

"Ooh! Big kitty!" he exclaimed, and paused, staring at her.

She stared back, slightly jerking the tip of her tail in token of annoyance, and snarled again, but more softly.

"Big kitty mustn't be mad with Tam," he said. "Tam won't hurt you." Then he fearlessly and deliberately walked up to her and scratched her behind the ear.

The tigress was so amazed at this unprecedented temerity that she forgot to snarl again. The little hand scratching her neck felt good. She made a contented noise deep down in her throat, and tilted her head to one side that the boy might better reach the spot which had begun to feel so pleasant under his ministrations. Leang was purring like a house cat, but with a noise that more nearly resembled the rumbling of distant thunder. And while she purred, the boy prattled to her in a voice that was soft and soothing.

"Big kitty want to play ball?" he asked, presently. "Come on and play ball with Tam."

He picked up the ball and rolled it toward her.

Leang was a young tigress, and had not yet lost her liking for play. Moreover, she had played with a ball before, as she had been raised by a man—a very strange man. She tapped the ball lightly, rolling it back at the boy, who chuckled with glee. For some time they played together, the tigress apparently enjoying herself fully as much as the boy. Then their play was interrupted by the sound of a woman's voice.

"Tam! Tam! Where is you, honey?"

The boy paused in his play to reply:

"Here I am, Clarabelle. Come and see big kitty Tam found."

Again he rolled the ball at the tigress, but she paid no attention to it. She was snarling slightly, ears cocked in the direction whence the sound of the maid's voice had come.

The colored girl, who had been dozing in the doorway of the hut, and had awakened to find Tam missing, advanced toward the jungle grass which concealed boy and beast. Suddenly she caught sight of the tigress, and shrieked at the top of her voice.

Her cry brought people running from the bamboo huts near by. The old Buddhist priest poked his shaven head out the door of the teakwood temple. A crowd of people gathered around the negress as she shrieked again and fell in a swoon.

"Suar! Suar!" a voice cried, and some of the men ran to get their spears.

Tam picked up his ball and stood beside the now thoroughly aroused tigress. Her tail lashed the grass stalks and she growled thunderously. The menace in the cries and actions of the villagers was unmistakable. This was annoying. She and the boy had been having so much fun before this interruption. Well, they would go somewhere else to play.

She started away with a low invitation to Tam to follow, much like the "mew" of a mother cat. But he did not understand. He only stood looking at her. She paused and called again, but still he stood there, bewildered, looking first at her and then at the crowd of excited villagers surrounding the swooning Clarabelle.

Leang's feline mind considered. This man-thing was only a cub, and had not yet learned to understand the mother call. Like any other cub, he must be taught its meaning. She accordingly returned, and picking him up by the collar of his blouse, trotted away.

When they saw this the assembled villagers redoubled their cries. Men came running with spears. One carried an old muzzle-loading gun. But none of the weapons was used, for those who carried them saw that the tigress was white, a sacred animal which they believed to be a reincarnation of some great lady, perhaps a ranee, or even a minor goddess. While they watched, awe-stricken, she gave a great leap and disappeared in the jungle. She continued to run with tail held high and Tam dangling limply from her mouth until the sounds of the voices died away. Then she stood him on his feet.

Tam stroked her head and back.

"Nice kitty," he said. "Gave Tam big ride. More."

But Leang didn't want to linger, nor did she care to play just then. She did want to teach this man-cub to understand and obey her orders. Also her distending mammae had begun to remind her that she must get back to her own cub, which would be hungry and in need of her ministrations.

She took a few steps, calling to the boy to follow her. When he did not move she returned, and taking him by the arm, led him for a little way. Then she let go and called once more. This time, he followed.

But the way was long and difficult for a little boy of two, and soon Tam grew very tired.

"Wait, kitty," he called. "Don't go so fast."

But the tigress proceeded, paying no attention.


PRESENTLY, Tam stumbled and fell. He was exhausted. Leang turned and looked at him for a moment. Then she promptly returned, picked him up by his collar, and carried him on. His slight weight did not inconvenience her at all, for Leang was fully capable of lifting the huge bulk of an ox or buffalo, and had often done it.

After traveling many miles at a steady, tireless trot, she came to an ancient wall covered with vines and creepers. She leaped to its summit and, dropping lightly to the other side, crossed a weed-grown grass plot and entered the doorway of a small pagoda of wood and glazed tile, one of a pair that stood on each side of the entrance to a large wat, or temple, much of which was in ruins.

Inside the ancient pagoda, she set Tam on his feet. Then she affectionately licked the little striped cub that came toddling and mewling from a comer at her approach.

Tam tried to pet the cub, but it spit at him and he backed away. He had had some painful experiences with house cats that spit.

Leang lay down on her side and the cub promptly found a nipple. Soon it was purring contentedly, pumping industriously with both front paws as it absorbed the warm and indubitably fresh milk. Tam watched this process with considerable interest. It was long past his lunch time, and he, too, was thirsty and hungry. Presently he approached more closely and sat down beside the cub. The tigress leaned over and nuzzled him, pushing him down toward the source of the liquid food supply, of which there was an overabundance for her one cub. Then she lay back and rolled slightly—invitingly. It was a plain bid to tiffin, and the boy accepted hungrily.

Tam had tasted mother's milk, goat's milk, cow's milk and tinned milk, but never before had he tasted tiger's milk. And never before had milk of any variety tasted quite so good. He pumped and drank until his little stomach was distended quite comfortably. Then he slept, his tousled head pillowed on a furry foreleg.

When Tam awoke, the newly risen sun was sending its first shafts into the pagoda, and birds were caroling their morning songs. The tiger cub was curled into a striped, furry ball beside him, but the tigress was gone.

He looked about him in bewilderment at first, for it seemed to him that he must be in his little cot next to that of his father and mother, and that they were surely there beside him. When he realized where he was he began to feel very sad and lonely, and very much afraid.

"Mother!" he cried. "Daddy!"

But only the twittering, screeching and chattering of the jungle folk answered him.

He sat up and again called to his parents at the top of his voice. Them realizing that they were not with him, he began to cry.

The cub, disturbed by the strange noises, uncurled itself and toddled over to him. Evidently understanding that he was in distress, it rubbed its striped sides against him—a friendly, sympathetic gesture that showed it had accepted him as a member of the family circle.

Never before had there been a time in Tam's short life when his wailing had not speedily brought some one to do something about it—to pick him up, comfort him, and humor him. Now it amazed and disconcerted him to find that no matter how loudly he howled, nobody came. For the first time in his life he was learning the lesson which the prophet, Mohammed, learned many centuries before—that if one wanted a mountain and it wouldn't come when called, one had best go to the mountain.

Rubbing his tear-filled eyes with his small fists, he got up and walked out into the sunshine, the cub waddling after him. He was in a large, walled enclosure, in the center of which stood the ruined temple. The only way out was barred by a tall, brass gate, sagging on its hinges and covered with the verdigris of centuries.

Hungry, thirsty, and homesick, Tam wept softly to himself as he wandered aimlessly about the enclosure, accompanied by the cub. Convinced that there was no one to hear his cries, he no longer screamed at the top of his voice.

But one of the jungle creatures had heard. For a moment it gazed down from the top of the wall at this luscious and helpless morsel which might easily be had for the taking. Its eyes glowed with a greenish-yellow light which showed that it was fearful of the pungent tiger scent. But its hunger evidently overcame its fear of the great beast's lair, for it leaped lightly into the enclosure and bounded toward the boy and cub.

The cub spit angrily, then turned and ran toward the pagoda. Tam, looking up, saw a big "kitty," covered with black spots against an orange background, bounding toward him. There was something about its demeanor which struck terror into his little heart. He turned and ran after the retreating cub, but before he could reach the pagoda, sharp claws ripped through his blouse.

Then, snarling ferociously, the leopard bore him to earth.


III. — JUNGLE JUSTICE

LEANG, the white tiger-mother, awoke early and went forth into the gray dawn. After quenching her thirst at the ancient fountain of bronze and marble which, though centuries had passed since it was built, still bubbled and splashed in the center of the enclosure, she leaped the wall and set off through the jungle at a rapid trot.

It was with pleasant anticipation that she thought of the many pounds of buffalo flesh waiting to be consumed where she had left her kill the day before. The more she thought of that excellent meat the keener her appetite became, and the faster she trotted. True, it would have become a bit "high" after many hours in the heat, but this mattered not a whit to Leang. Although unlike some human epicures, she preferred her meat fresh, she was not at all averse to eating it after it had become quite putrid.

But as she drew near the spot where she had left the carcass there came to her sensitive nostrils a fetid body-scent that caused the hairs of her neck and back to stiffen and a low rumble to issue from her throat. Jackals! She bounded forward at top speed and arrived at the spot just in time to see a dozen slinking forms melt into the shadows. Of the carcass there remained only part of the skull, the horns, and a few gnawed vertebrae and rib bones, all reeking with the stench of the jungle scavengers.

Leang lashed the undergrowth with her long tail as she roared her rage and disappointment, but she did not attempt to follow the skulking forms. Many times before had she been despoiled of her prey by jackals, and she had learned that it was useless to attempt to capture the elusive thieves.

After sniffing about for some time to make sure there were no edible morsels which the jackals had overlooked, the thoroughly angered tigress set off once more toward her lair. As she traveled, she hunted by the way. Presently an unwary peahen fell prey to her skill and partly satisfied her hunger. This put her in a slightly better humor as she approached the temple ruins. Then she heard a cry—the wail of her man-cub. She quickened her pace.

A spotted form flashed to the top of the wall, hung there for a moment, and then dropped to the other side. Leang bounded forward.

Over the wall she hurtled in one great leap, her feet barely touching its top. Her own cub was scampering toward the pagoda. Her man-cub, trying to follow, was brought down by the leopard.

Intent on his prey, the spotted carnivore did not see the charging mother tiger until she was almost upon him. He turned just in time to receive a cuff that sent him rolling over and over for fully twenty feet. Recovering with the agility common to all members of the cat tribe, he dashed for the wall. Once in the jungle, he could easily elude the tigress. A tremendous spring carried him to the top of the wall. It was his last. Powerful jaws closed on the back of his neck. Long sharp claws sank into his mottled shoulders. He was dragged back into the enclosure.

The tigress and leopard fell to the earth together, the former growling thunderously, the latter screaming his fear and pain. As this fearful uproar smote upon the ears of the lesser jungle creatures, their own voices were stilled. Rodents hastily sought their burrows. Climbers scrambled for the highest branches. Birds flew to another part of the jungle.

But the screeching of the leopard soon ceased, as Leang, with the precision of a trained surgeon, bit through his cervical vertebrae. For a moment a shudder ran through his frame. Then he lay limp and lifeless beneath her.

Far overhead a passing kite paused in its flight, wheeled, and circled lower. Then it dropped like a plummet, alighting on the fronds of a tall palm that stood in the enclosure. Soon it was joined by a host of others, and by several vultures, all apparently materialized from a clear sky.


TAM, who had regained his feet and scampered into the pagoda with the cub, crouched in the doorway, watching breathlessly. His back smarted where the leopard's claws had punctured his khaki blouse, but he had not been injured otherwise.

Crouching beside her kill, the tigress, whose tremendous hunger had only been partly satisfied by the peahen, leisurely began her second breakfast, starting on the hind quarters as is the custom with the great cats. Her audience of vultures and kites watched hungrily, the former craning their scrawny necks, the latter maintaining their balance on the swaying fronds by flapping their black wings from time to time as if applauding.

Her hunger satisfied, the tigress drank at the fountain and went into the pagoda. Tam, who had been fearfully watching the proceedings from the doorway, saw the kites and vultures descend to finish what was left of his terrible enemy. Then he joined the cub at breakfast.

Man can live where he pleases because of his capacity for adapting himself to any environment. Young or old, weak or strong, he has this ability to a far greater extent than any other animal.

And thus it was that Tam, finding himself living under a new set of conditions, was soon as much at ease in the tiger's lair as he had formerly been in the home of his parents.

Here he had a broader vista than the four walls of his nursery had afforded, and real live "kitties" for playmates, instead of imitations stuffed with sawdust and excelsior.

It was not long before Leang began bringing meat to her lair—freshly killed peafowls, wild boars, deer, and at times, great haunches of buffalo meat.

The boy and cub feasted very daintily on these at first, both preferring the liquid food to which they were accustomed. But it was not long before they grew to like meat above everything else, and became as clamorous as small children around a parent bringing candy whenever Leang returned after a kill.

The cub grew with a rapidity that amazed Tam. In six months he was as large as the boy, and much stronger, though Tam, playing with him every day, was developing strength far beyond his years. They had many romps and mimic fights under the approving eye of the tiger mother, and played with the ball until it was completely worn out by the cub's teeth and claws.

Tam's clothes soon went to pieces, but he had no desire to replace them. He was far more comfortable in that hot climate without them. His shoes soon began to pinch his growing feet, and he discarded these, also.

It was not long before he began thinking of himself, not as a human being but as a tiger. He imitated all the sounds made by Leang and the cub, and soon grew to know the meaning of each. He could understand them or be understood without difficulty.

When the cub grew large and strong, Leang, as is the custom of tiger mothers, brought live game into the enclosure to be killed by the youngsters. Here the cub excelled, as in the mock fighting, and Tam shed tears of envy because of his own inability to grow such splendid claws and teeth.

Leang also taught both of them the value of moving silently through the grass and undergrowth. One of their favorite games was for both to separate, then each to try to stalk the other. At this game Tam soon learned to excel the cub, and these victories helped to salve his wounded pride at being defeated in the mock battles and outclassed in the game killings.

Then came the time when Leang called them to accompany her on a hunt. The cub was, by this time, able to leap to the top of the wall, but Tam, try as he would, couldn't make it. Fearful of being left behind, he ran to the gate, squeezed his slim brown body between the bars, and hurried after the two beasts, his feet as silent and his movements as stealthy as Leang's own.

They found royal game indeed for the first day. It was a big bull buffalo. Leang showed them how to stalk it, keeping to windward and moving noiselessly. But when she roared the signal to charge, Tam made the mistake of getting in front of the beast. Before it was dragged down by Leang it tossed the boy with one long horn. Scratched and bruised, but not pierced by the horn, Tam fell in the soft mud fully twenty feet away. He had learned, long since, that crying was a useless accomplishment in the jungle, and got up without a whimper to return for his share of the kill.

There were many hunts after that, in some of which Tam was quite painfully injured. But he eventually learned to avoid the horns and hoofs of deer and buffalo, and the tusks of boars.


BY THE time Tam reached his seventh year the cub was a full-grown tiger, as large and strong as his mother. Sometimes the three hunted in concert, but often one or the other would wander off to hunt alone.

Tam took to exploring the jungle by himself, not merely for the sake of hunting—he killed only when hungry—but because of the pleasure it gave him to observe the wild things. Leang had taught him to avoid the haunts of men, but like all boys he was very curious, and often went as near to the villages as he could approach without being seen, in order to learn how the strange and terrible creatures, shaped like himself, lived.

Once he saw a traveling fakir charming a cobra with his queer, squalling noise-stick. Tam remembered the sounds made by that strange stick, and on his return to the wat imitated them with considerable success, for he was a born mimic.

Leang had taught him to give all serpents a wide berth, and for this reason he had never dared to explore the rear rooms of the temple, which were inhabited by cobras. He decided to try his new magic on one of them. The subject he selected paid no attention to him at first, but he persisted until it raised its hooded head and swayed in time to the barbaric strains. Emboldened by his success, he approached the snake, stroked it, and picked it up, finally depositing it on the floor and getting away unscathed. Often after that he amused himself at the dangerous sport of snake-charming, until the cobras paid no more attention to his comings and goings than to each other.

After this, he made friends with many of the other jungle creatures. By watching them patiently, day after day, he learned the meanings of the various sounds they made, and, imitating them, was thus able to converse with each in its own language.

From the monkeys and gibbons he quickly learned the art of swift silent travel through the upper traffic lanes of the jungle. From these, also, he learned that certain fruits and nuts were very good to eat, and often supplemented his meat diet with them. As soon as they learned that he would not harm them, they accepted him as a friend and companion, and he passed many pleasant hours with them, amused by their strange antics.

Two or three times in his wanderings he came upon men, and these meetings were always unpleasant. The first man he met, a member of a fierce hill tribe, hurled a spear at him. It pierced his arm and clung there for some time as he scurried away through the forest. He plucked it out and flung it from him, but it left a painful wound that was many days in healing.

Several times after that he came upon men unexpectedly, and all of them were ready to use their weapons first and ask questions afterward. He decided that men, like leopards, jackals and hyenas, could only be regarded as dangerous enemies, and had best be avoided.

The first herd of wild elephants he encountered excited his wonder. For many days he followed them, observing how the great pachyderms lived.

Once, in his northern wanderings, he came into a teak forest that was being worked. Here there were many elephants laboring under the direction of men, who sometimes walked beside them, sometimes sat on their necks. These elephants wore wooden bells that went: "Tika, tok, tok, tok," and some had leg-irons that clanked when they moved.

Always keeping well out of sight, Tam watched the mahouts, striving to learn how they controlled the great brutes, and resolving that some day he, too, would capture an elephant and cause it to obey him. He noticed that the ankus, or elephant hook, was a part of every mahout's equipment, and one night succeeded in pilfering one and getting away unscathed. He returned to the wat with his treasure, but the wild herd had moved to another feeding-ground; so he put the ankus away in the pagoda for future reference.

Tam took no notice of the passing of time, but he did notice that as the seasons came and went he grew larger and stronger, whereas, after the fifth year, Leang's cub had ceased to grow. Several times during those years, strange tigers had come to the wat, evidently attracted by Leang, but these she had always driven away.

In his wanderings through the jungle, Tam also met a number of strange tigers. They neither ran from him nor attempted to attack him, but treated him precisely as if he were another tiger. This was because if they voiced their thoughts and feelings, as tigers often do, he answered them in their own language. If they remained silent, he addressed them in the same language, making it plain that though he was friendly enough, he was not to be trifled with, for he was a very devil of a tiger, himself.

By the time he was twelve years of age he could pull down his buck or boar quite as well as Leang, though a buffalo was still too much for him.

One day, after he and the two tigers had slain and devoured a buck, they returned to the temple enclosure to drink at the fountain.

Suddenly they heard a voice, a human voice, at the gate.

"Leang," it said.

Turning, Tam beheld a tall man with a wrinkled yellow face, peering through the gate. He wore a red cap, and a robe of the same color, caught over his left shoulder. His right arm and shoulder were bare.

To Tam, every man was a deadly enemy. He snarled fiercely, and the tiger echoed his snarl.

But Leang only stared at the stranger.


IV. — THE RED LAMA

LOZONG, the pious lama, drew his robe of red Lhasa cloth more tightly about his tall, straight figure as he plunged into the jungle trail which he had not taken for more than ten years, and which was nearly obliterated by the vegetation.

When necessary, he swung his dah, or double-curved jungle knife, to clear the path. But as he cut and forced his way through the thick undergrowth he did not for a moment cease to lay up merit for himself in the world to come, for over and over again his lips framed the mystical formula: "Om mani padme hum."*

[* O, Jewel in the Lotus, Amen.]

Despite his priestly garb and pious declamations there was something in the bearing of Lozong which made it appear that he had not always been a man of the robe and alms-bowl. His straight, soldierly figure smacked more of the camp and battlefield, and the ease and precision with which he used his dah showed more than casual acquaintance with a cutting weapon.

His Mongoloid features were old, and yet young, for though his sun-cured skin was like wrinkled yellow parchment, his black eyes flashed with a fire that was decidedly youthful. They were the eyes of a conqueror, descendant of a race that had once terrorized the entire civilized world, and were strangely incongruous in the otherwise austere countenance.

As he hewed and chanted his way through the jungle, he wondered if Leang, the white tigress, still lived in the pagoda before the temple ruins in which he had made his home for five years, and from which, ten years before, he had emerged to go on a long pilgrimage. He had visited most of the celebrated shrines of India, Burma and Siam, learning Sanskrit that he might study the ancient religious books of India, and seeing many strange and wonderful sights.

Thirteen years before, Lozong, who had retired to the old sacred ruins to meditate in solitude and to lay up merit, had found an orphan tiger cub less than three months old playing in a nest beneath the umbrella-like foliage of a korinda. The bones of the mother lay near by, picked clean by scavengers. She had evidently been shot or poisoned, and had succumbed before she could reach her lair.

The cub, which was a white female, was half starved. Had it been an ordinary striped animal, Lozong would have left it there to die, but as it was white, and therefore sacred, he could acquire much merit by saving its life. He had accordingly captured the spitting and growling youngster in his robe, and taken it to his retreat, establishing it in a grass nest in the pagoda. After that, for many months, he had been kept busy trapping birds and small game for his young charge, which he named Leang. He built traps that caught the game alive, then permitted his pet to kill it, herself, so he need not commit the sin of taking animal life.

But Leang had eventually learned to do her own hunting, and when she was nearly three years old, began consorting at night with her own kind. Lozong let her come and go as she pleased, and she remained quite friendly until, one morning when he approached the pagoda, she warned him away with a thunderous growl. He understood, and did not go near her den for many days, nor did she come to see him in his temple room as was her wont.

But one day as he was seated on the temple steps eating his frugal meal of curry and rice, donated by a village housewife, she had emerged from the pagoda followed by four striped cubs which she proudly led up to him for inspection.

A few days later a tiger came—a great striped brute. He killed and ate three of the cubs which had been playing in the temple enclosure. The fourth, asleep in the pagoda, he overlooked. Leang returned as he was devouring the third little body. Lozong, watching from the temple corridor, saw an exhibition of feline fury such as it falls to the lot of few men to witness. The tiger, badly scratched and bitten, beat a hasty retreat. Nor did he dare come near the place again. He had been Leang's mate, but never would she mate with him again.

A few days thereafter, Lozong had gone on his long pilgrimage, bidding the sacred tigress and her remaining cub a fond farewell. Now, as he neared the temple ruins, his thoughts were on the two creatures he had left there.

Leang would be thirteen years old. The cub, which he had named "Chiam," would be ten—a full-grown tiger in his prime.

Suddenly, as he neared a little glade which he knew to be but a short distance from the temple ruins, he heard the roar of a charging tiger and the crashing of heavy bodies through the underbrush. Silently he slid behind a tree and watched.

Into the glade a buck came leaping. Behind it bounded an immense tiger. It looked as if the buck would escape when there swiftly flashed from the undergrowth in its path, a lithe, sun-browned human form—a slender boy about twelve years of age, naked and unarmed. From the other side a white tigress charged. But it was the boy who brought down the game. He met the buck in midair, gripped the antlers and twisted them to one side. As his prey went down he uttered a roar that matched that of the tiger, and sank his teeth into the furry throat.

Then, while the astonished lama looked on from his place of concealment, the boy and two beasts settled down to feed on their kill.

Lozong did not doubt that the white tigress was Leang. And the tiger might be her cub, Chiam, or a new mate. But this naked, black-haired boy with the voice of a tiger and the muscles of a gladiator—who could he be, and whence could he have come? It was plain that he was not of the tribes of Burma or Siam, nor yet of India or Tibet. Though his skin was deeply tanned by the sun, he was undoubtedly white, like the English or French.

The lama knew better than to approach a feeding tiger. So he kept out of sight until the boy and the two beasts had finished. He knew that after they had eaten they would drink, and wondered if they would go to the river or the temple. When they turned toward the ruins his belief in the identity of Leang was confirmed, and he followed silently.


THE boy and the two brutes leaped the wall, and Lozong, watching through the bars of the bronze gate, saw them drinking at the fountain.

When they had finished, he cried: "Leang."

The tigress turned, looking curiously in his direction. The boy and tiger both snarled.

"Leang, come here," he called, as he had summoned her in the old days.

She pricked up her ears, elevated her tail, and trotted toward the gate. Behind her came the boy and the tiger.

In Leang's attitude there was only curiosity, but the others were openly hostile.

"Don't you remember me, Leang?" asked Lozong. "Don't you remember your old master who fed you?"

The tigress sniffed at him through the bars. The boy and tiger were snarling belligerently.

Suddenly, with an angry snarl, the boy sprang—raked the lama's bare shoulder with his nails. But Leang turned on him—cuffed him back. At this instant the tiger leaped, but him also she buffeted back. Then she rubbed her jowl against the bars, and Lozong knew that she remembered.

Fearlessly he scratched her under the chin—behind the ear—while she purred loudly. The boy and the tiger remained in the background, still unfriendly, but obedient to the tigress.

Presently the lama took a large bronze key from the voluminous breast pocket of his robe, and inserted it in the lock of the gate. It stuck with the corrosion acquired during his ten years' absence, but he eventually succeeded in turning it. Then he swung the gate on its complaining hinges and boldly entered, closing it after him.

Leang stood aside to let him in, then walked with him as he fearlessly strode toward the temple. He watched the boy and tiger from the corners of his eyes as he passed, but they made no move to molest him. It was evident that they had a wholesome respect for the authority of the white tigress.

Straight through the ruined temple portal he went, and to the room he had previously occupied. Here he squatted, cross-legged, on the floor, and Leang stretched out beside him. Unslinging his alms-bowl, he lifted the bit of oily paper which covered it, disclosing the rice and ghee which a woman of the near-by village had given him.

He made a greasy ball and held it out to Leang, just as he had fed her from his bowl ten years before. She took it daintily, chewed it much more than was necessary, and swallowed it. But when he offered her more she turned her head away. Evidently buttered rice was no longer to her liking. It was as if she had taken the first morsel for politeness' sake.

Lozong ate rapidly, for the sun was nearing the zenith and it was not permitted that he eat solid food after midday. Having completed his plain but satisfying meal, he took his water-strainer from his pocket and went out for a drink at the fountain, the strainer being a religious rather than a hygienic precaution, as it was unlawful for him to take animal life, even of the most minute kind.

Stretched in the shade of one of the mango trees that lined the approach, the boy and tiger barred his path to the fountain. The lama did not wish to show fear, nor did he desire to arouse either of them, as he knew that if one should spring for him, the other, also, would attack.

He advanced cautiously, intending to circle the two and pass on. But just as he turned aside from the path, an ugly, hooded head reared its spectacled death-sign above the grass.

The cobra swayed angrily for a moment with darting tongue—then struck.


V. — THE FIRST LESSON

THE head of the striking cobra moved as swiftly as an arrow, yet just a fraction of a second quicker flashed the dah of Lozong. There was a scarcely perceptible turn of the lama's wrist, and the keen blade severed the venomous head with the neat drawing cut of an expert.

Although he had momentarily saved his own life by his quickness with the weapon, Lozong, by making the sudden movement, had instantly put it in jeopardy again. The boy and tiger, basking in. the shade, both took it for a hostile gesture. Their roars resounded together as they sprang for the lama.

According to Lozong's belief he had committed a deadly sin by slaying the cobra, despite the fact that he had acted on the spur of the moment to save his own life. Many thousands of "Om mani padme hums" would have to be said before sufficient merit was acquired to atone for this one act.

But the instinct of self-preservation made him turn again at this new attack, his dah lightly balanced in the hand so skilled in its use, as the boy and tiger sprang at him.

Leang, right behind her former master, leaped for the tiger, knocking him over. In an instant he was rolling on the ground with the tigress standing over him.

Seeing this, the lama smiled and dropped his dah as the boy sprang upon him. Tiger fashion, the lad attacked with teeth and nails. And tigerish was the strength of the muscles that rippled beneath his sun-browned skin.

But Lozong, who had not always been a lama, who was a past master in the arts of offense and defense, knew how to meet his every movement and turn it into defeat. Had it not been for the uncertainty of what the tigers might do, he would have played with him. But because of that uncertainty, he quickly ended the contest.

Catching one extended wrist, the lama turned and dragged the arm across his shoulder, throwing the boy heavily. Before he could recover, he was down beside him, his hands playing skilfully here and there. The lad was, for a time, paralyzed—helpless. Lozong had learned jiu jitsu from a Japanese expert, and learned it well.

Picking up his dah, the lama sheathed it and proceeded serenely toward the fountain, precisely as if nothing had happened. He drank, then returned to the temple, looking neither to the right nor the left. The boy, still unable to move, snarled as he passed, but the tigers, now lying side by side in the shade, made no sound.

Lozong squatted, cross-legged, in the shade of the portal, and began clicking the wooden beads of his rosary, the while he muttered his monotonous: "Om mani padme hum." This prayer would have to be said countless thousands of times in order to recover the merit lost by slaying the cobra.

But the repetition of the prayer was purely mechanical. His mind was occupied with the problem of making friends with the other occupants of the wat. Leang, he believed, could be counted on to remain friendly. The tiger, which he now felt sure was Chiam because of the way Leang had cuffed him about, was more of a problem. Though he had petted and handled him when a tiny cub, there was no possibility of that memory assisting him now. He must find some other way.

And the boy. He, indeed, was the greatest problem of all. Wild and ferocious as the tigers, and aided by a mind far superior, he could be approached only with the greatest caution. Lozong pondered the course to be pursued as he muttered his prayers and gazed out at him through the dancing heat waves.

Presently the lad, finding himself able to move once more, stood up. He flexed his muscles as if to make certain that they would serve him. The lama forgot his prayers for a moment, fearing another attack as the boy looked in his direction. But the lad turned and went over to where the headless body of the cobra lay. No malice showed on his features—only wonder and curiosity. After examining the decapitated reptile with evident puzzlement, he went over and lay down in the shade with the panting tigers. So far as the lama was concerned, he seemed disposed to ignore his presence.

As he lay there in the shade, Tam, though feigning to completely ignore the strange being who had moved into the wat, very much concerned about him. He was puzzled by the fact that Leang not only obeyed him as if she were his cub, but actually showed affection for him, even to the point of protecting him against her own offspring.

Despite the fact that he had always considered all men as his enemies, Tam was beginning to believe that this unusual person, who had defeated him almost painlessly, was friendly.

Suddenly the man in red began making strange noises with his mouth, which sounded very much like those made by the people of the villages. To Tam, they were incomprehensible, yet the man seemed to be addressing him. Although, during his ten years in the jungle he had learned the language of most of the wild things, Tam had not picked up a single human word to add to the meager nursery vocabulary he had brought with him at the age of two. And even this, through disuse, had been long forgotten.

But now the man was making noises which aroused some latent memory. Having tried him with Tibetan, Burmese and Siamese, Lozong was now speaking English.

"What is your name, my son?" he asked. "Who are you?"

At the words: "What is your name?" there flashed through Tam's mind the recollection of an answer which should follow—an answer in which he had been drilled, day after day, by his parents in case he should ever be lost. He turned and faced the lama as he replied:

"Tam Evans, 1130 Lake Shore Drive, 'Phone Lake Shore 0206."

"Come over here and sit with me in the shade, Tam Evans," said Lozong. "I would be your friend."

Tam stared at him in bewilderment, not because he couldn't comprehend his meaning, but because he could. Gradually taking form in his objective consciousness were memories, shadowy and indistinct, of his father and mother, and of his black nurse-maid, who had made such sounds which he had understood, long, long ago. Yet never, since that time, had he heard human beings make sounds which had any meaning for him.

"You need not be afraid. I won't hurt you," assured the lama.

At this, Tam sneered.

"You hurt Tam? Tam afraid? No! Tam is a fierce kitty. Tam could kill and eat you." He amazed himself as the unfamiliar speech rolled from his lips, for he was translating into English exactly what he would have said to a strange tiger inclined to be bellicose.

The lama smiled. He knew better than to dispute the boy's strange statement at this stage.

"All right, fierce kitty," he said. "Come over and talk to me."

Tam walked over and crouched on the steps near him. They talked long, the erudite lama skilfully adapting his speech to the boy's tiger-like thought processes and limited vocabulary. And thus there began a firm friendship that was to last for many years.


THAT night the lama slept on the bare floor of his cell. The following morning when he awoke, he found freshly gathered fruit lying beside him, and a newly killed bird of paradise. He ate part of the fruit, but the bird he would not eat raw, and it was forbidden that he should prepare his own food, so he carried it outside.

Neither Tam nor Leang was in sight, but Chiam the tiger was lying at the foot of the temple steps. Lozong tossed the bird to him. He leaped back with a snarl, then seized it and carried it off to the bone-littered space before the pagoda, to devour it.

Lozong drank at the fountain, let himself out at the gate, and with his alms-bowl tucked in the large breast pocket of his robe, set off for a near-by village.

He had not gone far when he heard a rustling in the branches above his head. Looking up, he beheld Tam. A gibbon that had evidently been with him scampered off through the branches.

"Where you going?" asked the boy. "To the village where men live," replied the lama.

"Don't go," said Tam. "They will kill you with sharp sticks, and eat you."

"No, they will give me food to eat," replied Lozong.

Tam followed him as far as the edge of the jungle, but would go no farther. When the lama returned, his bowl filled with curried vegetables and rice, the boy was waiting for him. They walked through the jungle together, back to the temple ruins. As they were passing through the courtyard, Chiam, the tiger, came out of the pagoda. At sight of the lama, Chiam growled menacingly, and barred his way to the portal.

Lozong paused. This time the white tigress was not there to defend him. Chiam advanced, ears laid back, tail lashing the air, voicing his disapproval of the lama in no uncertain tones.

To Lozong's surprize, the boy leaped in front of the tiger. There issued from his throat a growl that matched, in volume and ferocity, the voice of the big feline. For some time, boy and beast growled and snarled at each other. Then the tiger sprang.

The lama dropped his begging-bowl and whipped out his dah, expecting Tam would be mangled by those terrible teeth and claws. But the boy leaped lightly to one side, and before the beast could recover, had flung himself on its back. Gripping the loose skin of its neck and locking his feet far back beneath the belly, he hung on like grim death. The tiger flung itself over backward, rolled over and over, and tried its best to paw him off, but to no avail. Presently the beast subsided, panting.

Tam laughed, and releasing his hold, scratched the big feline behind the ear, making low, purring sounds meanwhile, which were answered by the tiger.

Then he stood up and returned to where the astounded lama waited.

"Kitty won't hurt you, now," he said. "I told him you were our friend."

"But you might have been killed," exclaimed Lozong.

Tam laughed.

"We play like that, often," he said. "When I was little and weak, he could beat me, but now I am big and strong. Now I win the games. He still has better teeth and claws, but I am quicker. Some day when my teeth and claws grow bigger it will be easier."

"You will grow bigger some day, Tam," said the lama, "but you will never have big teeth and claws. Men do not have them. You must stop thinking you are a kitty, because you are a boy, and when you grow up you will be a man."

"I was a boy, once," replied Tam. "I remember a little about it."

"And you are still a boy," replied Lozong. "There are many things I must teach you, which boys and men should know." They sat down in the shade, and there across the alms-bowl began Tam's first lesson.


VI. — THE GODS OF ASIA

EACH day, Lozong made his morning trip to the near-by village. But about two weeks after his arrival at the temple, he returned with a parcel wrapped in heavy paper. He made a great mystery of it until he and Tam reached his cell. Then he unwrapped it ceremoniously.

Tam watched, with wide-eyed curiosity, as the lama took out several books, pads of writing-paper, pencils, and a ruler. "What are they?" he asked.

"I sent for them," replied Lozong, "in order that I might teach you to read and write the language of your people. These will be the foundation for your education."

And thus, at the age when most children have graduated from grammar school, Tam made his beginning.

He progressed rapidly, and Lozong ordered more books and supplies for him from time to time. Each afternoon was set aside for his studies. His mornings were usually spent roving in the jungle. The lama was an excellent instructor because he made everything interesting, and Tam's thirst for knowledge was insatiable.

Book knowledge was not all that Lozong taught his pupil. He taught him jiu jitsu and boxing, and the use of the dah. At first he let Tam use his knife, but one day he brought him a bright new one from the village, with a sheath and belt. He had previously persuaded Tam to wear a garment which he had cut for him from red Lhasa cloth. It was merely a narrow strip of the material passed over his left shoulder and wound about his loins, but quite enough for that climate.

When Tam had become proficient with the dah, the lama brought him other weapons and taught him their use. They soon accumulated quite an arsenal of spears, bows and arrows, crossbows and their shorter projectiles, blowguns and darts, axes and swords. For hours at a time they would practise shooting at marks, hurling spears and knives, and fencing.

Lozong's favorite weapon was the terrible yatagan, or double-curved sword. With this, he would fell a tall tree at a single blow, then instruct his pupil to cut it up.

At first, Tam could not more than cut half through the trunk of a tree felled by his teacher, but gradually he got the knack of it.

"Slice!" Lozong would cry excitedly, when Tam, in spite of his powerful muscles, would end with his blade still sticking in the wood. "Watch this. Observe that I do not strike with half the force you used, yet my blade passes clear through. Why? Because I turn the wrist, so, and draw the blade back, so; so I bring it down. Your wrist should be of rubber, not of wood. You chop like a clumsy Chinaman."

So Tam would try again and yet again. But he was sixteen before he could cleave through a trunk that Lozong had felled at a single blow, and twenty before he had become his equal at fence. Meanwhile, his studies had progressed tremendously. He could read and write Tibetan and Sanskrit as well as English, and had studied and discussed with Lozong the sciences and the leading religions of the world.

But most of all, he liked to hear Lozong relate his interesting life experiences—how his people had moved to Hangchow from Tibet when he was a boy, and he had become a Christian and gone to school at the Ching Nea Way, the American Y.M.C.A. Then how he had gone to Japan and saved the life of a descendant of the samurai, who had taught him jiu jitsu and swordsmanship. And then how he had gone to visit his parents, who had moved back to Tibet, and while there, had been left for dead by a company of Chinese soldiers that had massacred the entire village, including his parents and his brothers and sisters. Embittered against the Chinese, he had turned brigand, and soon became leader of the most dreaded band of marauders in that region. His fame had spread, and new recruits had flocked to him until he became a military power to be reckoned with.

But he grew sick of bloodshed and endless campaigns, and at thirty decided to give up all his possessions and seek salvation by way of the eight-fold path. He had accordingly taken leave of his followers and entered a lamasery, but such was his popularity and piety that in less than a year he had become its chief lama.

Still dissatisfied, he left the lamasery in charge of a subordinate, and set out on a pilgrimage, a seeker after that elusive entity, Truth. Wandering through Burma, he had accidentally found the ancient ruins, where he had tarried for a time to meditate and study in solitude, and near which he had found Leang.

At twenty, Tam had not only grown mentally, but had attained to splendid physical manhood. He was slightly taller than Lozong, who was six feet without his sandals, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, and superbly muscled.

Leang and Chiam had become middle-aged tigers, and though he still hunted with them, Tam now employed the weapons Lozong had taught him to use. Like his preceptor, he came to favor the yatagan above all other weapons. With this he could sever the neck or split the skull of a charging buffalo at a single stroke.

Nor had he forgotten his many jungle friends. These he had cultivated through the years. But the achievement which had pleased him most of all was his conquest of a mighty bull elephant. The great bull, suffering from that strange temporary madness called must, had slain his mahout one day when the man had used his ankus a bit too roughly, and dashed off into the jungle. He had managed to elude the men sent after him, and his wanderings had brought him to Tam's hunting-grounds.

For many days, Tam had watched him, feeding in the forest or wallowing in the river, spraying himself with water. From the first day he carried the ankus which he had been keeping for just such an occasion. Though he feared no jungle creature, it was with some trepidation that Tam went up to the great brute for the first time carrying a peace offering of fruit.

The elephant, which had fully recovered from its illness by this time, readily responded to the commands which Tam had learned by observing the mahouts, and he received one of the greatest thrills of his life when, swung upward on the trunk of the huge pachyderm, he took his seat behind the gigantic head and, ankus in hand, rode off through the forest.

He said nothing of his conquest to Lozong, but several days later, when he and the great brute had become better acquainted, he rode his mighty steed down the path to meet the lama on his return from the village.

Astounded, Lozong looked on while Tam put the big beast through his paces, finally causing him to kneel so that the lama might mount his back. They rode home in state that night, or nearly so, for the elephant stopped and refused to budge when he scented the lair of the tigers. By much perseverance and the employment of fruit and balls of sweetened rice, Tam eventually persuaded him to enter the enclosure and actually to make friends with the two tigers. After that, Ganesha, as they called him, made his headquarters in the temple enclosure. He was friendly toward Lozong, but showed positive affection for Tam.


ONE DAY Ganesha wandered away, and did not return that night as was his wont. Worried, Tam set out on his trail the next morning.

As usual, Tam carried the weapons which had made him master of the jungle. From his belt hung his dah and yatagan. At his back was his quiver, containing his powerful bow and a supply of arrows. In his hand he carried the ankus, his scepter of authority over the elephant.

The trail of Ganesha led straight to the north, and Tam followed it all morning without pausing. But as the blazing sun reached the zenith he decided to halt for rest and refreshment. He had eaten only a little fruit for breakfast, and his long tramp had engendered meat hunger. He turned aside from the trail to hunt.

Traversing a dense thicket of bamboo, he came out in a flat expanse of tall jungle grass through which a little brook meandered. Thirsty, he went down to the stream to drink. He had barely touched his lips to the purling water when he heard a movement in the tall grass on the farther bank. Silently he slid back into the rushes and drew his yatagan. No doubt this was some jungle creature coming for a drink. Well, it should supply the meat he craved. The breeze was neither in his favor nor against him, but blowing downstream, so his nose told him nothing. He must wait for his eyes to reveal the quarry.

As he crouched there in the rushes, Tam gasped in amazement at sight of the wondrous creature that emerged from the waving jungle grass. A slender girl, panting and swaying as if from exhaustion, ran out on the bank.

Her garments were unlike anything he had ever seen or heard of. On her head was a tight-fitting golden helmet crowned with a gold disk above a silver crescent, set on a uraeus with eyes that were smoldering rubies. Wisps of her dark-brown hair peeped from beneath the magnificent head-piece, and in her hazel eyes was the look of one who has just escaped some unspeakable horror. Her shapely limbs and torso were encased in light, golden chain mail, reinforced by sliding shoulder plates, circular breast plates, and a jointed girdle with a skirt of faces, and adorned with glittering jewels set in strange designs. From her belt of scarlet leather hung a dagger sheath and sword scabbard, both empty.

Fascinated, Tam stared in breathless wonder and admiration. But the slight hint of a movement in the tall grass behind the girl drew his jungle-trained eyes. Something was stalking her! Then he saw the striped tip of a long tail lashing above the grass, and he knew!

He leaped up, a cry of warning on his lips, but at that moment the tiger sprang, emitting a thunderous roar as it crushed its victim to the ground.

With an answering roar, Tam leaped across the brook and confronted the tiger, his yatagan gleaming in his hand.

Standing over the prostrate girl, the tiger snarled its anger at this presumptuous human who had the temerity to dispute its right to its prey. Then it charged and reared up to seize its challenger, teeth gleaming and claws aspread.

With the swiftness of lightning flashed the razor-sharp yatagan. It caught the rearing tiger squarely between the eyes, and divided its skull as neatly as a dah divides an orange, finding lodgment in the neck vertebrć. Like a thing of inflated rubber, the mighty body collapsed.

Tam jerked his blade free and sprang to the side of the girl.

"Are you badly hurt?" he asked in English.

She did not understand, but held up both hands to him, a gesture he could not fail to comprehend. He dropped his gory blade and grasping her hands, helped her to her feet. Despite the weight of her armor, she seemed light as a feather. And when she leaned against Tam for support, the crest of her helmet barely reached to his shoulder. Tam repeated his query in Tibetan and Sanskrit. She appeared to understand the latter language and replied in a language that was very much like it—enough to make her speech intelligible to Tam.

"My armor protected me," she said, then added: "I am very thirsty. Let me drink."

With his arm around her slender waist, Tam helped her down the bank, then supported her while she knelt and drank from the stream, using her cupped hands. When she signified that she had enough, he helped her to her feet once more. She seemed greatly refreshed.

Pointing to the split skull of the tiger, she said:

"That was a marvelous stroke. I am beholden to you for my life."

Tam flushed.

"It was nothing," he replied. "A great swordsman taught me, and I have had much practise on the hard skulls of buffaloes."

"Then you are a hunter. Can you find meat for me? I have not eaten for three days, and am faint from hunger."

"I will get you much meat, and quickly," responded Tam. He picked up his yatagan and wiped it on the flank of the tiger. Here was meat, but not of a kind that he could bring himself to eat. Leopards, caracals, ounces, or any other felines were all right for food according to his ideas, but despite Lozong's teaching he could not get over the feeling that tigers were his own kind—that to eat the flesh of one of these beasts would be an act of cannibalism. And it was quite evident that the girl did not consider the beast he had slain fit for food.

"Come with me," he invited.

Together, they leaped the little brook, crossed the grass plot, and entered the bamboo thicket. As they were traversing this, Tam heard the sound for which he had been listening—the discordant cry of a peacock.

"Follow quietly behind me," he said. "There is food."

As he moved silently through the bamboos, he took his bow from the quiver, strung it, and drew forth an arrow. The bow twanged, and a magnificent bird fell to the ground, where it fluttered for a moment, then lay still.


BACK to the brook they went, to pluck, draw and wash the bird, and to build a cooking fire. Soon they were broiling slabs of peacock breast impaled on green bamboo over the hot coals.

"It tastes even better than it looks," said the girl as she sampled her first mouthful.

"It is the favorite meat of tigers," replied Tam between mouthfuls, " and they are good judges of meat. They live on it."

"You seem to know a great deal about tigers," said the girl. "Tell me who you are, and more about yourself."

"My name is Tam," he replied, "and I was raised by a white tigress."

"By a white tigress!" she exclaimed. "The prophecy!"

"What prophecy?"

"It is a secret. I should not have mentioned it."

"Never mind," replied Tam, "I'll forget it. Prophecies bore me, anyhow. Tell me who you are, and where you live."

"My name is Nina," she said, "and I live in Iramatri."

"Never heard of that country," said Tam, "but I've heard the name, Nina. She was a goddess, one of the first goddesses, in fact. They worshipped her about five thousand years ago."

"And longer," replied the girl. "Fifty thousand years ago men worshipped Nina."

"There are no records that old," said Tam, "so how could you know that?"

As he spoke, he looked into her eyes. She was regarding him oddly. For some reason a chill ran down his spine.

"Why, you wear a uraeus!" he exclaimed, noticing her serpent diadem for the first time. "Nina was a serpent goddess!"

As he uttered these words her eyes flashed with a strange light like that of the rubies that smoldered in the uraeus. They seemed to burn into his very being, bringing a disconcerting sensation of utter helplessness. He tried to move, to shake off the feeling, but found himself as powerless as if he had suddenly been turned to stone. The meat which he was holding over the coals burned to a crisp, unheeded.

"You know much for a modern earthling," said the girl, finally. "I thought the world had forgotten Nina."

As suddenly as it had come, Tam's feeling of helplessness departed.

"So it has, almost," replied Tam. "She has been worshipped under the names of Ishtar, Isis, Ashtoreth, Tanit and Persephone. As Tanit she still has a few followers in the vicinity of old Carthage, and as Ishtar, superstitions concerning her are preserved throughout the world, though her followers are referred to as witches and wizards."

"She withdrew from the world five thousand years ago," said Nina, "because of the crimes that were committed in her name. Zealots stained her altars with human blood. Parents offered their children to be burned by sadistic priests, thinking to please her. These same priests corrupted her vestal virgins, then, urged by their lust for gold, made brothels of her temples. And when she left the world of earthlings, the priests set up graven images in her place, and called upon the people to worship these in her stead. She could have destroyed them all, but preferred to leave them to work out their own destruction."

"Which they did to perfection," said Tam. "There are ruins scattered around the Mediterranean from Rome to Karnak which testify to that. But tell me, how is it that you know so much about this goddess. Can it be that you-?"

He paused suddenly, as there came to his ears a sound like the roll of distant thunder—or elephants stampeding. The girl heard it at the same time, and they both stood up. Looking out over the waving grass tips, Tam saw, converging toward them, a semicircle of beasts that were larger by far than the biggest elephants he had ever seen. They were twelve to thirteen feet high at the shoulders, and the tops of their massive heads on long, arched necks, were from fifteen to sixteen feet above the ground. They were almost hairless, but protected by skin as thick and leathery as that of the rhinoceros.

Mounted on these huge beasts were giant riders, terrible of mien and most extraordinary in appearance. At first Tam thought there were two on each beast, but as they drew closer he saw that each rider was of immense size and had two pairs of arms. They were a white race, but pasty white, as if they had never seen sunlight. Each monster carried a long-shafted trident couched like a lance, a bronze mace with a hideous human head graven on the knob, and an immense tulwar, a sword with a curved blade and an elaborate guard. The fourth hand, weaponless, held the reins which guided the giant steed.

The riders wore brazen helmets, flat collars of the same material that represented twining serpents, bangles on their wrists and arms, and the skins of animals wrapped about their loins. One, who seemed to be the leader, wore a magnificent golden helmet decorated with three faces like his own, one on each side and one in the back. In addition to the snake collar, his torso was covered with scale-armor, and he wore a long necklace of white human skulls.

"The gods of India!" exclaimed Tam. "And I thought they had no real existence!"

"Save me! Hide me!" pleaded the girl. And Tam saw in her eyes the same look of horror that had been there when first he saw her. "If I can not escape them, the world—your world—is doomed!"

He took her hand, and together they sprinted for the bamboo thicket. But they had not gone a hundred feet when they were halted by a shower of stones, and there charged out at them from the thicket a mob of hairy, shambling creatures, man-like and yet ape-like. They were armed with slings and clubs, and each carried a bag of large pebbles that hung from a cord around his neck.

"They saw our smoke and sent the Zargs to cut off our retreat before they charged," said the girl. "We are in a trap."

Tam quickly strung his bow, and sent an arrow through the breast of the foremost Zarg. He fell without a sound, and the others paused, but did not cease hurling their stones. By this time the giant riders had come within range. Tam brought down the first of these with an arrow through the left eye. Then he heard a shout from the gold-helmeted leader:

"Dismount, Asoza, and cut down the youth."

A pasty-faced giant, fully eight feet in height, swung down from his high saddle and ran forward, whirling his tulwar and mace until they whistled in the air.

Tam launched an arrow, which glanced from the brazen collar. They he whipped out his yatagan and dah, and awaited the onslaught. As they came together, the giant swung his tulwar in a neck-cut that would have decapitated the youth had it landed. But Tam ducked, and extended his point, wounding his adversary in the groin.

After that they fenced, blade clashing with blade, and Tam was sorely put to it, not only to defend himself from the whistling tulwar but to avoid the smashing blows of the heavy mace.

While he was thus occupied, he saw the golden-helmeted leader swiftly ride up to where the girl stood, stoop, and swing her up in front of him, kicking and struggling. He had been fencing carefully before, but this sight made him reckless. Springing in close, he delivered a savage shoulder cut. His blade bit through the brazen collar, and shearing flesh and bone alike, sliced down through the heart of his adversary.

But he paid for his temerity. The heavy mace, swinging wildly in one of the four flailing hands, collided with the side of his head. There was a brief flash of a million multi-hued sparks, and oblivion.



Left for dead by his strange enemies, Tam comes to his senses only to face new and undreamed-of perils. Bead of his thrilling adventures in the August Weird Tales, on sale July 1st.


A vivid novel of thrills and strange happenings, with the very gods of Asia as characters



PART TWO

Illustration

Weird Tales, Aug 1931, with second part of "Tam, Son of the Tiger"


THE STORY THUS FAR

TAM EVANS, two-year-old son of Major Charles Evans, American philanthropist and sportsman, was carried off by a white tigress while his parents were hunting in the Burmese jungle.

The tigress, which had lost three of her four cubs, adopted the boy, and raised him in a pagoda in an old temple ruin that stood in the heart of the jungle. Her remaining cub was Tam's only playmate.

Tam's foster mother had been reared by a lama named Lozong, who had gone on a pilgrimage. Lozong later returned to find the cub full-grown and Tam about half-grown, living and acting exactly like a tiger.

The lama made friends with all three, and being well educated, taught Tam much from his store of knowledge. In his youth he had been a brigand leader and a mighty swordsman, and he also taught the boy to use weapons, particularly the yatagan, a terrible, double-curved sword with which he could cut down a tall tree at a single stroke.

The boy made friends with many jungle creatures, including a huge bull elephant, which he named Ganesha. At the age of twenty, Tam had the strength and bravery of a tiger, an education better than the average, a knowledge of the jungle such as only its creatures possess, and an almost uncanny ability with weapons.

One day Ganesha strayed off into the jungle. Tam, while hunting for him, rescued a beautiful girl in golden armor from a man-eating tiger. Speaking a language which resembled both Sanskrit and Tibetan, both of which Tam understood, she told him her name was Nina, and that she came from a place called Iramatri. She was hungry, and Tam shot a peafowl for her. But while they were cooking it they were attacked by a band of four-armed giants riding on strange beasts larger than elephants, and assisted by a number of hairy, primitive men.

Tam slew one of the hairy men and cut down one of the four-armed giants. But the girl was carried off, while Tam, knocked senseless by a blow from a mace, was left for dead.


VII. — THE WORLD BELOW

WHEN Tam regained consciousness after being knocked out by the terrible, four-armed rider, he felt a blast of hot breath in his face. Looking up, he saw a great shadowy bulk swaying above him. It was Ganesha, the elephant.

The giant bull was shifting his weight from one foot to another, after the manner of his kind, flapping his great ears and, from time to time, throwing bunches of jungle grass over his back to rid it of accumulated insert pests. Presently Tam sat up.

The end of the trunk sniffed at him affectionately for a moment, then, as he grasped it, stiffened, forming a brace by which he drew himself erect. His head ached dully, and touching it with his hand he felt the hair matted with dried blood over a painful bump where the mace had struck.

Suddenly dizzy, he swayed, and would have fallen but for the supporting trunk. But presently his vision cleared, and he was able to look about him. Lying undisturbed where it had fallen, he saw the body of his gigantic enemy.

To his surprize, the sun was just rising over the eastern tree tops. It had been early afternoon when he had fought to save Nina, the beautiful girl in the golden armor. Hence, he had lain unconscious all night. Or had it been but one night? With his jungle training it was easy for him to solve the problem quickly. He knew that Ganesha must have come upon him almost immediately after he had lost his senses, or he and the body of his adversary would have been devoured by the scavengers which quickly scent out dead and wounded animals in the wilds, and that the elephant must have been standing guard over him since that time.

The tracks showed that Ganesha had gone to the little stream twice to drink. In two days of munching the dry jungle grass he would have gone oftener. Tam also noticed the condition of the trampled area about him and the amount of grass which had been devoured. All these signs told him that he had lain unconscious but one night.

Presently, finding that he could stand unsupported, he staggered off toward the little stream. Depositing his weapons and his single scant garment on the bank, he wallowed in the shallow water for a time, drinking and bathing. Ganesha came to join him, and Tam splashed water over his big friend to the latter's manifest enjoyment.

Then, resuming his clothing and weapons, he commanded the elephant to hoist him to his neck, and with his bare feet dangling behind the great, flapping ears, he set out to the northward, riding on the trail of the strange and fearful creatures who had carried off the beautiful Nina.

As he hurried Ganesha along the trail, Tam did not attempt to analyze the reason for his pursuit of Nina's abductors. He only knew that he felt the urge to follow and rescue her—that somehow, though he had never felt that way in the jungle before, he now was strangely lonely. Other than Lozong, she was the only human friend he had found, and it seemed to him that the short hours of their comradeship were the brightest and most interesting of his existence.


FOR six days Tam followed the well-marked trail left by the gigantic mounts of his enemies. Game was plentiful, and there was forage for the elephant in abundance, so it was not necessary to make any long stops to secure food. As he progressed, the trail began to slant toward the northwest. He noticed, with satisfaction, that he was rapidly overhauling Nina's captors, as evinced by the increasing freshness of the tracks, and the fact that each day their camp-sites were passed earlier.

Having crossed the foothills, he came at length to the great mountain barrier that separates Burma and Tibet. And very suddenly, just after he entered the mountains on the morning of the seventh day, he sighted the rear guard of the band he pursued, as it filed over the brow of a hill.

Urging Ganesha to his utmost speed, Tam soon reached the hilltop. He had formed no definite plan for rescuing Nina, but he knew this must be done by stealth, and probably under cover of darkness in order to have any chance of success.

He halted his huge mount, and slipping to the ground, went forward to reconnoiter. He took advantage of every bit of cover as he advanced, in order that his enemies might not see him and so be on their guard against his intended foray.

The hill from which he was looking down descended steeply into a small valley. The strange cavalcade he followed was already at the bottom of the valley, and making straight for the tall, perpendicular cliffs directly opposite. His heart gave a great bound as he made out, seated before one of the giant riders, the slender, gold-clad form of Nina, The hairy, man-like Zargs, armed with their slings and clubs, trotted tirelessly along beside the huge steeds.

It was a most formidable band, and might have appalled a large and well-armed force. But Tam, accustomed to overcoming great odds since infancy, thought nothing of the risks. He was concerned only as to the best means for accomplishing his purpose, for in this he was determined not to fail.

He was puzzled by the fact that the entire company was moving steadily toward the cliff, in which there was neither a pass nor pathway. Then he noticed that directly in front of them was a large shrine, which arched fully fifty feet above the valley floor. Under the dome of this shrine was a stone colossus—a gigantic image of a beautiful woman seated cross-legged in the heart of an immense lotus. Both were carved from stone, and rested on a pedestal about twenty feet high of the same material.

While Tam watched, the foremost rider halted his mount beside the pedestal, then stood up in the saddle. Grasping one of the stone petals of the lotus, he threw his weight on it, dragging it downward. Then he resumed his seat, and riding around behind the pedestal, disappeared.

The others followed, accompanied by the Zargs, and soon the entire company had disappeared behind the pedestal.

Tam blinked, to make sure that his eyes had not deceived him, then looked again. It seemed incredible that this large cavalcade could be concealed in the relatively small niche back of the pedestal. There must be a cave, perhaps an immense cavern, behind it, the mouth hidden by the supporting base of the colossus. He would investigate.

He returned to Ganesha, who was making use of the idle moments by browsing on the leaves of a tree that overhung the trail, and mounting, he rode forward.

The path down the hillside was steep, and Tam fidgeted impatiently while the elephant cautiously felt his way downward. But once at the bottom, he responded to his master's urging with long swift strides.


DISMOUNTING several hundred feet from the shrine, Tam left Ganesha concealed in a clump of trees, and stealthily approached his objective. Upon reaching the base of the pedestal he crouched there for several minutes, listening intently. There were two sounds coming from the niche, but neither was particularly alarming. One was the tinkle of a small spring or waterfall and the other sounded like two large stones being rubbed together.

Cautiously he emerged from the bushes and crept around the base of the pedestal. There was no living thing in sight, but he did catch a glimpse of a narrow opening in the wall behind. This was being slowly closed by an immense slab of rock. While he watched, amazed, the aperture shut completely, and the sound of rubbing stones ended. But the trickling sound continued unabated, despite the fact that there was no water in sight.

Obviously, it was through this opening that the cavalcade carrying Nina had gone. But how could the slab be raised so that he and Ganesha might get through to follow? There were no knobs, handles or levers on the huge stone that now stood between him and his objective. Then how had it been manipulated? In a flash, he thought of the lotus petal.

He called the elephant, who came crashing up through the underbrush. Mounting, he rode the big beast up beside the pedestal, and stood up. But stretch and jump as he would, he could not reach the rim. Then he remembered that Ganesha was greater longitudinally than vertically, and bade him rear up. The big bull complied, resting his forefeet on the pedestal. Mounting to his broad forehead, Tam easily reached the rim and drew himself up.

He threw his weight on the nearest stone petal. It would not budge. He tried another with a like result. But the third instantly tilted when he leaned on it. Pressing it down as far as it would go, he descended to the brow of the waiting Ganesha, slid down to his neck, and ordered him to lower his forefeet.


Illustration

He threw his weight on the nearest stone petal.


Riding around the base of the pedestal, he waited expectantly. The familiar grinding sound had commenced again, and in a moment he saw a narrow crack at the bottom of the entrance, which was widening perceptibly.

Breathlessly he watched the opening grow, wondering what would be behind it. Perhaps there would be enemies lurking there, waiting to spring at him. His hand went unconsciously to the hilt of his yatagan at the thought.

As he was striving to see what lay beyond that dark' portal, he heard, far back in the valley, the report of a rifle. It was followed by two more in rapid succession.

To Tam, these sounds indicated the proximity of possible enemies. He ordered Ganesha forward, but the elephant refused to budge, elevating his trunk and gleaming tusks as if he scented danger. It was the first time he had disobeyed for many months, and Tam, who had lost his ankus, pricked him with the point of his dah. The big beast trumpeted angrily, but still refused to move. So Tam, noticing that the slab was beginning to descend once more, slid to the ground and entered the cavity on foot.

Yatagan in hand, he hurried down the sloping floor into the deepening gloom. He had not gone far when he heard the thud of heavy feet behind. Whirling to see what was pursuing him, he was relieved to learn that it was only Ganesha, who, despite his evident fear of the place, had decided to follow his beloved master. Soon the big brute caught up with him and began nuzzling him with his trunk in a quite obvious attempt to be restored to grace. Pausing, Tam permitted himself to be lifted to the massive neck once more, after which the now thoroughly submissive Ganesha carried him down the ramp at his swiftest pace.

But the way grew darker as they descended, and soon the elephant was compelled to feel his way. They had traveled thus laboriously for some time when Tam saw a faint light far ahead of them. At the same time he heard sounds in the passageway behind which indicated that he was being pursued.

Now, as they progressed, the way grew lighter, and soon Ganesha was able to resume his fastest gait. Suddenly they emerged into light bright as day, and a scene that held Tam spellbound with wonder. He had expected to find a large cave, but was in no way prepared for the immense panorama that spread before him. At first, he thought he had come clear through the mountain and was viewing the open country beyond it. But he remembered that he had started at the valley floor, and since then had continuously traveled downward. This, then, could not be the outer world, for Lozong had taught him that Tibet, the country beyond the mountains, was higher than Burma—a lofty plateau sometimes referred to as "The Top of the World."

But if he were under the plateau, and not on it, whence came the light, bright as day, streaming down through the silver mist in the sky above him? It was strong as sunlight, yet a trifle whiter than it usually appears when filtered through a mist—white with a faint, bluish cast. And what was this vast country that stretched before, him, with its mountains and valleys, forests and plains, rushing rivers and placid lakes?

He was on a road cut from the stony face of a rugged cliff, the topmost of a whole series of terraced cliffs, descending one after another to a depth that was appalling. Above him, the cliff face disappeared into the silver mists. Far below, following the windings of the road on which he stood, he saw a procession of creatures looking no larger than ants. He realized, with a start, that this was the cavalcade he was pursuing, and turning Ganesha, urged him down the trail.

Tam had not covered more than a tenth of the distance to the bottom when he looked back to see who followed him. So far above him that they looked no larger than the cavalcade he was following, three elephants, one carrying a howdah, and two with loaded pads, came down the trail. Trudging ahead of them was the barely visible figure of a man, accompanied by two trotting animals. They looked much like tigers, but might have been large dogs.

Puzzled, Tam rode on, wondering who these newcomers could be. The journey down the cliff trail occupied several hours, during which time he kept about an equal distance between the party he pursued and the one that was following him.

When he reached the level plain below, the road wound through a forest for some distance, crossed a roaring river over an arched stone bridge, and entered a dense jungle on the other side. But he had not gone far when he saw tracks where the cavalcade he followed had turned off at the left, breaking a narrow trail through the jungle growths where the great beasts had traveled single file.


GLAD to leave the stone road for a trail more like that to which he was accustomed, Ganesha plunged eagerly into the jungle, stripping leaves from overhanging limbs and munching them as he lumbered along.

Soon they emerged from the forest on to a rolling grassy plain, thinly dotted with small clumps of trees and shrubs, and of vast extent.

The trail led quite near one of these clumps, and Tam, straining his eyes ahead in an effort to see the party he was following, failed to notice the stealthy movement of a great, tawny beast in the shrubbery at his left. The little pig-like eyes of the huge carnivore glittered hungrily as it waited for the approaching beast and rider, and its snout twitched apprehensively as it sniffed the breeze that bore it the scent of this strange game.

Suddenly Tam heard a roar more terrific than that of any tiger, and saw a giant beast of fearful aspect hurtling through the air toward him. It was larger than any lion or tiger, though it looked a little like both, with a bit of the hyena thrown in for good measure.

At the sound of that roar, Ganesha leaped back, with the result that the beast, instead of alighting on his back, struck the ground beside him, then reared up, clawing at his shoulder and growling thunderously.

As the elephant started off at his swiftest pace with the strange and terrible carnivore clinging to his side, Tam whipped bow and arrow from his quiver, and turning, sent a feathered shaft into the breast of the attacker. But it only seemed to infuriate the great flesh-eater. Before he could launch a second arrow, the monster was upon him.

Man and beast rolled down together from the back of the plunging elephant, and Tam struck the ground with a force that nearly knocked the breath from his body. Weakly he tried to hold off the huge jaws that sought his throat by gripping the wiry mane. But the shock of his fall seemed to have paralyzed him—robbed him of his strength.

Slowly, relentlessly, the gleaming fangs descended.


VIII. — GODS AT WAR

SEATED at a camp table breakfasting with his friend, Dr. Hubert Green, archeologist and paleontologist, was Major Charles Evans. The passage of the years since his son Tam had been stolen had made little difference in the major's tall, athletic figure, for the active, outdoor life he led had kept him fit. Only by a slightly deeper etching of the lines of his handsome, sunbrowned face, and a touch of silver at each temple, had time left any noticeable marks on him during that period.

His companion was almost his exact opposite in every particular. Doctor Green was short, heavy-set, red-headed and bespectacled. When on an exploring trip, which was most of the time, he never bothered with a razor, and the resultant flaming red beard was a never-ending wonder to guides, mahouts and natives.

Yusuf, the major's efficient Pathan servant, refilled the coffee cups, cleared off the dishes, and silently padded away to the cook tent.

"This joint expedition of ours seems to have been rather a one-sided affair, thus far, Doc," said the major, lighting a cigarette and leaning back in his camp chair. "I've bagged four tigers, not to mention the bears, deer, and other less lordly game, but your search for traces of the original Aryan civilization hasn't netted a single stone or bone."

"I'm not kicking," replied the doctor cheerfully, as he stirred his coffee. "Every clue I have unearthed in a lifetime of search points to this locality as the place from which our Aryan ancestors started their long trek—a trek that has spread their language and culture to every corner of the globe. And it is here I am content to wander—to poke about until I've dug up the key that will unlock the riddle of their origin and ours."

"This ground has been combed over by scientists, time and again. I think you're on a wild-goose chase, Doc."

"Suppose you let me do the worrying about that, Major," replied the doctor, stuffing his briar with tobacco. "Because a tigress carried off your infant son, you've devoted your life to the grim business of killing tigers. Because of my insatiable curiosity about my remote ancestors, I've dedicated mine to unraveling the greatest and most important archeological riddle known to scientists. But though we travel in the same territory, the nature of our work is quite different. Yours is bound to show tangible results as you go along. But mine requires infinite patience and much laborious detail that, on the surface, shows no such results. However, I have the satisfaction of knowing that what I seek is not far off, and that my chances for success are greater than my chances for failure. It's better than a fifty-fifty break, and I'm content."

The major stood up.

"All right, Doc. If you're satisfied, I certainly ought to be. Hello! Here comes one of the grass-cutters looking as if he had seen a ghost! What is it, boy?"

A slim, nut-brown native, naked save for his loin-cloth, came running up. He was one of the men whose business it was to provide fodder for the elephants. There was a look of abject terror in his eyes, and when he tried to speak he could not, at first, because of the chattering of his teeth.

"I have s-s-seen the gods, s-sabibs" he finally managed to stutter. "G-gods riding on war horses bigger than elephants. And they are fighting with other smaller g-gods, who ride strange elephants with long brown hair. It is t-terrible, sahibs. The end of the world is at hand."

Major Evans glanced meaningly at the doctor.

"Hashish," he said.

"Come here, boy."

The doctor grasped the brown wrist, found the pulse with unerring fingers. He squinted at the eyes and face-muscles.

"Not hashish," he said. "Fear."

"Where are the other cutters, boy?" he asked.

"D-down on their faces, praying to the gods, sahib," was the reply.

"What are these gods like?" asked the doctor.

"The big gods are much like Siva—white with four arms. One has four faces, three of gold. But none has the eye in the forehead. With them are many hairy men, who fight for them. The little gods are also white, and are led by a goddess in bright and shining golden armor."

"Rot!" said the major. "The man must be drugged or demented."

"He is not drugged," said the archeologist. "I'm sure of that. Perhaps he has seen something. Let's go over and investigate."

"No harm in that. Ho, Yusuf! An elephant with a pad. Don't bother with the howdah."

A few moments later a big elephant lumbered out of camp carrying its mahout, the two white men armed with rifles and pistols, and Yusuf with extra rifles. Ahead, leading the way, trudged the frightened grass-cutter.

About a mile from camp the pandemonium of battle became audible to all. There were shouts, shrieks of agony, the trumpeting and bellowing of beasts and the clash of metal on metal.

"By Jove! There is a fight!" exclaimed Evans.

"Probably a company of natives beating off some brigands from the hills," said the doctor. "Nothing out of the ordinary."

"I'm not so sure of that," said the major. "Why don't we hear any gunshots?"

"Right. I never thought of that."


THEY soon came upon the grass-cutters, who were prostrating themselves toward the sounds of the conflict and muttering prayers. Here the elephant knelt, and the three men on the pad dismounted.

"By George!" exclaimed the major.

"It does look like four-armed giants riding on huge monsters of some sort!"

"Better not go too near," cautioned the doctor. "There's no use of our getting mixed up in it."

He paused, and raising his binoculars to his eyes, adjusted them.

"They are four-armed giants," he cried, "and mounted on baluchitheriums! Their opponents are riding mammoths! Why, this is astounding!"

Major Evans was adjusting his own binoculars.

"The battle is nearly over," he said. "Why, look at those shambling hairy creatures, using slings and clubs! They're helping the four-armed giants. I just saw one disembowel a mammoth with his knife.

"And look at that girl in the golden armor! How she fights! Wow! Good girl! She just broke her sword on the crest of a giant warrior and tumbled him from the saddle. Her men rally around her, but they are being overwhelmed. She's thrown her useless hilt away and drawn her dagger. A hairy man has climbed up behind her by clinging to the wool of her mammoth. He's pulled her down! They fall to the ground together!"

"Her last man has been cut down," said the doctor. "She can't escape now. But wait. Look at her fighting that hairy fellow. She buries her dagger in his breast. He falls, wrenching it from her grasp, but she's free. She's running across that shambles of butchered beasts and men. She has darted into the jungle where the riders can't follow her. But the hairy ones are on her trail, and the riders are going around to cut her off."

"What a game little thing she is!" said the major. "I hope she gets away. Well, the battle is over, and all the living have gone. Let's have a closer look at the battlefield. We've stumbled upon something that you scientists have never dreamed of."

As the three men approached the scene of the fray, though the din of battle was over, the horrible sounds of its aftermath had not died away. Mingled with the groans and shrieks of the dying men were the bellowings and trumpetings of the stricken beasts. Overhead the kites and vultures wheeled, while occasional slinking forms drawing nearer in an ever-narrowing circle showed that the jackals and hyenas were gathering for their share of the grisly banquet.

By the time they reached the battle scene the men had evidently all succumbed to their wounds. Fully fifty men, as many of the four-armed giants, and about thirty of the hairy troglodytes lay dead. There were also ten mammoths, dead and dying, and a dozen baluchitheriums. All the mammoths had been hamstrung and partly disemboweled, and their agonies were horrible to witness. The baluchitheriums had been slain by the long lances of the girl's followers, and only a few of these showed any signs of life.


SWIFTLY, while Yusuf reloaded the rifles for them, the two men went about the business of putting the stricken brutes out of their misery.

The men, it seemed, were beyond all help. Evidently no quarter had been asked or given. The followers of the girl in the golden armor had been cut down to a man. The victorious monsters and their hairy allies had carried off their own wounded, but abandoned their dead.

Their grim task of mercy completed, the doctor said: "Suppose we send Yusuf back to camp for my assistants. Here are enough mammoths and baluchitheriums to stock the leading museums of the world. The skeletons of these troglodytes and four-armed monsters should be of even greater interest, as well as their weapons and equipment."

"Of course, Doc. Science must be served."

"Too bad we couldn't have taken in a single specimen alive," mused the doctor.

"I have it!" exclaimed the major. "Why not follow them? Find out where they came from. Then we can organize a larger expedition equipped for the purpose of capturing the beasts alive."

"Splendid idea! Their trail should be easy to follow. We'll leave the main body of the expedition here to look after these specimens, then take two or three elephants and go after them. Hello! What's this? I thought I saw this fellow in the chain-mail move."

"Good Lord! He did move!"

The doctor was down beside the fallen warrior in an instant. His face was covered with blood, but he did not appear to have any injuries about the body. Gently removing his battered steel casque, the scientist made a swift examination.

"Only a scalp wound," he said. "Must have been a terrific blow to knock him senseless through that helmet. The steel saved his life. He'll be all right in a little while."

Scarcely had he spoken, ere the warrior opened his eyes and muttered a few words in a language which the major was unable to understand, though many of the words sounded strangely familiar. But much to his surprize, the doctor answered him, apparently in the same tongue. Then the scientist proffered him his canteen, from which he drank deeply. He then helped him to his feet, and they conversed for some time in the strange language.

"Looks as if you two are going to fee great pals," commented the major, stuffing his pipe. "What language does the iron-clad gentleman talk?"

"He speaks the language from which our own began," replied the doctor. "Aryan. Remember what I told you this morning about the Aryan migrations starting hereabouts? Well, I was right, so far as the surface of the world is concerned. But if this chap is telling the truth, I'm in for a whole lot bigger discovery than I dreamed of."

"How's that?"

"He says he is the subject of a Princess Nina, who rules the Aryan nation in a subterranean world called Iramatri, or Earth Mother. He tells me that Siva the Destroyer, who rules the race of white four-armed giants, the Saivas, decided to come out of retirement and conquer the world. He asked the co-operation of Princess Nina, but she refused, and came secretly with only a small bodyguard, to warn the world. Siva, learning of this through his spies in her court, sent his warriors to capture her and take her back a prisoner to his subterranean city, that he might force her to accede to his wishes, and at the same time hold her as a hostage in order to keep her people in line. With his crude weapons I don't think this Siva would have any more chance of conquering the earth than would the cannibals of New Guinea. But of course he needs to be put in his place."

"I disagree with you, Doc," said Evans.

"I mean about Siva not having a chance. Remember how our grass-cutters bowed down to his men? Siva has approximately two hundred million worshippers in this part of the world. What do you suppose would happen if he should suddenly appear among them, a god incarnate? Without striking a blow, he could enlist this vast army of men, women and children in his cause. As for modern weapons, these people have them, and the means to get more."

"Never thought of it from that angle. Why, it might cause the biggest and bloodiest war the world has ever known! I would have followed his warriors solely for the sake of science, but now there's a bigger task to perform. We must locate his lair, then return and enlist government aid for the purpose of keeping him bottled up."

"Right. And the sooner the better."

At this moment a group of the doctor's assistants came up. He gave them instructions as to the disposition of the specimens, while the major returned to camp with Yusuf to oversee preparations for their trek after the Saivas.


THEY started on the trail about two hours later, with three elephants and their mahouts. In the howdah rode the major, the doctor, Yusuf, and the now fully-recovered Aryan warrior, whose name was Dhava. The two remaining elephants carried their equipment and supplies on pads.

Darkness overtook them before they had traveled far, and they stopped and camped for the night. Early the following morning they resumed the trail.

Some hours later they were crossing a stretch of jungle grass when their elephant suddenly raised his trunk as if he scented danger.

"He smells tiger, sahibs," said the mahout.

"I see it," cried the sharp-eyed Yusuf. "It is lying on the bank of the little stream, dead. Several birds are devouring it."

"Sure enough! Let's go down and investigate," said the doctor.

Leaving Yusuf and Dhava in the howdah, the two Americans took their rifles and went forward on foot. As they drew near the spot indicated by the Pathan, a vulture and three kites reluctantly arose from their feast and flapped to a near-by tree, where they waited with the patient resignation of their kind. A swarm of flies which had arisen with them, settled once more.

"Phew! It's a tiger, all right," said the major. "And he's getting riper every minute. Wonder what killed him."

"From the look of his head," said the doctor, "he ran into a buzz-saw. It's split clear in two."

"Here are tracks," said the major, looking down at the imprints in the soft mud. "Looks as if a barefooted man had been here. And there are smaller tracks like those of a woman."

"The man who struck that blow must have had the strength of a giant," said the doctor, "as well as considerable skill with a blade."

"He had both, gentlemen."

Startled at sound of a strange voice, the two men looked up. Standing on the opposite bank of the little stream they saw a man with a wrinkled, yellow face, who wore the red cap and garments of a lama. His robes were tucked up to give greater freedom to his legs. A dah swung from one side of his belt, and a yatagan from the other. At his back was a quiver containing bow and arrows, and in his right hand he carried a long spear on which he now leaned as on a staff.

"A militant lama, by all that's holy!" exclaimed the doctor. Then he said to the stranger: "So it was you who slew the tiger."

"Not I, gentlemen. In my youth I might have dealt such a stroke. But that time is past. It was my son, Tam, for whom I am now searching. I taught him to use the yatagan, and the pupil now excels his master."

"Your son Tam!" exclaimed the major. "How came you to give him a Celtic name?"

"I did not name him, nor is he really my son, though I love him as if he were. He was my pupil, my chela. When I found him living in the lair of Leang, my white tigress who had adopted him, he told me his name was Tam. So I have always called him by that name."

"With a white tigress! How old is he?"

"I do not know for sure, but I judge him to be about twenty."

"He is my son," said the major, "whom I have mourned as dead for eighteen years—whose mother died of grief shortly after he was carried off."

"Then you are?"

"Major Charles Evans. This is my friend, Doctor Hubert Green, archeologist and paleontologist."

"I am honored," replied the lama, with dignity. "My name is Lozong."

"Lozong! The brigand leader?" asked the doctor.

"Formerly. But for many years I have sought salvation by way of the eightfold path."

"I have heard of your brilliant exploits, and your retirement to a lamasery," said the doctor. "Your name is famous throughout the East. You later became abbot of the lamasery, did you not?"

"For a time, yes. But I was not satisfied to remain. I have been on many pilgrimages, and I have communicated with the Prince of Righteousness in the solitudes—a seeker after truth."

"And now you carry the weapons of war and the chase. Is this not contrary to the tenets of your faith?"

"Yes, but now I have become a seeker for my chela. When I have found him, I will again follow the eightfold path. I will build me a water-wheel that will say for me a thousand Om Mani Padme Hums each minute of the day and night. Thus will I regain such merit as I have lost, before it is too late."

The two men crossed the stream to where the lama stood.

"Where is my son now?" asked the major. "Have you any idea?"

"I've been examining the signs hereabout," replied Lozong. "When he slew the tiger he rescued some one from its clutches—apparently a girl or woman, from the tracks."

"The girl in the golden armor!" exclaimed the doctor.

"They then killed and cooked a peacock," continued the lama, "but while they were eating, they were attacked by some strange and fearful creatures. Two of these he slew, one a white giant with four arms, and the other a hairy man-ape. But he was struck down and left for dead, while the girl or woman was apparently carried off. Then came Ganesha, his elephant, to stand guard over him. Early this morning, he rode away on the trail left by the strange beasts on which his enemies were mounted. I intend following him."

"We are now following the same trail," said the major, "and will be glad of your company. Will you ride in the howdah with us?"

"Thank you, no. I prefer to walk, and can easily keep pace with your elephants. You see I have walked many thousands of miles. Besides, I am accompanied by——"

He was interrupted by a sudden exclamation from the major.

"Look! A tiger!"

He snapped his rifle to his shoulder and pulled the trigger. But the lama struck his gun up, and the bullet sped harmlessly through the upper branches of a korinda. A roar followed the shot, and two beasts, one white, the other striped, came charging out from beneath the korinda bush.

"My tigers," said Lozong. "Do not shoot them." He turned and shouted to the two beasts, whereupon they stopped, regarding the two Americans curiously, their animosity quelled by the voice of the lama.

"The white one is Tam's foster mother," said Lozong. "I call her Leang. The other is his foster brother, Chiam. They both love him, and follow his trail with me."

"I beg to be excused from closer acquaintanceship," said the major.

"And I," said the doctor. "The farther those beasts are from me, the better I'll like it."

"Suppose I travel ahead of you with them," said Lozong. "I'll keep them away from your elephants, and see that they don't go near your camps. They will prove valuable allies if we should find Tam in need of help, as either would die for him."

And so it was agreed.


FOR six days they followed the trail, the lama eating with his friends when they stopped for meals, but sleeping with his tigers at night.

On the seventh day they caught a glimpse of Tam, riding over the top of a hill. At sight of him, Lozong and his tigers redoubled their speed, and the mahouts urged the elephants to their fastest pace.

When they reached the top of the hill, they saw Tam on the opposite side of the valley, throwing his weight on the lotus petal beneath the stone colossus.

"It is the entrance to Iramatri," explained Dhava, when the doctor questioned him. "By pressing down the petal he opens the gate."

Tam and Ganesha had already disappeared behind the pedestal when the doctor explained this to Tam's father.

"We can never catch him now, before he gets inside," said the major. "Perhaps I can attract his attention with some shots."

He fired his rifle three times, but Tam did not again appear. When they reached the colossus, boy and elephant were gone, and the stone slab was closed.

Standing on top of the howdah, Dhava was able to reach the rim of the pedestal. Pulling himself up, he pressed down the petal.

When the slab raised, Lozong and his tigers were permitted to enter first. They were followed by the three elephants with the men and supplies.

Curious as to how the gate operated, the doctor looked back, flashing his electric torch on the mechanism.

"Hmm. Operated by a counterbalance," he said, "with a small water reservoir. The slab weighs just a trifle more than the counterbalance. But when the petal is moved, water from a little spring is directed into the reservoir. This increases the weight of the counterbalance and raises the slab. But when the counterbalance has dipped to a certain angle the water runs out of the reservoir, and the slab again slides into place. A most ingenious contrivance."

With the aid of their flashlights they found it easy to negotiate the dark tunnel, and gained considerably on Tam in the process.

Reaching the road that wound down the terraced cliff, they were able to see both Tam and those he pursued. They followed him down this road, across the bridge at the base of the cliff, and into the jungle, gaining rapidly on him all the time.

Suddenly, as they emerged from the forest on to the grassy plain, the doctor exclaimed:

"Look! The boy is being attacked! It's an andrewsarchus, and it has dragged him off the elephant!"

"I'll have to risk a shot," said the major, "or he'll be torn to pieces. Stop the elephant, boy."

Obedient to his command, the mahout stopped the beast on which they were riding. Snatching up his heaviest rifle, the .450 caliber Bury, the major took careful aim and fired at the great brute, which was standing over his prostrate son.

He knew the beast was hit, for he saw it leap high in the air, but whether he had slain it or only rendered it more ferocious he was not to know, for at this moment there suddenly galloped up from an opening in the jungle, a company of fully a hundred four-armed giants, mounted on white baluchitheriums. Unlike the white Saivas, these giants had skins that were a livid blue in color.

They were armed with long-shafted tridents, the center prong of each plated with gold and the outer prongs with silver. They also carried heavy war clubs and chakras, queer, quoit-like weapons.

"The Vaishnavas!" exclaimed Dhava.

"Surrender to them, or they will hurl their chakras and slay us all!"


IX. — THE CITY OF MONSTERS

TAM fought desperately to keep the sharp fangs of the carnivore that had pulled him down from reaching his throat. But the shock of his fall had robbed him of his strength, and it seemed that his efforts were useless.

Faintly he heard the distant crack of a rifle. To his surprize, the beast that had sought his life leaped high in the air, then fell beside him, kicking and quivering in its death throes. Ganesha, who had returned to his assistance, first impaled the quivering body with his tusks, then knelt on it.

Getting unsteadily to his feet, Tam looked back. About an eighth of a mile distant, he saw a large company of four-armed blue giants riding on white mounts. They had just surrounded the party that had been following him. He had no way of knowing whether this party was hostile or friendly to him, nor did he connect the sound of the rifle-shot with the death of the beast that had attacked him, but thought it had driven his arrow into its heart by its exertions.

Well, it was no affair of his if the party that pursued him was captured. His purpose was to rescue Nina. Recovering his fallen weapons, he coaxed the infuriated Ganesha away from the remains of his crushed and mangled foe, mounted, and rode off after the captors of the girl in the golden armor.

His struggle with the monster had delayed him but a few minutes, yet during that interval the party he pursued had forged so far ahead as to be out of sight. The trail was well marked, however, and he was able to continue his swift pace unabated.

When he had first entered this strange, subterranean jungle, Tam had been so engrossed with the chase that he had paid no attention to its unusual flora and fauna. But his recent narrow escape had put him on his guard, and now, as he hurried Ganesha along the trail, he constantly glanced about him, every faculty alert for sign of some hidden enemy.

Presently his empty stomach began insistently to remind him that it had received no attention for quite some time. And so while he watched for enemies, he was also on the lookout for edible game.

It was not long before he saw a large rodent about two feet tall, squatting on its haunches at the mouth of its burrow. His bow twanged, and the arrow transfixed the creature.

At an order from Tam, Ganesha reluctantly picked up the still-kicking game with his trunk and handed it to his master. He was fearful of all rodents, and had it been of a smaller variety, would have refused to go near it. Removing his arrow from the carcass and drawing his knife, Tam dined on his favorite food, fresh, raw meat, as he rode along.

At length, with a sigh of satisfaction, he heaved the remains of his kill into the grass and wished for a drink of water. But as there was none in sight, he promptly forgot the matter with the patient resignation he had learned in the jungle, and concentrated on the business of trying to catch up with Nina's abductors as soon as possible.

Grazing on the rolling, grassy country he was traversing, Tam saw many strange creatures, none of which were like anything he had seen in the outer world. There were herds of lizard-like creatures as large as buffalos, with tails like alligators and bony ruffs around their thick necks. They were cropping grass with their hooked beaks, which resembled those of vultures.

There were also herds of tiny horses no bigger than jackals, that scurried off with shrill squeals whenever he approached them. They were dogged by giant flightless birds twice as big as ostriches, which easily outran them, and preyed on them constantly. In fact, it seemed to Tam that every species of herbivorous creature roaming these plains had a carnivorous enemy species which gave it special attention. And this in addition to the dozens of other carnivorous beasts, birds and reptiles that might stalk it, outrun it, or swoop down upon it from the air.

But despite all this, the herds of grazers were large and numerous. Obviously, there was no wanton slaughter. Unlike wasteful man, the flesh-eaters slew only when they needed food. Thus a plentiful supply of game was constantly maintained.

Passing out of this hunters' paradise, the trail led Tam across a chain of rugged hills. Here the ground was strewn with boulders and the vegetation was sparse and stunted.

But beyond the hills he came to a pleasant wooded valley, down the center of which a river meandered. The trail led straight down to the river bank, and here Tam and Ganesha paused for a time, to drink and bathe.

Back on the bank, Tam had donned his garment and was buckling his belt about him, when he noticed two little lumps gliding along the surface of the water. Ganesha was still in the river, dipping his trunk in the water from time to time, filling it and spraying his broad back and sides.

Suddenly Tam saw the two little bumps dart straight for the tip of the elephant's trunk, just as he immersed it. Ganesha instantly reared up, then backed toward the bank. Clinging to the tip of his trunk was a snake-like head, attached to a long, scaly neck. But at the other end of that neck was a large, oval body almost as big as that of the elephant. And it was reinforced by two pairs of wide flippers that assisted it in maintaining its position in the water nearly as well as did the elephant's feet on land. In an instant, both trunk and neck were stretched out straight by the ensuing tug-of-war, the elephant striving to scramble up the bank, while the great saurian did its best to pull him into the water, churning the stream to foam with its huge flippers.

Without a moment's hesitation Tam whipped out his yatagan and leaped into the water. One stroke of the keen blade severed the scaly neck, and the elephant backed up on the bank, trumpeting angrily and endeavoring to shake off the still-clinging reptilian head, while the huge body of the saurian threshed aimlessly about in the shallows.

After some time, Tam succeeded in quieting Ganesha, and tried to remove the head that still clung to the trunk. But he found it impossible to pry the jaws apart, and was compelled to cut the muscles before it could finally be removed.

As he mounted the elephant and once more resumed the trail, Tam noticed a change in the color of the light which streamed down through the mists that shrouded the invisible vault above this strange land. When he had first entered the subterranean world the light had been blue-white, and quite as intense as strong sunlight. Now it was beginning to turn yellow, and was growing dimmer. He noticed that the shadows, too, were lengthening, just as they lengthened near the close of the day on the outer earth.

From this point the trail followed the winding of the river for a considerable distance, and from time to time Tam noticed strange and monstrous creatures disporting themselves in its waters. There were a great many of the large scaly saurians like that which had attacked Ganesha. Still larger and more ferocious than these were creatures with heads like crocodiles and bodies like porpoises. And equally formidable were the gigantic water snakes.

Swiftly the yellow twilight turned to orange—then to red. Numerous fearsome creatures came down to the river to drink, among them curious birds and still more curious flying reptiles, some of which were large enough to have easily flown off with a man.

There were titanic struggles among the water, land and air creatures, and the woods echoed and re-echoed with roars, bellows, snarls and shrieks. Often Tam was compelled to stop his mount in order to avoid some monster which came crashing across their path on its way to the water.

The red light faded swiftly, to be succeeded by a brownish-gray twilight. Suddenly, to Tam's surprize, the trail emerged on to a broad stone road which ran at right angles with it. An examination of the pavement showed that the mounts of those he pursued had turned to the left. Their muddy tracks on the hard stone led across an arched bridge that spanned the streams he had been following. These tracks grew fainter as he pressed onward, and the oncoming darkness made it increasingly difficult to see them.

Presently, as he rounded a bend in the road, he saw far ahead of him the towers, turrets and battlements of a great, walled city of white stone. Standing in the very center of this city was a cylindrical tower, fully five hundred feet in height. Tam recognized it instantly from descriptions and pictures he had seen, as the linga, the phallic symbol of Siva, built on a gigantic scale never dreamed of on the outer earth.

The road he was following led straight to a pair of massive brazen gates in the city wall. He felt positive that somewhere behind those gates Nina was being held prisoner.

The problem of how co go to her rescue was now made a thousandfold more difficult. He had planned to take her from an enemy camp by stealth, but a large city was quite another matter. He had never been in one. All he knew of cities had been gleaned from books. Besides, no city such as the one which now confronted him had ever been described in any book he had read.

How to get into the city without being seen, and then locate and rescue the girl, he had not the slightest idea. Though he was without a definite plan, he did not lack determination. The task must be accomplished somehow.

But the problem he pondered as he rode toward the city in the gathering darkness was not left for his solution. Something whizzed through the air, colliding violently with the side of his head and knocking him from his seat. It was a heavy club. Half stunned by its impact, he lost his balance and fell to the ground with a jolt that knocked the breath from his body. Instantly an immense horde of the hairy Zargs burst out into the road from the concealment of the forest shadows, yelling like demons and brandishing their clubs. A half-dozen of them pounced on the partly-stunned Tam, disarmed him, and bound him hand and foot, while a number of their companions foolishly attacked the elephant.

Maddened by the savage yells and the stones and dubs striking him, Ganesha charged the troglodytes, trampling many of the hairy bodies and seizing others in his powerful trunk, to hurl them shrieking to the ground with such force that when they struck they never rose again.


WHILE Tam's faithful mount was thus occupied, four of the Zargs were trotting with him slung over their shoulders, straight for the brazen gates of the city. As darkness fell, lights blinked forth from the walls, and in the towers, turrets and minarets. Tam caught glimpses of these from time to time as he was bounced about on the shoulders of his captors.

He could still hear the shrieks and howls of the Zargs and the trumpeting of Ganesha as his captors took him before the city gate. On each side of the gateway, mounted on the wall, was a watch-tower. From one of these a four-armed white warrior leaned out.

"What have you there, Zargs?" he asked, speaking the same language Nina had used, and which Tam understood because of his studies of Sanskrit and Tibetan.

"A prisoner, master," replied one of the Zargs. "He followed our expedition, and we waited to capture him by order of the Great Lord Ranya."

"Good! I will see that you are rewarded."

The brazen gates swung outward, revealing a broad, straight street. Two giant, four-aimed soldiers armed with tulwars, maces and tridents came out and took charge of Tam. One of them cut the bonds from his ankles and jerked him erect, then marched him through the gate, gripping his left arm with one powerful right hand and menacing him with the tulwar held in the other. The second warrior carried Tam's bundle of weapons, which the Zargs had brought along.

The street, like the highway, was paved with stone, and was fronted, In this section, mostly by low, two- and three-storied buildings of white stone, roofed and trimmed with brass. The doors and windows were covered with ornate brass grillework, in strange and unusual designs, which were kept so well polished that they reflected the yellow glow of the street lamps with considerable brilliancy.

Many of the gigantic, pasty-faced monsters who formed the citizenry were on the streets, and most of these paused to stare at Tam as his two guards hustled him along. There were a number of females, on the average slightly smaller than the males, but equally hideous. Some of them were accompanied by children who, when only half grown, were larger than the average man of the outer earth.

But what surprized Tam the most was the variety of monstrous forms which these people assumed. Some of them had but one eye, placed just above the nose. Some had three and even four eyes. And there did not seem to be any uniformity in the number of limbs. The number of arms varied from two to eight, four being the average. And some of them had as many as six legs. Limbs seemed to sprout at random from almost any part of the trunk, so that some walked on two feet with extra legs dangling uselessly in the air, while others moved about like quadrupeds or centipedes. From the uniform size of the soldiers, and the fact that they were all four-armed, two-legged and two-eyed, Tam judged that the individuals who formed the army were chosen from among those who had these particular qualifications.

As they neared the central tower the buildings became larger and more pretentious, evidently the homes of dignitaries, mercantile establishments, warehouses, factories and government buildings. They followed no standard of design, but were built in many queer shapes and styles, and diversely decked with spires, minarets, towers and domes.

The immense central building, which supported the huge linga that towered above all else, was shaped like a gigantic millstone, flat-roofed and sheer-sided.

Tam's conductors, after a word with the giant guards, hustled him through a door in this building and down a long hallway. Then they pushed him into a small round room and closed the door. Suddenly he felt the floor rising beneath him. As it shot swiftly upward he had a strange feeling in his stomach and a curious sense of pressure in his ears. It was his first experience with an elevator.


PRESENTLY the floor stopped moving, and one of the warriors opened the door. Again they hurried Tam along the corridor, then stopped before an arched doorway at which two giants stood guard.

"Whom have you here?" asked one of the guards.

"A prisoner for the Great Lord, Ranya," was the reply.

"Good! Take him in. The Great Lord is waiting."

Tam was ushered into an immense audience chamber, at one end of which was a dais surmounted by a glittering throne. Surrounding the dais were a number of courtiers and warriors, and seated on the throne was the leader who had carried off Nina, and whose helmet was adorned with three golden faces resembling his own.

His hands still bound behind him, Tam was led before the throne. His conductors bowed low; then the one who carried his weapons laid them at the foot of the dais, and both withdrew.

"Who are you, puny one, and why have you come here?" asked the man on the throne.

"You have named me a puny one, so let that name suffice you," said Tam. "But if you will give me a sword and step down from that throne, I'll teach you to call me something else."

"So! A braggart! Well, the name does not matter. I have been told that you are the man of the prophecy—the son of the white tigress whose destiny it is to defeat my master, Siva the Destroyer, and save the world from his conquest. Know, then, O puny weakling, that my master is a great god, and the gods shape destiny to suit their ends."

He turned to a guard at his left.

"Fetch the Princess," he commanded.

The guard clanked out of a side door, and returned a moment later, followed by a tall warrior leading Nina, the girl in the golden armor.

As Nina was brought before him, Ranya grinned evilly down at her from his lofty seat. Then he said, sneeringly:

"So this is your great hero, who will rescue you and save the world! What think you of him now?"

She turned and looked at Tam with a start of recognition.

"Tam! Tam!" she cried. "Oh, why did you come here alone? You should have gone on to Arya, roused my people, and led my army to crush these beasts. Now they will kill you."

Suddenly twisting from her escort, she ran toward him with outstretched arms.

But the monster on the throne quickly pressed a lever, whereupon a circular wall of transparent glass shot up from the floor, completely surrounding Tam. He laughed uproariously as Nina ran against it and futilely beat upon it with her small fists.

Her guard caught and dragged her away from the glass, struggling as ineffectually as a bird in the grip of a serpent.

"Enough!" said Ranya. "I but wished to make sure that this was the man.

"Now mark you well, puny one, for this is your sentence from my master, Siva the Destroyer, and these are the last words you shall hear in this incarnation. You will be consigned to the Black Pit, where your flesh shall go to nourish a loathsome thing, while your soul enters the body of another like it. So low will you be in the scale of creation that you will not become a man again for a thousand reincarnations." He chuckled as he reached for a lever beside the throne. "Farewell, puny one," he cried, as he pulled the lever.

Tam heard a shriek of fear from the girl. Then the floor shot from beneath him, and he plunged downward into a black abyss with sickening speed.

Presently he was brought up with a jolt that threw him down. Then the floor tilted, and he rolled off, falling a distance of about ten feet and alighting on a damp earthen surface in a place of stygian blackness, the air of which was heavy with a sickening charnel odor.

He lay there for a moment, panting heavily in an effort to regain his breath knocked from his body by the fall, and wrenching at the stout bonds that held his numbed wrists together behind his back.

Then, suddenly, every hair on his body stiffened, and a low growl issued from his throat. For he saw coming stealthily toward him in the inky darkness, like two glowing coals suspended in a black void, a pair of burning, red-rimmed eyes.


Read about Tam's terrific struggle with the loathsome thing in the Black Pit, and the even more thrilling and breath-taking adventures of Tam and Nina that follow, in the September number of Weird Tales, on sale August first.



A thrilling story of a subterranean world under the Tibetan plateau, with the very gods of Asia as actors



PART THREE

Illustration

Weird Tales, Sep 1931, with third part of "Tam, Son of the Tiger"


THE STORY THUS FAR

"YOUR son, Tam, has been carried off by a white tigress."

These were the words that greeted Major Charles Evans, American sportsman and philanthropist, when he returned to the native village where he had left his two-year-old son, after a tiger hunt in the Burmese jungle.

But instead of devouring the boy, as his father thought, the white tigress, who had lost three of her four cubs, adopted Tam, and raised him in a pagoda in an old temple ruin that stood in the heart of the jungle. Her remaining cub was Tam's only playmate.

Tam's foster mother had been reared by a lama named Lozong, who had gone on a pilgrimage. Lozong later returned to find the cub full-grown and Tam about half-grown, living and acting exactly like a tiger.

The lama made friends with all three, and being well educated, taught Tam much from his store of knowledge. In his youth he had been a brigand leader and a mighty fighter. He spent much time coaching Tam in the use of weapons, particularly the yatagan, a terrible, double-curved sword with which he could cut down a tall tree at a single stroke.

The boy made friends with many jungle creatures, including a huge bull elephant, which he named Ganesha. At the age of twenty, Tam had the strength and bravery of a tiger, a good education, a knowledge of the jungle such as only its creatures possess, and an almost uncanny ability with weapons.

One day Ganesha strayed off into the jungle. Tam, while hunting for him, rescued a beautiful girl in golden armor from a man-eating tiger. Speaking a language which resembled both Sanskrit and Tibetan, both of which Tam understood, she told him her name was Nina, and that she came from a subterranean world called Iramatri. She was hungry, and Tam shot a peacock for her. But while they were cooking it they were attached by a band of four-armed giants riding on strange beasts larger than elephants, and assisted by a number of hairy, primitive men. They carried off the girl, leaving Tam, apparently dead, but in reality only stunned by a blow from a mace.

Ganesha the elephant found the unconscious Tam and stood guard over him until he recovered his senses, which was not until the following morning. Tam immediately set out on the trail of Nina's abductors in the hope that he might be able to rescue her. When he had followed them for seven days they entered a passageway leading under the hills, concealed in a niche behind a colossal statue of the goddess, Nina. Following them through the passageway, Tam came into a strange subterranean world lighted by a blue-white radiance which streamed down through the silver mists that formed its sky.

Here in this underworld jungle he was attacked by a huge prehistoric carnivore—an andrewsarchus—and dragged down from his elephant.

In the meantime, Tam's father, who had sworn to devote his life to the slaying of tigers because his son had been carried off by a tigress, and a scientist friend, Doctor Green, had seen Nina's bodyguard massacred by the white, four-armed giants, or Saivas, followers of Siva, the Destroyer. He and the doctor had trailed the Saivas, and had met Lozong, who with the white tigress and her striped offspring were looking for Tam.

They joined forces and followed Tam into the underground world. Here Major Evans came up in time to save his son's life by shooting the andrewsarchus which had pulled Tam down. Then his party was surrounded by a band of four-armed blue giants mounted on white baluchitheriums.

Tam, not knowing that his father had saved his life, but believing that his arrow had penetrated the heart of the beast, looked back and saw the party surrounded by the blue riders. He did not know whether they were friends or enemies, and pressed on to save the girl in the golden armor from her captors. He followed the Saivas to a point near one of their immense cities, but was here ambushed and taken into the city a prisoner by the Saiva's hairy primitive allies.

Led before Ranya, lord of the city and lieutenant of Siva, he was permitted to see Nina for a moment, then condemned to death. A trap was sprung, which dropped him into a black pit, far below the surface of the earth.

As he lay there in the darkness, bound and helpless, a huge slimy thing with luminous eyes came forward to devour him.


X. — THE THING IN THE PIT

AS the company of blue-skinned, four-armed giants, mounted on white baluchitheriums, surrounded his party, Major Evans raised his rifle to bring down the nearest attacker. He had not understood the warning of Dhava, the Aryan, nor did he realize the menace of the chakras, the terrible quoit-like weapons which the newcomers carried. But Doctor Green both understood and was quick to recognize the danger.

"Don't shoot, major, for God's sake!" he cried. "If you do, we'll all be cut to pieces."

But he spoke too late. The rifle cracked, and a blue monster pitched from the saddle. Instantly the air was filled with flying, razor-edged rings. One of these sheared off the top of the major's helmet, glanced from the steel casque of Dhava, and passed out through the back of the howdah. A second gashed the shoulder of Yusuf, and a third snapped the stem of the doctor's favorite briar only an inch from his bearded lips. With an oath, he caught up the rifle and began firing. Yusuf followed suit, and the major continued coolly to pick off the blue giants.

Mingled with the barking of the rifles and the deadly hissing whine of the chakras were the yells of the contestants, the trumpeting of the elephants, the bellowing of the baluchitheriums and the roars of the two tigers. Disconcerted by the din of battle, Leang, the white tigress, and Chiam, her striped offspring, charged toward the jungle. They were confronted by a blue rider, who couched his trident like a lance, and would probably have impaled the tigress had it not been for Lozong, who hurled his long spear. It pierced the breast of the rider, who dropped his trident and lurched forward in the saddle. The two tigers shot past him into the jungle, and Lozong followed, pursued by two more of the riders. But they could not penetrate the dense thicket with their huge mounts, and soon returned.

In the meantime, a number of the blue giants had dismounted, and while these advanced on foot, the others charged with tridents couched. The men in the howdah made the mistake of concentrating their fire on those who remained mounted. They discovered this too late, as those on foot attacked the elephants, hamstringing and disemboweling them with their keen tulwars. In a trice, all three great pachyderms were down. The howdah, falling sideways, piled its four occupants in a tangled heap. Before they could recover they were seized, dragged forth, and disarmed by the exultant Vaishnavas.

All four were wounded, cut by the flying chakras, though not badly. Like their beasts, the three mahouts had been slain—literally hacked to pieces by the sharp tulwars. And a score of the blue riders had fallen, to rise no more.

Swiftly, the giant warriors bound the hands of the four survivors, then led them before one, evidently the leader or chief, who had remained mounted on his great white beast. He seemed puzzled at the costumes of the two Americans and the Pathan, but instantly recognized the accouterments and insignia of Dhava. To the latter he addressed his speech.

"What brings you here into the hunting-grounds of the Vaishnavas, Aryan, in violation of the age-old treaty?" he demanded. "And who are these strangers with you?"

"I follow my princess," replied Dhava, "who was captured by the ruffians of Siva. These other white ones be two great chiefs of a hunting-party from the outer world. The dark-skinned man is their servant."

"Men of the outer world, here! And the Princess of all Arya captured! What manner of tale is this?"

"You are doubtless aware of the Destroyer's plot to conquer the outer world."

"Yes. He sought the assistance of His Majesty, Vishnu, in the project, but was refused."

"He also asked the aid of my princess, and was refused," said Dhava. "Accompanied by only a few of her soldiers, she rode forth through the portal to warn the peoples of the outer world. But Siva, through his spies, learned of this, and sent his lieutenant, Ranya, to capture her. This he succeeded in doing after killing all of her men but your humble servant."

"Through the portal! How did they pass our guardians?"

"By avoiding the road and keeping to the jungle. Even now, Ranya and his Saivas are carrying my princess across your hunting-grounds. It was their trail we followed."

"So! We must double the guard, and keep a closer watch. Five thousand years ago the Seven Who Rule ordained that none should pass the portal. And for five thousand years have the guardians enforced this command. Because we were careless, the rule has been broken—the law transgressed—but we will see that it does not happen again."

"And what will you do with these strangers and me? We but followed, to rescue the princess, and have done no wrong."

"You have passed through the portal twice, and they, once. All of you have trespassed on the game preserves of Vishnu. And twenty of my warriors have been slain by the strange weapons of these earthlings. Yet you say you have done no wrong!"

"The strangers were not aware of the ancient laws. And I but followed in the line of duty. As for your dead warriors, they would still be alive had you not attacked our party."

"It is not for you to question, nor for me to judge. We will take you before the Lord Vishnu."

"But what of my princess? May I not acquaint our people with the duplicity of Siva?"

"That, too, will rest with Vishnu, the Preserver. If the Aryans learn of her capture it will mean war. And His Majesty is opposed to war. But no profit to discuss these things with me. I but serve and obey." He turned to the nearest riders who had grouped about him. "Up with them, warriors, and let us be on our way."

As the two burning, red-rimmed eyes moved stealthily toward him through the darkness of the black pit in which he had been confined, Tam heard a slithering sound, as of an immense something, wet and slimy, being dragged across the floor. A huge bulk, its surface slightly phosphorescent, began to take shape behind the glowing eyes.

With all the tigerish strength at his command, he strained at the tough thongs that held his wrists. Presently one parted. Then another snapped, and the rest fell away. His hands free, Tam faced the creeping monster, crouching like a tiger at bay. Though weaponless, he was far from helpless, for from early childhood he had been trained to fight as beasts fight, with the weapons with which nature had provided him.

The thing was so close now that he could see the outlines of its huge, semi-luminous bulk. It was about seven feet high, four feet wide, and ten feet long—its back a great, rounded, shell-covered hump. It had no feet, but moved by a flowing motion of the lower portion of its body. Its glowing eyes were up-reared on stalks like those of barnacles. And the sickening, musty stench which emanated from it was so powerful as to overcome the charnel odors of the pit.

Suddenly the thing arched its neck. Tam could see the bulging muscles rippling beneath the slimy skin, and the hundreds of needle-like teeth that lined the circular mouth as it opened to grip the supposedly helpless food morsel before it.

As the head struck down at him, Tam grasped an eye-stalk with each hand, attempting to twist the thing to one side and throw it, as he would throw a deer by its antlers. But to his surprize, the head suddenly jerked backward, and together with the entire slimy body was retracted into the shell. The eye-stalks came out in his hands, and he was about to throw them from him when he noticed that together they cast a light which enabled him to see for a few feet around him.

Ignoring the humped and motionless bulk of the now sightless thing which had sought to devour him, Tam began an exploration of the place by the light of the two glowing eyes. He found that he was in a circular pit about thirty feet in diameter, hollowed out of the damp earth. The floor was littered with moldering human bones, evidently the source of the charnel odor. About ten feet above the floor he could see the mouth of a square shaft extending upward from the roof of the pit. This was the only opening into the place, hence it must have been through it that the elevator with the trap floor had dropped him.

Tucking the stalks of the two luminous eyes in his belt, Tam stepped back a few paces, then ran and sprang for the opening. Catching the edge with hooked fingers, he drew himself up on a narrow rafter which formed one of the sides of the shaft opening. The walls, he found, were reinforced with masonry, the stones of which were so smoothly fitted together that they would not afford even a finger hold. But dangling quite near him were two thick cables, united at the bottom and extending upward into the darkness.

To Tam, with his years of jungle training, a cable was as simple a means of ascent as a stairway would have been to a city-bred man. With the glowing eyes dangling from his belt and lighting up the shaft for several feet around him, he began the climb.

It was a long way, so long that even a stairway would have proved arduous, and iron-muscled though he was, Tam was forced to make several stops to rest, clinging with hands and toes. After about twenty minutes of climbing and resting, he readied the top of the shaft. It was blocked by the elevator, but the cracks around it admitted thin blades of light. And in the room above he could hear voices, the clank of arms, and the ponderous tread of the Saivas.

He swung over onto a girder for a welcome rest after the prolonged strain of flinging to the rope, and sat there listening to the conversation above him. Some one, evidently one of the throneroom guards, had just come before the dais.

"The messenger of His Majesty, Siva the Destroyer, has just arrived, my lord," Tam heard him say.

"Admit him," commanded a voice which Tam recognized as that of the Lord Ranya.

There followed more tramping, and the greetings exchanged between the messenger and the man on the throne. Then:

"What are the commands of His Majesty regarding the royal prisoner?" asked Ranya.

"She is to be conducted to Saivatun at once, under heavy guard," replied the messenger, "where, if His Majesty can not bring her to reason, she will be held as a hostage while he treats with her subjects."

"It shall be done immediately," said Ranya.

Tam heard him order one of his officers to equip a cavalcade. Then he dismissed the court. There was the tread of many feet, followed by silence.


APPARENTLY the throneroom was deserted. If so, it was Tam's opportunity to make his escape from the shaft. With the aid of the luminous eyes, he looked about him. He was surrounded by a bewildering array of levers, rods, wheels, girders and cables. The mechanism which raised and lowered the panels of glass surrounding the top of the shaft was quite complicated. And that which operated the elevator was only slightly less so. To Tam, unacquainted with machinery of any kind, they were unsolvable enigmas.

He tried to push the trap-door upward, but it would not budge. Then he noticed that it was kept from dropping by three pins, all connected to a sliding rod which, when moved, would let it tilt downward as far as the girder on which he stood. Very carefully he moved the rod, supporting the door meanwhile with one hand so that it would not fall suddenly and make a noise that would alarm the palace guards.

He succeeded in letting it down soundlessly, then cautiously peered over the edge of the floor. As he had surmised, the throneroom was deserted, but he could see the broad back of a guard standing in the doorway.

With cat-like silence, he drew himself up and crept toward the guard. But just as he came up behind him, Tam lost all the advantage his silent approach had given him. One of the floor tiles had become loosened, and when he trod upon it, clicked so loudly that the sound echoed across the room.

Instantly the guard swung around, presenting the barbed triple-point of his trident. As his eyes fell on Tam he gave a grunt of surprize, then lunged at him with the weapon.

With the lightning quickness which his years of association with tigers had taught him, Tam leaped clear over the vicious prongs, and swinging in close, snatched the ornate hilt of the long tulwar which hung at the giant's side and whipped it from its sheath. The monster dropped the now useless trident and seized him with three huge hands, while the fourth unhooked the mace from the broad belt and swung it aloft.

But in that instant, Tam had drawn back the weapon and thrust with all his might. It passed clear through the huge chest of the monster, half its length protruding from his back. For a moment the giant's face was contorted with a death spasm. Then the mace clattered to the floor. The huge hands released their grip on the youth and clutched wildly at the air. Tam jerked the tulwar free just as the great hulk toppled backward, striking the tiles with a terrific jolt and a clank of metal.

Fearful lest the sounds of conflict had been heard, Tam looked up and down the hallway. Not a soul was in sight. Swiftly he removed the broad belt which held the scabbard for the tulwar and the hook for the mace, from around the huge waist. But when he tried to buckle it around his own middle, he found that even with the buckle drawn up to the last hole there was room for three of him and the long scabbard dragged on the floor. So he threw it over his right shoulder instead, and cleaning the blade of the tulwar on his fallen enemy's wolfskin breechclout, sheathed it. Then he caught up the heavy mace and hurried off down the hallway.

Tam remembered the small, round room—the elevator—which had brought him up from the ground level, and quickly made his way to its door. But when he opened it, all he saw was a black shaft extending up and down farther than he could see. There were two cables in the shaft, and they were moving, one down, the other up. What could be simpler than to travel downward on the descending cable?

Hooking the thong of the mace in the belt, he leaped out, catching the cable with both hands. As it passed him when he had stood in the doorway it had not appeared to travel swiftly, but it carried him downward with a speed that took his breath. Presently it came to a stop with an unexpected jerk that chafed the skin from his fingers and palms. He slid for about twenty feet before he could check his own momentum. In a moment the cable started downward once more.

Now accustomed to the semi-darkness of the shaft, Tam could see the car, far above him, descending. Each time it made a stop his lacerated hands were injured anew. And each time it descended he shot downward with terrific speed. Presently he came to a place where the cable formed a half-loop, to turn and travel upward. About eight feet below this loop was the bottom of the shaft. He dropped.

Looking about him, he discovered there was no way out. The elevator was meanwhile coming down with terrific speed. Like a trapped animal, he crouched there in the bottom of the shaft, expecting to be crushed beneath the descending car. To his surprize it came to a stop about fifteen feet above him. He heard several passengers get out and more get in. Then the door closed and the car shot upward.


CATCHING hold of the ascending cable, Tam rode up until he was on a level with the first doorway. Then he leaped, alighting on the narrow sill. For a moment he swayed with flailing arms in an effort to keep his balance. Then he righted himself and flattened against the door.

Opening it a little way, he peered into the room beyond. He could see a long row of stalls in which were tethered the huge mounts of the Saivas. Behind these was a wide passageway, on the other side of which was another row of stalls in which the animals faced in the opposite direction. Scurrying about in the passageway were numerous attendants carrying saddles, bridles and harness, and hauling in enormous chariots with iron tires which were plated and embellished with much polished brass.

Under the directions of an officer, the menials were saddling many of the animals, and hitching others in teams to the chariots. At some distance down the passageway Tam also saw a magnificent golden litter hung on two thills between two beasts hitched tandem.

Near him he could hear the conversation of two of the hostlers. One was saddling a giant beast while the other held its bridle.

"An unseemly time of night to start an expedition," complained the first, as he tugged at the cinch while the surly brute arched its back, expanded its belly and squealed an angry protest. "What is the occasion?"

"I have just heard," replied the other, "that they will convey Nina, Princess of Arya, to Saivatun in the royal sedan, by explicit order of His Majesty, Siva himself."

"Well, I for one will be glad when they are on their way," grumbled the first, "so I can return to my couch. This makes the third night I've been awakened to saddle for their accursed expeditions."

Tam heard the slam of a door only a short distance above him. Looking up the shaft, he saw that the elevator was descending rapidly. Either he must leap back to the bottom of the shaft, or risk being seen by going out into the stables. If he failed to do one or the other he would be crushed by the descending car.

Peering out, he saw a large chariot passing, drawn by four men. Other men were leading two beasts out of the stalls, which evidently were to be hitched to the chariot.

Opening the door, Tam slipped out, and silently closed it behind him. A leap carried him behind the chariot and temporarily out of sight of the hostlers. But when he looked about him, he could see no further place of concealment. The chariot was piled with bales and bundles, evidently camping-equipment, to be taken on the journey to Saivatun. At sight of these a plan occurred to him for not only concealing himself, but for getting out of the city and following Nina, undetected.

He sprang up into the chariot, pulled back a large bundle, and squeezing in behind it dragged it over him. A moment later the chariot stopped, and he could hear the hostlers hitching the beasts to it. Then the elevator door opened and several Saivas, evidently soldiers from the clank of their weapons, stepped out.

"Ho, Fenma," shouted one, evidently addressing the officer in charge of the grooms. "Have you or any of your Saivas seen aught of a dark-haired Aryan youth? The son of the white tigress has escaped from the Black Pit, slain the throneroom guard, and carried off his tulwar and mace. Lord Ranya is furious, and has ordered that the building be searched from roof to dungeons."

"He has not passed through the stables," replied Fenma. "Of that I am certain. I, or some of my grooms, would certainly have seen him."

"We'll just take a look around, anyway," said the soldier, "as His Excellency ordered a thorough search."

Crouching breathlessly there in the chariot, Tam heard them clanking and poking about. One came up and thrust a tulwar between the bundles. The cold steel touched his neck as the soldier withdrew it.

"Not here," he said. "We've looked everywhere in this place. Let's try the next floor, warriors."

A moment later Tam heard them take the elevator.

There followed interminable minutes that seemed like hours to Tam, cramped in his narrow quarters. Then, at a sharp command from the officer in charge, the entire cavalcade was led away by the grooms.

Presently they ascended a steep ramp which caused the bundles in the chariot to slide toward the rear. Only by gripping the one in front of him was Tam able to keep it from tilting over backward and exposing him. But the ramp leveled out at last, and they passed through an arched entrance into the city street. Here warriors took charge of the beasts, climbing into the chariots and mounting the saddle animals. A tall warrior stepped up into Tam's chariot, walked to the front in the narrow lane which had been left between the stacked bundles, and took the reins from the groom.


PEERING through an interstice between the bundles, Tam saw the golden sedan carried by the two great beasts brought up before a doorway of the great central building. Here the riders caused the beast to kneel, bringing the lower step of the sedan to the ground level. A moment later a slight, gold-armored figure he recognized as Nina came down the steps between two giant four-armed guards. They helped her into the sedan. The beasts carrying it stood up, and two warriors rode up to take a post on either side.

There was a ringing command from an officer at the head of the column, and the cavalcade started, the iron-tired wheels of the chariots making a terrific clatter on the paving stones, which mingled with the thunderous hoofbeats of the huge beasts.

Presently they passed through a city gate, and out onto a broad, paved highway. As he peered out between the bundles, Tam saw that it was not the road on which he had been carried up to the city, a prisoner of the Zargs. As they passed out of range of the bright city lights, he noticed that the countryside was lighted with a silvery radiance that resembled moonlight, except that it had a slight violet tinge. He looked up, half expecting to see the moon hanging in the sky, but all he could see was the envelope of silvery mists through which the brighter light of day had come.

For a short distance the highway was built on a causeway which crossed a dismal swamp. Here the clatter of the cavalcade did not completely drown the croaking of frogs, the drone of countless millions of insects, and the occasional bellowing or roaring of the mightier swamp creatures.

The swamp passed, the road entered a dense forest. And here, almost in the shadow of the towers and battlements of the city, Tam recklessly resolved to attempt to rescue Nina and escape.

There was but one chariot between him and the golden sedan, and if fortune should favor him he might be able to slip past it without attracting the attention of the driver. Silently he pushed the bundle aside and slid to the ground. As he was behind the driver of his chariot, the driver did not notice him.

Crouching low, he dodged around to the left and scurried past the next chariot. But as ill luck would have it, the charioteer spied him just as he passed. The fellow had no time to use his trident, but turned and shouted a warning to those who guarded the sedan.

In the meantime, however, Tam had shot past the surprized first rider of the tandem which bore the princess, and reached the step of the sedan with a tremendous leap.

Startled by his sudden appearance, Nina gave a little scream as he parted the curtains. Without a word, he seized her around the waist, and turning, made a leap for the jungle.

But the Saiva who rode guard on that side was a fraction of a second too quick for him. Spurring his mount up beside the sedan, the monster wrenched the girl from his grasp. Thrown off his balance, Tam fell on his side as the great beast thundered past.

Holding Nina across his saddlebow, the Saiva wheeled his mount, and charging back at Tam, thrust viciously at him with his trident.


XI. — LOZONG FINDS THE TRAIL

WHEN Lozong and the two tigers escaped from the Vaishnavas, they separated. But they soon got together again, deep in the forest, when all sounds of pursuit had ceased.

The militant lama was not a man to desert comrades in danger, even under the most adverse conditions. But he knew that to return to the conflict in the face of the overwhelming odds against him would mean that he would surely be killed or captured. And in either case his ability to assist either them or Tam would be gone.

But it was around Tam that all his loyalty and affection centered, and he resolved that, since fate had deprived him of his companions, he would continue on the dangerous trail of his beloved chela alone.

With the two tigers stalking at his heels, he cautiously made his way back toward the scene of the fray. He saw the four survivors of the battle, their hands bound behind them, being taken before the leader of the Vaishnavas. After a short parley, each prisoner was lifted up before one of the mounted blue warriors, and the entire cavalcade cut back through the jungle path toward the highway.

When the last mounted giant had disappeared in the jungle, he left his place of concealment and went back to the scene of the conflict. The Vaishnavas had left their dead comrades where they had fallen, nor had they troubled to gather their chakras, or other weapons, though they had taken the rifles of the prisoners.

Recovering his long spear from the body of the blue giant he had slain, Lozong called to the two tigers. But they were crouched beside one of the fallen baluchitheriums slain by rifle fire, eating, and would not leave it. The sight of the two beasts devouring the fresh meat brought the realization that he, too, was hungry, and he saw no reason why the flesh of the great beasts, if not toothsome, should not be at least wholesome.

Kindling a fire with the flint and steel he carried and making use of the dry dead wood which was abundant at the edge of the jungle, he carved a baluchitherium steak and broiled it. To his surprize and delight he found it as tasty as any meat he had ever eaten. By the time he had finished his meal the tigers had gorged themselves and were ready to follow him.

He struck off at once on Tam's trail, and by the time night had fallen, reached the river. Here, after man and beasts had drunk their fill, they crept into a dense thicket and curled up for a nap.

Despite his bravery, and the fact that he had two fierce and courageous beasts with him, Lozong was able to sleep but little because of the terrific din made by the river monsters and the fierce jungle creatures which had come down to the water to drink. And so when, after a few hours, the landscape was flooded by a silvery light which, except for a slight violet shade, resembled the rays of the moon, he decided to press on.


ROUSING the two tigers, he set off once more on the trail, which the beasts followed by scent. Some time later he came to a paved highway. Here the muddy tracks of Tam's elephant turned to the left, mingling with those of a cavalcade of baluchitheriums. He followed the highway across an arched stone bridge, and a little way beyond this came upon a number of large, hyena-like animals quarreling over the remains of a score of dead Zargs. This grisly sight convinced him that Tam had been waylaid by the hairy troglodytes, and that he and Ganesha had given a good account of themselves. But whether Tam had been killed or captured, or had escaped, he had no means of knowing.

As he had no desire to dispute the right of way with the formidable-looking creatures before him, nor to embroil the two tigers with them, Lozong resolved to circle through the jungle, then return to the highway and look for Ganesha's trail.

He accordingly turned to the right and entered the dense tangle of vegetation. But he had not gone far when a peculiar mewing cry came from Leang, the white tigress, which led him to think she had found Tam's trail. Hurrying after her, he discovered, not Tam's footprints, but those of Ganesha, the elephant—great, deep "pugs" in the soft leaf-mold, which were easily visible in the violet-silver light that came down in bright patches through rents in the forest roof.

Not doubting that Tam was safe on the back of his big friend, he set off at once on the plainly marked trail. For a time, the tracks showed that Ganesha had been traveling quite swiftly, but presently the steps grew shorter and the way was marked with broken boughs and fallen leaves, showing that he had browsed as he ambled along. At length they brought up at the edge of a swamp. And here Lozong saw what he had not been able to see before because of the height of the jungle trees. The city was plainly visible across the low swamp vegetation, and the trail had been circling around it.

Several deep footprints into which the water had seeped showed where Ganesha, evidently deciding that the swamp was too dangerous to traverse, had backed out and changed his course, following the edge of the marsh but staying up on the more solid ground. And judging from the formidable sounds which came from some of the huge inhabitants of the morass from time to time, Lozong felt that it had been a wise decision in more ways than one. The voices of the jungle monsters sounded dangerous enough, but many of the swamp-dwellers, from their thunderous tones, appeared to have throats large enough to take in an elephant at a single gulp.

It was not long before the violet-silver night-light was replaced by the red glow of dawn. Then the light gradually changed from red to orange, from orange to yellow, and finally to the blazing, blue-white light of day.

In the meantime the trail had turned away from the edge of the swamp, and led toward the northwest. Presently, Lozong discovered something that mystified him for an instant. He had felt positive, all along, that Tam was riding the elephant whose trail he was following. But he suddenly came upon the trail of Tam, whose footprints he would know among a thousand, branching in from another direction. And he was accompanied by some one with tiny feet—evidently the girl in the golden armor. Their tracks were several hours older than those of Ganesha, showing that he had just come across them and was, even now, following them, probably by scent.

Despite the fact that he was weary from his long journey, Lozong hurried his pace when he saw these signs of the proximity of his chela. But despite his quickened gait, several hours passed with no sight of him.

Then, just as the position of the shadows told him that it was midday, he suddenly heard, only a short distance ahead of him, the scream of a girl or woman, evidently in mortal terror. It was followed by the roar of some mighty beast and the angry trumpeting of an elephant mingled with the shouts and shrieks of men.

With the two tigers bounding beside him, Lozong sprinted forward.


XII. — TO PETITION THE GODS

AS the Saiva who held Nina across his saddle-bow lunged at Tam with his trident, the girl caught and gripped the shaft with all her might. Though she was strong for her size and sex, her strength was puny indeed compared with that of the giant who held her, and she only succeeded in delaying the thrust for a moment.

But during that moment, Tam had sprung aside, then leaped in close, swinging the long keen tulwar he had taken from the throneroom guard. With the terrible drawing cut which he had perfected beyond even the uncanny skill of Lozong, his teacher, he brought it down, shearing off at one blow both left arms of his adversary, the second of which held a heavy mace. As the severed limbs, still gripping the trident and mace, fell to the pavement, he brought his blade up a second time, but with a lunge instead of a slash, piercing the heart of the warrior.

As his vanquished enemy fell, Tam wrenched his blade free of the sagging corpse, snatched Nina from the saddlebow, and swung her across his shoulder. Then he turned and leaped into the jungle, just as several other riders came thundering up.

Swiftly, silently, Tam ran through the jungle, dodging this way and that through the dense tangle of vegetation. Behind, and on both sides of him, he could hear the Saivas, who had dismounted because of the impossibility of forcing their huge beasts through the thick undergrowth, crashing clumsily through the brush and shouting to each other from time to time. The noise they made plainly told Tam where not to go, so that despite the burden he carried, he rapidly outdistanced them.

The sounds of pursuit grew fainter and fainter, finally dying out altogether. He paused in a little glade where the light filtering through the leafy canopy overhead made little silver splashes on the ground, the tree-trunks and the undergrowth. Here he stood the girl on her feet. But to his surprize, her knees sagged from under her, and she would have fallen had he not held her erect. Then he noticed that her head hung limply, and her eyes were closed.

Alarmed, he lowered her gently to the ground, and looked for wounds. But so far as he could see in the dim light, there were none. Having had no previous experience with women, Tam had never seen one faint. But what he had read on the subject convinced him that this was what was wrong with Nina. He removed her heavy helmet and tried all the remedies of which he had read, such as chafing her hands and wrists, raising her feet above the level of her head, and blowing on her eyelids. Lacking water to apply to her face, he was about to convey her onward in search of a stream or pool, when she opened her eyes.

In the mottled light of the glen she did not at first recognize him, but cringed away in terror. However, her look of fear vanished in an instant when she saw who was bending over her.

"Tam!" she said. "I'm so glad! My last recollection was that I was in the grip of that monster who tried to kill you with his trident."

"He's dead," Tam told her, "and we've given the Saivas the slip, for a time, at least. Would you like to sit up?"

"Please."

Gently he raised her to a sitting position, her fluffy head nestling against his shoulder. He thrilled at the nearness of her, intoxicated by the perfume of her hair, the witchery of her sparkling eyes, the seductive curves of her half-parted lips. Woman, or princess, or goddess—whatever she was—he knew that he loved her madly: would willingly die for her.

"Where are we?" she asked.

"Somewhere in the jungle to the right of the road along which the Saivas were taking you."

"That would be to the northwest of the city," she said. "We must circle Vaishnavarta, the country of Vishnu, for he would be likely to delay us. I must go to Arya at once, and from there make a pilgrimage to the Place of the Gods. I must petition the Seven Who Rule, in whose great names we administer the seven lands of Iramatri."

"Who are the Seven?" asked Tam.

"They are Nina, Indra, Brahm, Vishnu, Siva, Hanuman and Vasuki," she replied. "They are the immortals—the directors of our destinies and the lords of creation. By them, we mortal rulers, each of whom reigns in the name of his or her god or goddess, are guided and directed. I rule in the name of Nina, Great Goddess of the Aryans, and to her am I responsible; or to put it more accurately, Nina, who has nothing directly to do with her worshippers, rules and directs them through me. The same is true of the other mortal rulers, each named for and directed by the god of his people."

"But who or what is this great goddess, Nina?" asked Tam. "Is she a physical being, and if not, how can you communicate with her?"

"That I can not explain to you, nor even to myself," replied the girl. "When she so wills, she directs my thoughts—looks out through my eyes as she did for an instant when I first met you. When I would seek her guidance I go into the holy of holies in one of her temples. There I await her. Sometimes she comes to me in a vision. In appearance she is a reflection of me, or more properly, I am a reflection of her. I doubt that I am her reincarnation, though some sects regard me as such, because she lives on forever. Nor have I achieved her karma, which could not be done in a thousand such lives as I am now living. I am, if my mundane understanding serves me correctly, a mortal reflection of an immortal being, doomed to pass through many reincarnations before I have achieved the karma which will make me, too, one of the immortals.

"There are three sects of Aryans who differ as to who and what I am. One regards me only as its Princess, working the will of the Goddess, Nina. Another regards me as Princess and High Priestess of Nina, and a third regards me as a triune being—Goddess, High Priestess and Princess. I can neither prove nor disprove any of their beliefs, nor can they, though they argue and debate much among themselves. And as I have not achieved the exalted degree of karma when all is to be made dear to me, I must go on doing the best I can, in doubt as to who or what I really am."

"But why this pilgrimage to the Place of the Gods, and for what will you petition the Seven Who Rule?"

"Although Siva, in his resolve to conquer the world, is not supported by the six other immortals, neither have they sought to hinder him. It may be, even, that they will permit him to use the ancient and terrible weapons which they have kept locked away from man for countless generations. If they do, and he bestows them on his followers, he will surely conquer. And so I must petition the gods to keep these weapons from him."

"What of the great Aryan goddess, Nina? Has she not sought to prevent this destruction and to keep Siva from employing these fearful weapons?"

"That has not been revealed to me. But the gods help those who help themselves, and I have taken the initiative in the service, not only of all Arya, but of all allied races of men on the outer earth.

"I know that Nina has the power to prevent the Destroyer's use of these weapons, for she is older and greater than all the gods except Hanuman and Vasuki, and if not older, is greater than either of these. My greatest fear is that, displeased with men, she has turned her sorrowing face away from them, even as she turned from your Sumerians and Akkadians five thousand years ago. If this be true, mankind is doomed. And I, being the spokesman of mankind to Nina, even as I am the mouthpiece of Nina in her communications to man, must make the dangerous pilgrimage to the Dwelling of the Gods, to intercede for the human race."

"The men of the outer earth have developed terrible weapons," said Tam. "Perhaps with these they can successfully withstand the attacks of Siva, even if his followers are armed with the ancient weapons of the gods."

"Can they then combat the thunderbolt, the windstorm or the earthquake? Can they stem the flow of a tidal wave, survive the rush of a river of lava, or prop their flimsy islands and continents so that they can not sink beneath the waters of the mighty oceans as have other continents and islands before them? If they can do all these tilings, then will they be safe from Siva the Destroyer, armed with the ancient weapons."

"I'm afraid they wouldn't have a chance against such things," said Tam.

"All this and more can the gods do with their potent weapons," said Nina. "And these things can the Saivas do, also, if they are given to them. So you see why it is imperative that we get to Aryatun and make the pilgrimage as soon as possible."

"Tell me which way to go, and I'll carry you," said Tam.

"No, I am feeling stronger now, and can walk. You must save your strength, for there will undoubtedly be fighting. Our path will be constantly beset with dangers. I hate myself for the weakness which made me give way as I did, but I have been through so many horrors recently that my nerves reached the breaking-point. After all, though I am the military as well as the civil and religious leader of my people, I am a woman with no more than a woman's endurance."


SHE stood up, and taking a small, square instrument with a luminous face from her belt-pouch, glanced at it for a moment.

Tam picked up the helmet and handed it to her.

"I think you are very strong for a woman," he told her, "and very wonderful."

She took the helmet with a smile and adjusted it over her fluffy little head.

"I hope you mean that," she said. "I'm so accustomed to compliments from those who fawn upon me for favors that I have come to doubt the sincerity of all of them."

Tam drew himself up stiffly.

"I do not lie, nor have I ever asked aught of you," he retorted. "If you think for an instant that I——"

"Please." She laid a hand on his arm and looked up pleadingly. "I'm sorry if I've offended you. Perhaps I said what I did because I wanted to believe that you—that I—oh! What am I saying?"

"You wanted to believe——" prompted Tam.

"I wanted to believe you, and now I do," she said, "so I am forgiven and the incident is closed."

She held up the small, luminous-faced instrument.

"Have you ever seen one of these?" she asked.

Tam looked at it, and shook his head.

"No, I haven't," he confessed. "It looks a little like a compass, an instrument carried by travelers on the outer earth, the needle of which always points toward the north."

"This has a somewhat similar use," she told him. "In Aryatun there is a tower which constantly sends out electrical emanations. This little instrument is attuned to these emanations, and none other, though all cities of Iramatri have similar towers, the emanations of which are differently tuned. When I hold the box horizontally the large central arrow always points toward the tower in Aryatun, while the smaller arrow points to a figure on the dial which indicates in varsads how far I am from the city. By referring to this little box I can therefore tell, not only in what direction to travel in order to reach the city, but how far I will have to travel."

"A remarkable invention," said Tam. "I take it from the direction of the arrow that we are to travel slightly east of north. Shall I lead the way?"

"We would travel northeast, were it not for the fact that Vaishnavarta lies between us and our objective," said Nina, "But under the circumstances it will be necessary for us to circle that country. Vishnu, if he should capture us, would be certain to detain me to prevent my interference with Siva and the war that must inevitably follow. Vishnu's function is that of preserver, you know, and he endeavors always to maintain peace in Iramatri. For the first hundred varsads we will travel northwest, keeping to the southern bank of the river. Then we must cross the river into Hanumavarta, negotiate the jungle ruled over by Hanuman, and the plains and forests of Brahmavarta. Once in the territory of Brahm we will not be molested, except perhaps by wild beasts. The minions of Hanuman I do not trust, as he is the ally of Vishnu. But since they are less formidable and more thinly scattered than the Vaishnavas, I think it best to go that way."

They set off through the jungle, walking side by side when possible, Tam leading the way, tulwar in hand, when the pathway was too narrow for other than single file. This subterranean jungle was filled with night noises and scents new and strange to Tam. But though they were different, they were analogous. Here, as in the upper jungles, great carnivores stalked by night, coughing and moaning, or roaring their thunderous mating-calls and challenges to rivals. Others there were, and these by far the most dangerous, that crept silently through the mottled shadows, hunting. From time to time the piteous cries of their stricken prey attested their deadly prowess. These mightier sounds only punctuated the continuous composite voice of the jungle, in which could be distinguished the soughing of the wind through the trees, the hum of insects, the night calls of birds, and the chattering, barking, squeaking, squealing and howling of the lesser beasts.

With Nina's little instrument as their only guide, they traveled until the first red glow of dawn appeared. Then, while the girl clung to his back, Tam climbed a tall tree. Skilfully he wove a nest far above the ground while she, perched on a limb, watched him with great interest. When it was finished, they curled up in it. Gently rocked by the wind and lulled by the rustling of countless leaves, they soon fell asleep.


TAM was awakened by a shaft of blue-white light streaming down on his face through a rent in the jungle canopy. He judged by the heat and the direction of the shadows that it was about midday. Nina was still asleep, her helmet laid aside and her disarrayed brown tresses blowing across her girlish face. For some time Tam sat there in the swaying nest, feasting his eyes on the lovely picture. But his stomach reminded him that neither of them had eaten or drunk anything, and that she, also, would be hungry on awakening.

Swinging up into the topmost branches of the tree, which was more than a hundred feet tall and towered high above its fellows, he looked about him. Far back toward the southeast he could see the top of the tall linga gleaming in the blue-white light. Less than a mile to the north the river which at this point formed the boundary between Saivarta and Vaishnavarta, sparkled and shimmered as it wound between gently sloping banks, clothed with long grass, bushy shrubs and low trees, and dotted with herds of grazing beasts, birds and herbivorous reptiles. Stretching toward the northwest as far as he could see was the jungle, of which the tree in which he stood was a part.

He was about to descend when something else caught his eye. A patrol of nearly a hundred Saivas was coming along the river bank, obviously searching for the two fugitives. The wisdom of Nina's decision not to go near the river was apparent, as it was plain that this was what the pursuing Saivas expected her to do.

Tam descended quietly, so as not to disturb the sleeping girl. He was about twenty feet from the ground when he noticed that a tree with large, oval, glistening leaves was growing beside the one to which he clung. Hanging to its limbs was a profusion of globular fruit, reddish brown in color and about the size of an orange.

With an exclamation of delight, he leaped across the narrow gap between the two trees, caught and swung himself up on a limb, and plucked one of the reddish brown globes. He tore it open, revealing a juicy white pulp that gave off a delightful aroma. It proved delicious and thirst-satisfying.

Gathering as many as he could carry tucked in the folds of his robe above his belt, he was about to return to the lofty nest when he heard voices. Peering down through the branches, he saw coming toward him a party of at least a dozen Zargs, following the plainly marked trail which he and Nina had left in the soft leaf mold. It was obvious that the Saivas, not trusting to their own hunting ability, had set the hairy primitives to scent them out.

Keeping the broad tree trunk between himself and the approaching Zargs, Tam hastily climbed up to the nest. Nina had awakened, and was sitting up arranging her tousled hair. She smiled up at him as he stood on a broad limb about to step into the nest beside her. But the smile changed—froze to a look of horror. She screamed a warning at the top of her voice, but it came too late.

So occupied had Tam's thoughts been with the pursuing Zargs that he had failed to look above him as he climbed. And so it happened that he had not caught sight of a huge, marbled tree-cat, as large as a tiger, crouching on a limb above him.

His first intimation of his peril was when he heard the scream of Nina followed by the roar of the great cat, and felt the long claws of the ferocious feline sink into his back.


Illustration

He heard the scream of Nina followed by the roar of the great cat.


Thrown off his balance by the impact of the heavy body, he toppled and fell headlong.

On the ground a hundred feet below, the Zargs, who were looking up with grins of exultation on their faces, scattered in consternation as a huge bull-elephant trumpeted angrily and charged among them.



Read what happens when Lozong and the two tigers come on this scene, and the swift-moving and remarkable adventures that follow, in the October Weird Tales, on sale September 1st.



An utterly strange story of a subterranean world under the Tibetan plateau, with the very gods of Asia as actors



PART FOUR

Illustration

Weird Tales, Oct 1931, with fourth part of "Tam, Son of the Tiger"


THE STORY THUS FAR

"YOUR son, Tam, has been carried off by a white tigress."

These words greeted Major Charles Evans, American sportsman, when he returned to the Burmese village where he had left his two-year-old son, to go on a tiger hunt.

But instead of devouring the boy, as his father thought, the white tigress adopted him.

Tam's foster mother had been reared

--illustration--

by a lama named Lozong, who had left her with her cub in a ruined pagoda in the heart of the jungle, while he went on a ten-year pilgrimage. Returning, he found the cub full-grown, and Tam, about twelve years old, living and acting like a tiger.

The erudite lama taught Tam much from his store of knowledge. In his youth he had been a brigand and a mighty fighter, and he took great delight in teaching the boy the use of weapons.

Tam made friends with many jungle creatures, including a huge elephant which he named Ganesha. At the age of twenty, he had acquired a good education, a knowledge of the jungle such as only its creatures possess, and an almost uncanny ability with weapons.

One day Ganesha strayed off into the jungle. While hunting for him, Tam rescued a beautiful girl in golden armor from a man-eating tiger. Speaking a language which resembled both Sanskrit and Tibetan, both of which Tam understood, she told him her name was Nina, and that she was princess of a country called Arya in a subterranean world called Iramatri.

They were attacked by a band of four-armed giants riding on beasts larger than elephants. The girl was carried off and Tam, stunned by a blow from a mace, was left for dead.

When Tam came to his senses, Ganesha the elephant was standing over him. Riding Ganesha, Tam followed the trail of Nina's abductors, which led through a secret passageway under the hills into a strange subterranean jungle lighted by a blue-white radiance which streamed down through the silver mists that formed the sky. Here he was dragged down from his elephant by an andrewsarchus—a huge prehistoric carnivore.

In the meantime, Tam's father, who had sworn to devote his life to killing tigers, had seen Nina's bodyguard massacred by the four-armed white giants, or Saivas. They had trailed these strange beings, and in doing so, met Lozong, who, with the white tigress and her striped offspring, were looking for Tam.

They joined forces and followed Tam into the underground world, coming within sight of him in time for the father to rescue his son from the andrewsarchus by a long-range shot. Then Tam's father and his party were surrounded by a party of blue four-armed giants.

Not knowing that his father had saved his life, Tam continued on the trail of Nina's abductors. He was ambushed and taken, a prisoner, to a Saivan city, where he was condemned to be devoured by a hideous creature in an underground pit. Escaping from the pit, he climbed into a baggage chariot, and managed to rescue Nina from the warriors who were taking her to Siva.

Lozong and the two tigers had, meanwhile, escaped from the blue giants, and set out to find Tam's trail. He found the trail of Ganesha, and supposed that Tam was still riding it, so he followed. He was surprized to find, later, that Ganesha had been searching for Tam, as his trail presently merged with that of Tam and Nina, traveling on foot.

In the meantime, as they journeyed through the jungle, Nina told Tam that they must reach the Place of the Gods ahead of Siva, in order to petition them not to let him have the ancient and terrible weapons with which he could easily conquer all mankind. To do this they would have to go to her capital, Aryatun, first, to equip an expedition.

That night, Tam wove a nest in the treetop. On the following morning, he found some fruit and was taking it up to the sleeping girl when a marbled tree-cat leaped on him, knocking him off a limb a hundred feet above the ground.

In the meantime a band of Zargs, hairy allies of the Saivas, had found their retreat and surrounded the tree. At this moment, Ganesha, followed by the lama and the two tigers, came upon the scene.



XIII. — A TREETOP CITY

AS Tam plunged headlong toward the ground a hundred feet below him, with the marbled tree-cat clinging to his back, he instinctively flung out his hands to save himself. One came in contact with a small branch and he grasped it, clinging with all his might. It was not strong enough to bear his weight, but it served to check his downward progress for an instant. And during that instant, the claws of the creature tore loose from his back, so that, though both man and beast were still falling, the huge cat was now beneath.

While they hurtled groundward, both tried desperately to save themselves by means of intervening limbs, but none of these was large enough to afford a hold for either.

With the agility common to all felines, the big cat alighted on all fours. Scarcely had it struck the earth, ere Tam, equally agile, lit on its back with both feet. The terrific impact of his fall broke the spine of the beast, and the fact that the arched back acted as a powerful spring saved his legs from a like fate.

But though its back was broken and its hind quarters were now useless, the tree-cat was not yet dead. It had fallen into the midst of a mass of yelling, milling Zargs, and one unfortunate troglodyte chanced to blunder against it. He was instantly seized in the powerful front paws of the dying animal, and literally chewed to bits.

Tam, meanwhile, had toppled against another Zarg, who seized him by the throat and bore him to earth with a yell of triumph. Recovering from the daze induced by his fall, Tam drew back a foot and sent it with pile-driver force into the midriff of his adversary. With a grunt of surprize and pain, the Zarg let go, and flew in a wide parabola, to alight at the feet of the charging bull elephant. Ganesha seized him with his trunk, swung him aloft for an instant, and then dashed him against a tree with bone-crushing force.

Tam was on his feet in an instant, his tulwar flashing in shimmering arcs. And at each flash one of the troglodytes fell.

The attacking Zargs were in confusion now. Most of them fought defensively and with only one object—escape. Several dashed back down the forest lane through which they had come. They met their doom in the form of two charging beasts, one striped, the other white, and a tall, slim yellow man in a red robe, who swung a double-curved sword with deadly efficiency.

As Lozong and the two tigers came upon the scene there remained but a dozen of the troglodytes. These, seeing the reinforcements, abandoned all attempts at even defensive fighting, and attempted flight.

Nina, who had been breathlessly watching the battle from the branches of the tree, saw their purpose and shouted to Tam:

"Don't let them get away. If they do they will bring an army of Saivas, and we shall be lost."

Fleet-footed Tam cut down three of them. The tigers pulled down four more, and Ganesha slew another. Lozong, who couldn't run fast enough to catch them, sheathed his yatagan and whipped bow and arrows from his quiver. Before his deadly marksmanship, two fell, but the remaining two disappeared in the dense tangle of vegetation.

Nina had, meanwhile, reached the lower branches of the tree, but was unable to descend the thick trunk.

"Two got away," she cried. "We must leave at once."

Tam held up his arms and she dropped into them. He stood her on her feet and turned to greet Lozong, who had just returned from his fruitless chase. With a glad cry, he embraced his old instructor, patted the trunk of Ganesha and stroked the heads of the two tigers, while Nina stood back, fearful of the elephant and the two ferocious beasts.

Having greeted his four faithful friends, Tam put his arm around the shoulders of the shrinking girl and introduced the lama. When he had presented Lozong, he spoke to each beast in its own language, making it plain that Nina was not only not to be harmed, but that it was to protect her as it would protect him. Gingerly she patted the friendly trunk of Ganesha at Tam's bidding, scratched Leang behind the ear, and stroked the striped back of Chiam.

Then, at a command from Tam, she was hoisted to the neck of the elephant. Lozong was lifted up behind her, and Tam led the way through the jungle while the two tigers ranged along on either side.

Presently Tam bethought himself of the fruit he had tucked in his robe. Much of it had been lost, and some was bruised and crushed, but enough remained for them to break their fast on. He fed one to Ganesha, who then hoisted him up between his two companions. They breakfasted as they rode along on the broad, swaying back. During the ride the lama told of having met a man who was undoubtedly Tam's father, and of the subsequent capture of Major Evans and his party by the four-armed blue giants. Tam was surprized and delighted to learn that his father was looking for him, and asked Lozong a thousand questions about him. Nina was overjoyed to learn that Dhava, the faithful captain of her bodyguard, was still alive, as she had believed him slain with the others.

"I don't think Vishnu will have them executed," she said, when the lama had finished his account of the capture of the major's party. "That is not the way of the Preserver. And if they are still alive when I get back to my capital, I'm sure I can persuade the Lord of the Vaishnavas to release them."


UNDER the urging of his young master, Ganesha maintained a swift pace all day long. But he commenced to weary when the orange glow of evening began to replace the blue-white day blaze. Presently they came to the bank of a small stream where the elephant and tigers drank eagerly.

"The beasts must have food and rest," Tam told Nina. "Do you think it will be safe to stop here for a while?"

"We have a good start," she replied, " as the Zargs were compelled to first find the Saivas, then take them back to where they discovered us before they could even begin to follow the trail. I believe it will be reasonably safe to stop for a short time. And when it is dark they will not be able to trail us until the advent of the night-light. As for food and rest, we all need both."

The three dismounted stiffly, for it had not been easy to cling to the broad, swaying back all day. Ganesha instantly shuffled away to forage for himself. The two tigers slunk silently into the forest shadows—hunting.

When the girl and the two men had drunk their fill at the stream, Tam borrowed Lozong's bow and arrows and went off into the jungle in search of meat.

The orange glow turned rapidly to red as he silently trod the soft, moist leaf-mold which formed the jungle carpet. With bow and arrow in readiness, he kept to the bank of the stream for a time, looking for some creature that might prove edible. Serpents and lizards there were, of a thousand varieties, ranging in size from a length of a few inches to gigantic and formidable proportions. The smaller ones did not look particularly appetizing, and some of the larger monsters appeared fully capable of turning the tables on him if he should seek to utilize them for food.

Presently, however, he saw a creature which gave promise of a dish that would attract an epicure—a gigantic green frog about seven feet in length, squatting on a flat ledge of stone that overhung the stream.

Drawing the arrow back to his ear, he took careful aim at one large, gold-rimmed eye, and let fly. The missile sped true to the mark, and with a startled croak, the big batrachian flopped into the shallow stream beneath the ledge, its brain transfixed. Tam plunged into the water, and seizing the still-kicking creature by one leg, dragged it up on the bank. Whipping out his tulwar, he cut off all four legs. Then he twisted a grass rope by which he slung them over his shoulder, and started back toward where he had left his companions, carrying enough meat from one frog to feed a squad of hungry men.

As he cautiously made his way along the bank of the stream, ever on the lookout for a sudden attack by one of the dangerous denizens of this strange jungle, he heard the snap of a twig, the scraping of bark, and the rustling of leaves overhead. He looked up and saw, peering down at him, its beady eyes glistening beneath its beetling brows, an enormous monkey fully as large as a tall man. Except for its immense size, it might have been an ordinary hanuman monkey of the Burmese and Indian jungles. Its hands and face were black like those of its smaller outer-earthly prototype, and it was covered with grayish brown hair.

But there was something about this monkey, other than its great size, which distinguished it from its simian cousins of the upper jungles. For in its glittering eyes was a look of intelligence that was strangely human. Strapped about its hairy waist was a belt from which there hung a curved knife like an Indian kukrie. Its left hand held a bundle of short javelins, and from its right another, even as he looked, hurtled toward him.

Tam dodged just in time—the keen weapon grazing his shoulder and plunging deep into the leaf-mold at his feet. Then his bow twanged, and the big simian came tumbling and crashing through the branches to the ground. He was about to bend over his fallen enemy when another javelin came hurtling down from the higher branches. Whipping a second arrow from the sheath, he aimed at a moving patch of brownish gray, and let fly, but evidently missed, as his second antagonist disappeared in the shadows.

For some time he waited, another arrow in readiness, but saw no sign of the second simian, which had evidently come to the conclusion that, in this instance, discretion was the better part of valor.

Examining the beast he had shot, Tam found that his arrow had pierced its heart. He appropriated its javelins and belted its kukrie about his waist. Then he returned to camp.

He found Lozong and Nina sitting beside a small fire which the former had started. In a little glade near by, Ganesha was plucking and devouring leaves and young twigs. On the bank of the stream, Leang, the white tigress, and Chiam, her striped offspring, were tearing at the remains of a large purple lizard they had killed.

Using some sharpened green sticks which the lama had prepared, the three of them grilled the white frog-meat over the coals. They found it delicious—fully as tender and delicately flavored as the frog legs of outer earth.

While they ate, Tam told Nina about his encounter with the giant simians, and showed her the weapons he had taken from his fallen foe.

"We must be near the border of Hanumavarta," she said. "You have slain one of the subjects of the monkey-god, Hanuman. It is a pity you did not slay the other, for now Hanuman will be notified of our coming. It is impossible to turn back—there are too many Zargs and Saivas behind us. And our passage through Hanumavarta will be doubly hazardous by the fact that we have been discovered."

"How do we get to Hanumavarta?" asked Tam.

With the butt of her green stick, she drew a crooked line in the earth beside the fire.

"This," she said, "represents the River Hin, a tributary of the great River Ind. Where the Hin branches off from the Ind, Hanumavarta begins. The Hin separates Hanumavarta from Saivarta, while the Ind, the river you crossed when taken into the city of the Saivas, separates Saivarta from Vaishnavarta. It also serves as the dividing line between Hanumavarta and Vaishnavarta, and separates Brahmavarta from Arya. It rises in Indravarta somewhere north of Indratun, and empties into the face of the cliff down which you came when you entered Iramatri."


DARKNESS fell before they had finished their meal. They cooked the surplus meat to preserve it, and wrapped it in the broad leaves of a plant resembling the pandanus. It was then decided that they would sleep until moonrise, or the advent of the violet-silver night-light which corresponded to moonlight in this strange world, after which they would set out once more.

With the elephant browsing near by and the two tigers sleeping only a short distance away, they did not think it necessary to post a guard. Lozong, who had the rare faculty of being able to awake whenever he willed to do so, was to call the others.

It seemed to Tam that he had slept for only a few moments when he felt the hand of the lama on his shoulder, shaking him. The violet-silver night-light had not yet appeared, and beyond the ruddy ring cast by the dying embers of the campfire was absolute darkness.

"What's the matter?" he mumbled, sleepily. "The light hasn't come yet. Why have you awakened me?"

"Matter enough," replied Lozong. "The princess is gone! Some one or something carried her off while we slept!"

Tam was wide awake in an instant. He threw a handful of dry twigs on the fire and stirred them until they blazed up brightly. Then he carefully examined the spot where the girl had been lying when he fell asleep. With a sudden exclamation, he caught up a wisp of grayish brown hair and showed it to Lozong. The lama glanced at it, and instantly comprehending its import, nodded.

Tam dropped the hair into the fire and examined the bough which overhung the place where the girl had been sleeping. Here he found what he had expected to find—broken twigs and bruised bark. Nor was there a trace of monkey-tracks on the ground about the fire. It was quite apparent that the girl had been carried off through the treetops by a minion of Hanuman.

"There is no trail," said Lozong. "How can we follow?"

"But there is a trail," Tam replied. "It leads through the treetops. When the silver light comes I shall be able to see and follow. You can come along on the ground with the beasts."

"But suppose I should lose you. How could I locate you again?"

"The Princess has told us that the country of Hanuman lies across the river. No doubt she has been taken there, so we must find a way to cross. When I have found her I will travel on the ground. I will then look for your trail and you can look for mine."


AS soon as the silver light flooded the dark jungle, Tam sprang into the tree and set off on the trail left by Nina's abductor, swinging through the branches and along rope-like lianas, with ape-like agility. He was more than thankful, now, for the many hours spent in the treetops of the Burmese jungle with the monkeys and gibbons, for without that training his quest for Nina would have been hopeless.

In addition to the tulwar and mace he had taken from the Saiva guard, Tam now carried the kukrie and javelins of the monkey—the former in his belt and the latter slung in a bundle across his back by their carry-thong. Because they were delayed by obstacles on the ground which they were forced to circle, Tam soon left the lama and the three beasts far behind.

The trail followed the winding bank of the stream on which they had camped, and soon brought him to its mouth, where it emptied into the River Hin. This stream was narrower than the Ind, so that in some places the treetops and lianas arched completely across it.

He crossed on a swaying liana, the top of which was worn smooth and nearly denuded of bark by much use. On the other side were many monkey trails, crossing and recrossing each other in a network that was most confusing. They slowed him up considerably.

The advent of the blue-white day-blaze found him far past the River Hin in the tangled jungles of Hanumavarta, with the trail becoming more difficult to follow all the time. Tired, thirsty, and hungry, he paused for a rest, munching the pieces of cooked frog's flesh he had brought with him.

Rested, and with his hunger satisfied, but with his thirst still upon him, Tam resumed the trail. As he penetrated deeper and deeper into the country of Hanuman he was forced many times to hide behind tree trunks, thick limbs, or dense foliage, while large parties of monkey warriors, armed with kukries and javelins, passed overhead.

About midday, the fresh scent of the trail told him that he had almost caught up with his quarry. Above, and all around him, he heard a medley of chattering, whooping, and loud singing notes which told him that a large band of monkeys was near. Then the trail led him up to the very treetops, and he came upon a sight that filled him with amazement. For here, over a space that covered several acres, the branches and lianas were interwoven to form a great level mat of green.

Projecting above this arboreal greensward, and woven from the same living materials, were fully a hundred conical huts with low entrances. They were placed in orderly rows, all of which radiated from a large, round central hut like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The place swarmed with giant simians of the kind he had seen the evening before, both male and female, and was overrun with monkey children of various sizes and ages, the youngest clinging to their mothers or being carried by them.

But the sight that made his blood boil was the slender, gold-clad form of Nina draped limply over the shoulder of a stalwart warrior who marched toward the central hut, followed by a gesticulating, chattering company of the hairy rabble.

With a snarl of rage he unslung his bundle of javelins and dashed forward. But he had not taken more than ten steps when there was a harsh, guttural call from behind him, which told him that his presence had been discovered.

He turned and hurled a javelin at a black face, framed in grayish brown hair, which peered at him from the door of a hut. The weapon flew true to the mark, but it stilled the voice of his betrayer too late.

As he turned to resume his pursuit of Nina's abductor, the green huts spewed forth a whole army of simian warriors, aroused by that guttural cry.

Ringed by the hairy fighters which were swiftly closing in on him, Tam quickly, pivoted, hurled javelin after javelin until his hands were empty. They rushed in, then, and he knew that further fighting against such odds was hopeless. Nevertheless, he whipped out his tulwar, resolving that if die he must, he would sell his life dearly.


XIV. — THE JUDGMENT OF VISHNU

AT the command: "Up with them, warriors," from the lips of the leader of the four-armed blue giants, Tam's father, Major Evans, was swung up before one of the mounted Vaishnavas. Doctor Green was lifted to the saddlebow of the warrior who rode beside him, and the next two warriors in line carried Yusuf and Dhava, similarly seated.

"Where are they taking us?" the major asked, as he had been unable to understand the conversation of the blue ones.

"To Vaishnatun, capital of Vaishnavarta," replied the doctor. "We are to be judged by Vishnu, himself."

"I suppose we'll be boiled in oil, or something pleasant like that," said the major.

"Perhaps," replied his friend. "But I would rather stand accused before the throne of Vishnu than any of these other heathen gods. They call him 'The Preserver,' you know. If that means anything we may be able to get out of this alive."

"There's more than one way of preserving things—or people," retorted the major. "The Egyptians had a rather efficient method. But it's no use trying to cross our bridges before we come to them."

"Rather let us hope for the best and make the most of this strange adventure," said the scientist. "Already we have made vast and undreamed-of discoveries, and I am convinced that we are on the threshold of still greater revelations. I find the experience intensely interesting."

"And so should I, purely from the standpoint of adventure, were it not for one thing."

"What's that?"

"I'm worried about Tam. If I could be sure that he is alive and well, nothing else would matter. I know I hit the beast that had him down, but whether I killed it or not is the question. If I didn't, it surely must have torn him to bits."

"Oh, I don't know. Judging from what Lozong told us about the lad, he's quite some scrapper. The old lama said he had vanquished more than one tiger, barehanded. And an andrewsarchus wouldn't have much of an edge on a tiger, if any. I'd pull myself together and quit worrying if I were you. Worry, has never helped any one."

"Pretty hard thing for a father to do, Doc, but I'll try."

At this point the cavalcade plunged into a narrow jungle path which necessitated travel in single file, and the conversation of the two friends was cut off.

After several hours of this they emerged on a broad stone highway, where the riders re-formed into four columns and put their huge beasts to the gallop.

There followed mile after mile of hard roadway in endless procession, cutting through the dense jungle like a gleaming white river winding through a green-walled canyon.

Major Evans was a seasoned rider on almost every kind of beast that man used for transportation on the outer earth, but the queer pitching gait of the creature on which he now rode was unlike anything he had previously encountered. Despite his endeavor to accustom himself to it, he soon grew extremely weary and saddle-sore. The fact that he had no stirrups and that the narrow saddlebow on which he sat had not been designed as a seat, added to his discomfort. Nor could he steady himself by gripping the pommel, because of his bound hands. But whenever he lurched precariously, one of the four hands of the giant blue rider behind him grasped his arm and prevented his falling.

Presently the cavalcade came to a stop at a wayside station. Here grooms rushed out to take care of the animals, and the warrior riders, dismounting, entered a low shed where food and drink were spread for them. The bound prisoners were unceremoniously flung into a corner, with a guard set over them, nor were they offered refreshment of any kind until their captors had eaten their fill. Then their hands were unbound, and the remains of the feast were placed before them.

"Hospitable people, these Vaishnavas," drawled the major, tasting the flavor of a mug of something that looked and smelled much like ale. "Eat all they can hold before they serve the guests."

"Must be an old Vaishnavan custom," replied the doctor. "But the food and drink are not so bad."

"Quite adequate," agreed the major, helping himself to a second slab of cold meat. "This haunch of baluchitherium—or is it protoceratops?—is delicious. And the ale would do credit to any pub in jolly old England."

"I believe I could learn to like these big blue devils in spite of their rough ways," said the scientist as the foaming beverage sent a rosy glow through him.

Yusuf, the major's Pathan servant, ate in silence. So did Dhava, the Aryan.

The meal over, the hands of the four prisoners were bound once more. Then they were hoisted up before the blue riders, and the journey was resumed.


FOR many weary hours they rode through the green jungle canyon. At length, when the blue-white day-blaze began to fade into the orange glow of twilight, a great walled city loomed before them. With the exception of the immense and striking central building, the sole material employed appeared to be blue granite. The lower part of the central edifice was also of this material. But up from its roof and completely dominating the scene, there towered three lofty spires. The one in the center was of burnished gold, and was slightly taller than the other two, which were of gleaming silver.

"Quite some city," remarked the major, who was riding neck and neck with the doctor once more. "And look at those spires!"

"Gigantic symbols of Vishnu," replied the scientist. "That must be his temple or palace."

Shortly thereafter they came to the massive metal gates of the city. There was a ringing challenge from the watchtower, answered by the thief of the warriors who rode at the head of the cavalcade. Then the gates swung open and the procession moved into the city.

Straight up to the triple-spired building they rode, while such grotesque, multi-limbed blue monsters as happened to be on the street paused to stare at the strange prisoners.

When they drew up before the central building, all the giant riders dismounted, turning their big white mounts over to grooms, who led them down a ramp which evidently led to one of the basement floors of the edifice. All the riders but four were dismissed by the chief. Then, followed by the four, each of whom guarded one of the prisoners, he led the way up a flight of granite steps to a doorway guarded by two soldiers. Exchanging salutes with these, he strode down a long hallway, his warriors hurrying the prisoners after him.

There were challenges and salutes at various points, as different guards were encountered along the way. But at length they came to an arched opening where they were halted and examined by an officer.

"Whom have you here?" he asked the chief of the warriors.

"Four prisoners to be judged by His Majesty," replied the chief. "One is an Aryan and three are from the outer world. I found them trespassing on our game preserves."

"Wait here," directed the officer, and withdrew. About twenty minutes later, he returned.

"His Glorious Majesty, Vishnu, Brother of Indra and God of the Shining Firmament, is ready to judge," he announced. "Advance."

The major and his three companions were suddenly forced down to their knees. Their warrior conductors also knelt, as did the chief and the officer. Then, walking on its knees, the little procession made its way into an immense arched throneroom or chapel. The Vaishnavas and Aryan, whose knees were calloused, were evidently accustomed to this means of locomotion, but the prisoners from outer earth found the surface of the floor tiles hard on their kneecaps.

They passed down a central aisle between two large groups of kneeling worshippers, to a position before a high throne on which sat the only figure in the entire place that was not kneeling. Vishnu, like his warriors, was dark blue in color, and four-armed. His four hands held a heavy mace, a conch shell, a chakra, and a lotus blossom. From time to time he passed the lotus beneath his nostrils as if inhaling its perfume. His blue features were impassive, almost as if carved from stone, but were given an unearthly expression by a trident, evidently painted on the forehead, the central prong of which was yellow and the outer prongs white. He wore a golden crown in which many bright jewels sparkled. Countless other gems glittered and scintillated on his golden collar and armlets, and on finger and toe rings. He sat with his legs crossed and the soles of the feet turned upward. On each side of the throne knelt a number of richly decked Vaishnavas, evidently nobles, ecclesiastics and court dignitaries.

"What charge, Kushti?"

The lips of the being on the throne had moved to ask the question, but the other features remained motionless.

"The Aryan twice passed through the portal and trespassed on Your Majesty's Lands. The others, men of the outer world, passed once through the portal, and also unlawfully entered Your Majesty's game preserves. When we rode up to arrest them they slew twenty of my warriors with strange thunder-sticks which they brought with them from the outer world."

"You have brought the thunder-sticks?"

"I have, O Great God of the Shining Firmament."

"Good. I will have my sages examine them. And now to the judgment. Your name, Aryan?"

"Dhava," replied the kneeling prisoner.

"You have heard the charges of Kushti. Do you deny your guilt?"

"As captain of her guard, I followed my princess," replied Dhava. "If that be guilt, then am I guilty."

"I have been informed of the movements of the Princess of Arya," said Vishnu. "It seems that she would start trouble in Iramatri, perhaps a bloody war, by opposing the Lord Siva in his projected conquest of the outer earth. This trouble and this war, I, The Preserver, am bound to prevent by such means as lie within my power. As for the conquest of the outer earth, I am not interested either in aiding or preventing it. For the most part, the outer earthlings have forgotten the gods, and it is meet that the gods should turn their faces from them."

"But Siva has captured the Princess—is holding her prisoner. When her people learn of this, they will arise in their wrath and smite the Saivas, for they all love the Princess. There will be a war such as Iramatri has never known."

"That," said Vishnu, "is precisely the reason I shall prevent their learning of it. No living Aryan knows of this, save you. And you I will detain—setting you at a useful occupation to keep you out of mischief. And now, what of these others? Can they speak for themselves, or must our language be interpreted?"

"I will speak for my friends and myself," replied the doctor.

"Good. What are you outer earthlings doing in Iramatri, and why were you trespassing on my lands? Never mind your names. They will be recorded later, and are probably unpronounceable, anyway."

"My friend here," said the doctor, indicating the major, "came to Iramatri in search of his son Tam, known as the son of the white tigress, who entered your world in order to rescue the Princess of Arya from the Saivas. The dark-skinned man, his servant, and I, his friend, accompanied him. We found Dhava, stunned, among the massacred soldiers of the Princess, and he acted as our guide."

"The son of the white tigress!" exclaimed Vishnu. "This is most extraordinary! We have a prophecy... but no matter. No weak outer-earthling could possibly fulfil it."

"Outer-earthling he is, but you miscall him weak," retorted the scientist. "With my own eyes I saw a dead tiger, the skull of which he had split in two with a single blow of his tulwar. And it is said that he has vanquished many other tigers, barehanded."

"These things, also, are mentioned in the prophecy," said Vishnu. "But I can not credit them to any outer-earthling without a thorough investigation. In the meantime, you and your companions will be detained with this Aryan—and will be given work, that the time may pass quickly for you. I have spoken."

"His Majesty has spoken," chorused the kneeling occupants of the room. "All glory, might and majesty to Vishnu the Preserver, God of the Shining Firmament and Brother of Indra."

The audience over, the prisoners were backed out of the throneroom on their knees. Then they were taken away to a building in another part of the city where their hands were unbound and they were given food and drink. Here they were interrogated by an officer, who made a careful record of their names, ages, weights, heights, etc. When he had finished with them they were taken to the smiths, who bolted heavy slave collars around their necks. This done, they were herded into a pen with a number of other slaves, and left for the night.


EARLY the next morning, as soon as they were fed, they were escorted by armed guards along with a number of other slaves, to a place where a building was being erected. Most of the slaves were Vaishnavas, though there were represented among them also the red, four-armed giants of Brahmavarta, the Saivas, the minions of Indra, and quite a few Aryans. The Vaishnava slaves were criminals, impressed into slavery for petty offenses, and the others were trespassers on the lands of Vishnu, caught in the act and condemned to slavery for life.

The major and his three companions were put to work with sixteen other slaves under the direction of an overseer armed with a short-handled trident. Their task was squaring immense oblong blocks of blue granite for use in the building under construction. They were furnished with chisels, mallets and saws for the purpose. Although the work was not nearly so hard as that of the masons who were required to lift and fit the bulky slabs in place, it was so difficult for those unaccustomed to it that the four were exhausted that evening when they dragged their weary way back to the slave enclosure, herded by the guards.

That evening, after they had eaten and drunk, the four flung themselves on the ground in a little group apart from the others.

"Nice pleasant job his four-armed majesty picked out for us," grunted the doctor, massaging the muscles of his arms. "Looks as if we're in for life, too."

"I'd hate to think of having to spend the rest of my days dressing down blue granite," said the major.

"You may as well begin to think of it now as any time," replied the scientist. "I've been mulling over it all day, and I can't see where there's a possible way out for us."

"I refuse to believe there's no way out," declared the major. "Like you, I've been thinking the thing over, and a plan has occurred to me. It's a bit indefinite, as yet. And I know it will be damned dangerous—may, in fact, get us all killed. But if it works, there's a chance for some of us, at least, to get away. For my part, I'd as soon rot as go on indefinitely, smoothing off stones for these blue devils."

"And so would I," agreed his friend. "Let's have the plan. Don't worry about eavesdroppers, as nobody but Yusuf can understand us."

And so, while the weary slaves snored around them, the major outlined his plan to his friend and his servant. Later, the doctor translated it for Dhava, the Aryan, who thought it might be practicable.

Then all turned in, that they might rest and strengthen themselves for the ordeal of the morrow.


XV. — THE DOG-FACED MEN

AS Tam stood, tulwar in hand, surrounded by the ring of giant monkey warriors and resolving to sell his life as dearly as possible, he suddenly saw a means of escape. The loosely woven mat of branches and lianas on which he stood was not more than a foot thick. A deft slash, and his blade bit clear through it, making a clean cut a yard in length. Two more swift blows, and he had cut a triangular hole amply large to admit his body.

He sheathed his tulwar and leaped through the opening just as the charging simians, detecting his plan, hurled a shower of javelins at him. The weapons tore into the mat of branches all around him as he dropped, but his quickness had saved him from injury. He was not yet out of danger, however. As he swung away through the dense tangle of branches and vines beneath the woven platform, a chattering mob of grayish-brown forms squeezed through the hole after him. Javelins cut the twigs and leaves around him, and thudded into the larger brandies, as he scurried for the dark area beneath the center of the arboreal city. Here, absolute darkness reigned, even when the day-blaze was at its brightest, and there was some hope of eluding his pursuers.

For more than an hour, Tam played a dangerous game of hide and seek with the minions of Hanuman, always hiding in the darkest part of the area beneath the arboreal city. Presently he found a place, just beneath the woven floor, which was surrounded by such a thick tangle of branches and vines and reached by such a circuitous route that he felt momentarily secure, and paused to rest.

Above and all around him was the simian chatter, loudest just above him. During the excitement of his discovery of the arboreal city, and the subsequent pursuit, he had paid no special attention to the meaning of this chatter. But now as he rested and listened, there came to him memories of the language of the relatively tiny hanumans of the upper jungles, which he had learned to understand and to duplicate. The tones of these large subterranean cousins of theirs were deeper and more voluminous, but the language was similar. In it, however, were mixed a number of early Aryan words, resembling the speech of the human inhabitants of Iramatri. And it was evident that a violent quarrel was taking place above him.

The meaning of this jumbled, half-human speech became clear to him as he listened. He heard one brute say:

"The golden * should be given to me, O chief, as it was I who captured her."

[*She.]

"The is mine, hunter," replied a deep, rumbling voice. "All things brought in from the chase belong to your chief, who is responsible only to the great god, Hanuman."

"But the is not a thing of the chase, brought in to be eaten. I would take her to mate, like any of our race, as is the custom when one of our warriors captures a strange sá."

"The golden is not of our race, and the rule does not apply. Nor did you win her in combat. You only stole her as she slept, and carried her away. Leave the with me, and go to your hut. I have spoken."

A chorus of voices said:

"The chief has spoken. Come, hunter, let us depart."

But the hunter replied:

"Depart then, warriors of the council. I remain to claim the from our chief by combat, as is my right."

"This is a of another race, and you can not so claim her," replied the rumbling voice of the chief.

"Justice, warriors of the council," cried the hunter. "I appeal to you from this unjust decision."

"A is a sá," said one. "Her race should not matter."

"It does not matter," said another.

"It is his right to challenge," said a third.

"According to law, the chief must fight him for her," said a fourth.

"Enough," rumbled the chief. "I will fight this upstart. I only wished to spare him, but since he insists, I will kill him. Then the will be mine. I have spoken."

"The chief has spoken," echoed the councilors. "We will go outside and wait for the winner to announce his victory."


DURING this conversation, Tam had stealthily drawn himself up until he could peer through the interlaced branches which formed the floor above him. He was looking into the single large room which formed the interior of the central hut toward which Nina was being carried when he was driven from the city by the simian warriors.

While he watched, the councilors, twelve in all, departed through the arched doorway. The last to go out dropped several vines across the opening, thus deepening the gloom in the interior of the hut.

In its center loomed two shadowy forms. The chief, a magnificent, heavily muscled specimen, drew his kukrie, and unbuckling his belt, flung it into a corner. The hunter, though fully as tall as his chief, was more slender and wiry. He also drew his kukrie and flung his belt away. Then, crouching low, their weapons held before them, the two sprang at each other, snarling between bared yellow fangs and hurling forceful simian invective.

At first, Tam was unable to locate Nina, but by creeping around beneath the floor he was finally able to see her, lying against the wall of the hut, bound hand and foot.

While the two contestants fought, he swiftly made his way to a position just beneath her, and drawing his kukrie—his long tulwar being useless in so cramped a space—hacked and slashed away the interwoven branches and vines beside her until he had cut a good-sized hole.

Cautiously he drew himself up and peered through the opening. The two embattled simians were rolling over and over on the floor, a mass of flying feet and tails. They tore at each other with their yellow fangs and stabbed and cut with their kukries, until both were covered with blood. Yet neither, it seemed, had been able to injure the other vitally.

Assuring himself that the two contestants were quite busy with their own affairs, Tam turned his attention to the bound girl. She was lying with her face toward the wall, so had not seen him. Nor had she heard him cut the hole in the floor, because of the noise made by the fighting simians.

He leaned over, and placing his mouth close to her ear, whispered:

"It's Tam. Make no outcry and don't be afraid. I'll loose you in a moment."

Deftly he slashed the bonds that prisoned her ankles and wrists. She sat up, flexing her cramped arms. But before he could lower her through the orifice he had cut, there came a terrific roar from the center of the room. The chief had just succeeded in slaying the hunter, and upon turning to claim the prize of combat, had espied Tam. Covered with blood and foam, and brandishing his gory kukrie, he was a fearsome sight as he leaped at this new and unexpected rival.

There was no time to draw his tulwar, but Tam extended his kukrie in time to meet the onslaught of the charging monster. Deftly he parried a slash designed to disembowel him, and followed through with a thrust that would have spitted the monkey chief through the middle had the brute not nimbly leaped back. Then they circled and clinched, each grasping the knife-wrist of the other, and striving to reach his enemy's jugular with his teeth.

Tam soon found that he was getting the worst of it in this type of fighting, because of the long, sharp fangs of his adversary. Suddenly changing his tactics, he swung his head to one side, lowered it, and butted the big simian in the side of the jaw. The hairy monster broke from the clinch and staggered back, shaking his head to clear it. But when Tam leaped in to finish his supposedly dazed enemy, he was met by a trick he had never before encountered.

Half turning, the big monkey suddenly whipped his long, muscular tail around Tam's legs, squeezing them together and throwing him heavily. As he struck the floor, he lost his kukrie, which dropped into the interstices between the woven vines and branches.

With a cry of triumph the monkey chief leaped upon his fallen enemy, and raised his kukrie aloft to plunge it into his heart Tam grasped the knife wrist with his left hand, and unhooking his mace from his belt with the right, swung it back and drove a smashing blow at the snarling face above him. The heavy, rugged knob bit clear through the simian forehead and smashed into the brain. The kukrie dropped from nerveless fingers, and the hairy monster slumped forward on his intended victim without a sound.

Tam flung the gory carcass from him and staggered to his feet. Appropriating the chief's kukrie and a bundle of javelins he found near by, he hurried over to Nina, who had by this time recovered the use of her limbs, which had been numbed by the tight bonds.

After helping Nina through the hole he had, cut in the floor he went back, and dragging the fallen monkey chief up beside it, let himself down. Then he pulled the huge carcass over the hole so that it would be completely concealed until such time as the simians should decide to remove their fallen chief. This might delay them only a few moments, or for several hours, but any delay at all would give the two fugitives that much more of an opportunity to get away.

Tam slung the javelins over his back, using the long cord with which they had been wrapped. Then, catching Nina up with one arm, he began the long descent to the ground, dropping from limb to limb in the darkness as silently as a shadow, despite the weight he carried.

All about him, and sometimes startlingly close at hand, he could hear the simian warriors calling to each other, and judged that not less than a hundred were engaged in the search for him. As he drew nearer the ground the cries grew fainter and fainter, apprising him that the main search was in the upper reaches of the jungle. This was as he had expected, and clinched his decision to try to get away on the ground.

Presently his bare feet alighted on the carpet of rotted branches and leaves that covered the soil. Here he stood Nina on her feet.

"Let's have a look at that little instrument of yours," he said, "so we can tell which way to go."

She took the little box from her belt pouch, and together they studied the luminous dial.

"We are only a few varsads north of the River Ind," she told him, after consulting the instrument, "and about seventy varsads south of Hanumatun, the capital of Hanumavarta. I think it will be best to strike out for the Ind and follow its western bank."

Tam, whose sense of direction never failed him either in darkness or light, instantly set out on the new course, leading Nina by the hand through the murky tangle. Presently, as they drew away from the area beneath the center of the tree city, it grew lighter and they were able to distinguish objects around them. This made it necessary for them to observe the greatest caution in order not to be seen, and Tam was compelled to put into play every art of concealment known to jungle-dwellers in order that they might not be apprehended by the clever, bright-eyed searchers from the treetop city.

Had he been alone, this would not have been easy. But with Nina in her shining armor it was rendered trebly difficult. At length he hit upon the plan of draping her with leafy branches. These broke the glint of the day-blaze on her armor in the open places, and when she moved in the undergrowth it was as if she had become a part of it.

After several hours of arduous travel they reached the bank of the great River Ind. Here they found a little inlet, screened by an arch of overhanging branches and lianas. They drank and threw themselves down to rest.

Presently Tam crawled out on a low limb hanging over the water, and after much perseverance, succeeded in spearing several small fish. When the orange glow in the sky announced the advent of darkness, he kindled a small cooking-fire, making a spark by striking the back of his kukrie against a stone, and using very dry material so that there would be little smoke, a large column of which might have betrayed their position to the searching monkey warriors.

The fish, grilled over the hot coals, were rather bony, but a most welcome and delicious meal, nevertheless, to the two tired and hungry travelers.

After they had eaten, Tam wove a nest in the upper branches of a tree, completing it before darkness set in. Then he covered the embers of their fire with moist earth, and they retired for the night.

Despite the terrific din made by the river monsters and the strange and terrible denizens of the jungle, they slept the sleep which utter exhaustion brings.

The following day they crossed the stone highway which connects Hanumatun with Vaishnatun, and three days later, still following the Ind and subsisting on fruits, and the fish and game which fell to Tam's javelins, they came to the River Bra, a small tributary of the Ind which formed the boundary between Hanumavarta and Brahmavarta. About a mile back from its mouth they were able to ford it at a shallow rapid. Swimming at the deeper places was almost sure to be fatal on account of the monsters lurking in its waters. Even crossing on an improvised raft above the lairs of these great saurians would have been extremely hazardous. But in the shallows they could easily be seen, and therefore avoided.


ONCE they were in Brahmavarta, the character of the terrain underwent a considerable change. Instead of the dense tree-clad jungles they now came to a low country, clothed for the most part with jointed grasses, and sparsely dotted with clumps of cryptogamous trees and shrubs. In the lower, marshy places, great dinosaurs wallowed among gigantic fungi and other primordial vegetation. Above their heads pterodactyls sailed on membranous wings. And mighty reptilian herbivora cropped the grass or stripped the leaves from the trees and shrubs around them.

The very air was charged with moldy, miasmatic odors, punctuated with whiffs that were reminiscent of snake dens Tam had visited, or the lairs of crocodiles into which he had poked.

Stalking on their powerful hind legs with their armor-plated heads towering high above the ground, tyrannosaurs, tyrants of the reptilian world, moved ponderously about, feared by the greater as well as the lesser herbivora, and from time to time pouncing on such prey as suited their fancy, gripping it with their relatively tiny forefeet and rending and tearing it with their immense, steam-shovel jaws. There were frightful bellowings and roarings, and the screeches of panic-stricken ostrich dinosaurs, queer reptiles resembling the birds for which they are named, as they swiftly fled from the scenes of carnage.

Through this weird country of fearful sights, smells and sounds, Tam and Nina moved with the utmost caution, avoiding the swampy areas and taking advantage of such cover as the place afforded. In stretches where the grass was short they were often compelled to worm their way along the ground in order not to be seen. Where the vegetation was taller, they progressed more swiftly and comfortably, though they were constantly compelled to turn aside for fearsome creatures in their path, the presence of which Tam, with his jungle-trained and abnormally acute senses, could usually detect long before they were in sight.

It took them two days to cross this marsh of primitive vegetation swarming with prehistoric monsters. During this time they had not eaten, and their only drink had been the warm water they scooped from stagnant pools, muddy-tasting and scummed with algae. It was, therefore, with a feeling of marked relief that they reached higher ground—a formation of low, rugged hills on which were many outcroppings of gray stone. The vegetation was sparse, and the only trees were a few stunted conifers. Here they decided to turn back toward the Ind, where they could get clear flowing water to drink and fish for food.

They were passing through a grove of bushy trees when Tam suddenly heard a swishing noise above his head. Before he could even look up, a noose settled around his neck and was jerked taut. Then he was hauled up, kicking and strangling, by some one or something hidden in the thick foliage above him.

Half choked though he was, Tam did not lose his presence of mind. Grasping the rope with his left hand, he whipped his kukrie from his belt with his right. A deft slash freed him, and he dropped to the ground.

So swiftly and silently had the unseen enemy attacked that Nina, who had been walking only a few paces ahead, knew nothing of it until she heard Tam fall.

Wrenching the coarse noose from around his neck, Tam peered up into the branches where a length of rope was just disappearing. He could see no living creature, but launched a javelin at the point where the rope ended. There was a peculiar yelping cry, and what Tam at first took to be a naked white man tumbled from the tree. It struck the ground at his feet, and as it lay there, gasping its last, he saw that its face was not that of a man, but more nearly resembled that of a dog or wolf. And it had a long, bushy tail like the brush of a fox.

Glancing at Nina, Tam saw that she had paled, and was regarding the dying creature on the ground with a look of horror.

"What is this monstrous thing?" he asked.

"A manacvan," she replied. "In Arya we call them man-dogs, or dog-faced men. They travel in packs, and where one is found, others are sure to be close by. Their favorite food is the flesh of human beings. Men who fall into their hands are instantly eaten, but women and girls who get into their clutches are said to be horribly mistreated before they are finally torn to pieces and devoured."

Tam thought of the werewolf legends so prevalent among Aryan-speaking peoples, and wondered if they had been inspired by traditions of such creatures as these.

"Do you think it likely that there are other creatures like this one near by?" he asked.

"It is more than likely," she replied. "And it is quite possible that some of them heard the death cry of this one and will come to investigate. We had best be going."

As if for the purpose of promptly confirming her words, there suddenly appeared, dashing over the brow of the hill with a coil of rope thrown over its shoulder, a manacvan very closely resembling the one Tam had slain. But this creature quite obviously had not come to investigate the death cry of its fellow. It had too much important business of its own to attend to. Crouching low, sometimes running on two feet, sometimes scampering on all fours with its brush-like tail between its legs, it glanced fearfully over its shoulder from time to time with unmistakable signs of terror.

The manacvan had not traveled more than a hundred feet down tire hillside when there suddenly burst into view the most fearsome and awe-inspiring creature Tam had ever beheld. No wonder the manacvan fled before such a monster. It was like a homed toad the size of a rhinoceros, or a rhinoceros covered with armor-plate thickly studded with sharp spikes from eight to ten inches in length. Its neck was protected by a flaring bony ruff edged with sharp spikes. Projecting from the bridge of its vulture-like beak was a horn fully two feet in length. The beast came dashing down the hillside with a speed surprizing in so ponderous a creature, and gaining rapidly on the manacvan. Closer and closer the horrific monster drew to its quarry with each mighty bound. But just is it opened its great beak to seize its intended victim, the dog-faced man, with a final yelp of fear, plunged into the mouth of a burrow beneath a projecting rock.

The pursuing monster came to a sudden sliding halt, and with a bellow of baffled rage inserted its homed snout into the hole. Unable to enter, it began digging with its three-toed scaly front feet, scattering dirt and stones over a fan-shaped area behind it. But its efforts in this direction soon ceased. Evidently it had come to a stratum of solid stone against which even those mighty armed and armored feet were powerless.

Backing out of the hole, the thing bellowed disconsolately. Then it spied Tam and Nina, who had, in the meantime, begun a stealthy retreat over the hill.

For a moment the horned monster stood rigid in the attitude of a pointer dog—its scaly tail sticking straight out behind it. Then, with a single thunderous bellow, it charged.

Tam guessed the import of that sound, and turning, saw that they were pursued.

"Run," he told Nina. "No man can hope to outrun this monster, but it may be that I can delay it long enough to enable you to escape."

"If you stay, then I'll stay to help you," cried Nina. She snatched a javelin from the bundle at Tam's back, and stood resolutely beside him.

But Tam did not wait for the creature to come up to them. Instead, he charged toward it, and hurled a javelin with all his might. The weapon glanced from the monster's armor-plate with no apparent effect. He hurled a second javelin, but with the same result. Then, seeing the hopelessness of this mode of defense, he whipped out the long, heavy tulwar he had taken from the Saiva guard, and stopped to receive the charge of the horned horror.

Nina, determined to stand by Tam to the last, had in the meantime started forward to join him. But she was suddenly jerked off her feet by a coarse grass rope that whipped down around her arms from behind, pinioning them to her sides. She cried out to attract Tam's attention, shrieking again and again as two powerful hairy arms caught her up. Then, with the ugly muzzle of a manacvan close to her face, she was carried back over the brow of the hill and dragged through the low entrance of a dark, stinking den on the other side.


Illustration

The manacvan carried her over the brow of the hill.


Meanwhile, Tam, although he had plainly heard the cries of Nina, had attributed them to her fear of the charging brute, and had not even glanced back. As the monster came thundering up, its sharp nasal horn extended to toss him, he leaped lightly to one side and brought his tulwar down on the armor-plated head with all the strength and skill at his command.



Read the exciting outcome of Tam's encounter with the most fearful monster of the subterranean world, and of Nina's capture by the hideous dog-faced man, in the November Weird Tales, on sale October 1st.



Gods of Asia, weird monsters and human beings mingle as this vivid novel moves, swiftly to its climax



PART FIVE

Illustration

Weird Tales, Nov 1931, with fifth part of "Tam, Son of the Tiger"


THE STORY THUS FAR

TAM, infant son of Major Charles Evans, American sportsman in Burma, was carried off by a white tigress and reared by her. The tigress had been cared for by a lama named Lozong, who had left her with her cub in a ruined pagoda in the jungle. Lozong returned to find the cub full-grown and Tam, about twelve years old, living with his strange foster-mother and brother.

Tam believed himself a tiger and acted as such until the Lama taught him languages, much of other branches of learning and the use of weapons.

One of Tam's jungle friends was a huge elephant he had named Ganesha. When Ganesha strayed, Tam went in search of him and rescued a beautiful girl in golden armor from a man-eating tiger. In language that resembled Sanscrit and Tibetan, both of which Tam understood, she told him that she was Nina, Princess of Arya, a country in a subterranean world called Iramatri.

Tam and the girl were attacked by four-armed giants riding beasts larger than elephants. Nina was carried off and Tam, stunned by a blow, was left for dead. Ganesha arrived as Tam recovered his senses and the jungle boy set off with the elephant in search of Nina. The trail led through a secret passage under the hills into a subterranean jungle. Here Tam was dragged from Ganesha by an andrewsarchus—a huge prehistoric carnivore.

Meanwhile, Tam's father, who had devoted his life to killing tigers, had seen Nina's bodyguard massacred by the four-armed white giants or Saivas. Major Evans and his party trailed the victors and met Lozong with the white tigress and her cub, seeking Tam.

Lozong and Evans joined forces and followed Tam into the underground world where the major sighted his son in time to save him from the andrewsarchus by a long-range shot. Then the Lozong-Evans party was captured by some blue four-armed giants.

Tam continued on Nina's trail until he was made prisoner by Saivas and taken to a city where he was condemned to be devoured by a hideous creature in a pit. He managed to escape and rescue Nina from warriors who were taking her to Siva.

Lozong and the two tigers also managed to escape and renewed their search for Tam. Ganesha, too, was hunting Tam and Lozong found a place where the elephant's trail merged with those of Tam and Nina.

Nina told Tam they must reach the Place of the Gods ahead of Siva to avert disaster to mankind, as Siva would ask for weapons of a terrible sort. In order to prevent this, she said, they must first go to her capital, Aryatun, and equip an expedition.

That night Tam wove a tree-top nest for Nina. The next morning, while taking fruit to her, a tree-cat leaped on him and knocked him off a limb a hundred feet from the ground. Falling on the tree-cat, he broke its back and was unhurt.

Lozong and the tigers appeared at this juncture.

Nina, Tam and Lozong rode away on the elephant and camped that night on the bank of a small stream. During the night Nina was captured by a monkey as large as a man, a minion of Hanuman, the monkey-god, which carried her away to a treetop city in Hanumavarta. Tam followed through the treetops and rescued her while Lozong, the tigers and the elephant followed on the ground.

Tam's father and his party had been captured by the Vaishnavas, taken before Vishnu and condemned to slavery, but the major secretly planned their escape.

Tam and Nina traveled toward Aryatun, guided by a little instrument she carried, the indicator of which always pointed toward her city. Crossing a river into the country of Brahmavarta and passing through a swamp filled with horrible plants and monsters, Tam suddenly was jerked upward by a rope dropped from a tree. He cut the rope and hurled his javelin upward, spearing a dog-faced man which Nina called a manacvan. Soon afterward another manacvan came over the brow of a hill pursued by a beast as big as a rhinoceros that was covered with short horns or spines. The manacvan escaped into a burrow and the horned beast charged Nina and Tam. Tam sped to meet the monster. Nina was about to follow when she was seized from behind by another manacvan that dragged her into its den. Tam, engaged with the horned monstrosity, did not hear her scream.

As the huge beast came thundering up, Tam brought his tulwar down on its armor-plated head with all the strength and skill at his command.


XVI. — THE WARRIORS OF BRAHM

AS the manacvan dragged her into its dark, stinking den, Nina struggled desperately to escape. But the rope which bound her arms to her sides made her efforts ineffectual, and the kicks she managed to plant on the body of the dog-faced man did not seem to discommode him any more than if they had been fly bites.

Once inside, he threw her to the ground and swiftly bound her wrists and ankles.

He was leaning over her, his fetid breath in her face, when there sounded a low growl from a far corner of the cave, and another dog-faced creature came hurrying up. This one, a female and evidently the mate of the first, sniffed at Nina for an instant, then opened her jaws to seize her by the throat. With a quick flip of his shoulder, her mate sent her sprawling.

Snarling her rage, the female came quickly to her feet, and leaped. But this time, her strong jaws fastened on the shoulder of her mate. In an instant the cave was in an uproar. Growls, snarls and yelps were intermingled as the two snapping and tearing manacvans rolled over and over in mortal combat.

Mingled with the din of the two contestants, Nina then heard a mournful howling sound, and saw six more of the creatures, about a quarter grown and evidently the offspring of the two that fought, trot out from a far corner of the cave. They circled around the embattled parents, barking, snarling and snapping at the legs and bushy tails of both, indiscriminately. Then, like children mimicking their elders, a pair of them engaged in a miniature duel that was a pretty fair imitation of the major combat. The uproar was deafening. For a time the two adult contestants seemed about evenly matched. The male was stronger, but the female was much the quicker of the two, hence able to slash him oftener with her long yellow fangs. Soon both were covered with blood from head to foot, but it was the male who was losing the larger share of his life's fluid. Presently his movements became slower—weaker.

Seeing this, the female clamped her powerful jaws on his throat, sank her fangs in, and hung on. He made violent efforts to dislodge her at first but soon grew feeble. Presently he sank to the floor on his back. Then, with a mighty heave of her shaggy head, she tore out the whole front of his throat.

Whining eagerly, now, the youngsters gathered around and lapped up the blood that gushed from the gaping wound. Then they began tearing off and devouring bits of the flesh of their male parent with their sharp little teeth. The female, after gnawing through the gristle and bone of a shoulder, tore off an arm and retired growling to a corner to devour it. The young ones swarmed over the mangled body, snapping, tearing, quarreling over choice bits.

The female took her time about finishing the arm and hand. Nina could hear her crunching the joints and cracking the bones for marrow.

Presently, she rose and slunk back across the cave. But this time, she made straight for the bound and helpless girl!


IN the meantime, Tam stood in more deadly peril than he had ever been in before, as the homed and armor-plated horror charged for the second time. He had met the first charge with a sidestep and a downward stroke of his tulwar that would easily have split the skull of a buffalo. But the skull of this monster was infinitely thicker, and in addition, protected by the bony plates of exceeding hardness, so his blade had only shorn away a horn and its supporting bony structure above one eye.


Illustration

Tam stood in more deadly peril than he had ever been in before.


This time he leaped to the opposite side, and again brought down his blade with all his strength. It bit deeply into the center of the skull—so deeply that he could not disengage it, and it was wrested from his hand. But apparently it had not found the tiny brain, for the monster whirled, and again charged him with the tulwar imbedded in its massive head.

His sole remaining weapons consisted of the kukrie and three javelins. He met the charge with one of the latter, thrusting for an eye as he made his agile side-leap. The point went true to the mark, but the slender shaft snapped off, leaving it in the bleeding eye socket. Then, instead of charging past him as it had previously done, the huge beast came to a stop, and turning, slashed at him with the long, curved horn on the bridge of its nose.

So sudden and surprizing was this change of tactics on the part of the monster, that Tam had no time to leap back. Dropping the broken javelin shaft, he grasped the horn with one hand, and the hilt of his imbedded tulwar with the other. Then the beast tossed him.

The horn slipped from his grasp, but the tulwar, wrenched from the grip of the bone in which it had been imbedded, came out in his hand as he was hurled up and over the beast's bristling back. He alighted sprawling, just behind the horned tail, and scrambled to his feet, tulwar in hand, expecting the creature to turn instantly and attack him once more.

But, to his surprize, he heard the thunderous tread of many beasts running, mingled with the clank of arms and the shouts of warriors. At first he thought the Saivas had followed, and at last discovered him, but as they charged down the hillside in rows, twenty abreast, he saw that these were no Saivas, though they bore considerable resemblance to them. Gigantic, and four-armed, their skins instead of being pasty white were bright red in color, And they bestrode black baluchitheriums. Like the Saivas, they couched long, triple-pointed lances, and Tam saw that they were charging, not at him, but at the homed monster which had just tossed him.

It was this charge which had distracted the attention of the beast from Tam. And toward the oncoming riders it now directed the fury which the pain of its wounds had incited. With lowered head it charged straight into the bristling line of lances.

There was a shattering of stout wooden shafts as the lance points struck but did not penetrate that armored body. Then, swinging its massive head to the right and left with the motions of a rooting boar, the beast tossed and slashed open such baluchitheriums as came within its reach. In less than a minute a half dozen of the giant pachyderms lay on the ground with their bodies ripped open. Two of them had pinned their riders so they could not rise, and Tam saw the homed horror snap off and swallow the head of one of these as a bird might pluck and swallow a cherry.

Belabored with maces and tulwars and prodded with tridents, the monster whirled, first to the right, then to the left, goring and often disemboweling the mounts of its enemies with deadly efficiency.

One rider, who by the richness of his accoutrements and trappings appeared to be the leader or chief of the red warriors, displayed greater bravery than any of the others. While most of them attacked the monster from the flanks or rear, he reined his mount again and again toward its front, slashing with his tulwar and skilfully retreating each time it charged. Presently the beast, ignoring its other enemies, singled out this particular rider with an unexpected charge. As skilfully as before, he wheeled his mount and retreated. But he had not traveled more than fifty feet when his baluchitherium stepped into a hole and pitched him over its head. He alighted on his back with a heavy thud and a clank of metal, not ten feet from where Tam stood.

Like an avenging demon, the horned monster thundered after him. It ripped open his fallen steed in passing, and then bore down on him with tremendous speed. He attempted to rise, but had evidently been injured by his fall, as he sank back helplessly to his elbows. Seeing the plight of the fallen chieftain, Tam bounded forward, directly in the path of the charging beast. As it came up to him he leaped to the left, and brought down his tulwar with every bit of strength and skill at his command, aiming at the deep cut which he had previously made in the skull.

The weapon struck true, and this time penetrated to twice the depth it had attained before.

As the beast hurtled past him, the blade snapped off at the hilt, but it was obvious that this time the tulwar had done its work. The monster stopped—attempted to whirl toward Tam. But it moved slowly—its three-toed feet dragging. For a moment it stood on wobbly, uncertain legs. Then it listed like a foundered ship, and fell over on its side, dead.

Flinging away the useless hilt of his tulwar, Tam went over and helped the injured red giant to rise. For a moment the chieftain leaned on his shoulder, steadying himself, while his warriors gathered solicitously around.

"By the seven great names!" exclaimed the officer, grinning down at Tam. "That was a powerful blow. I owe you my life."

"And I owe you mine," replied Tam, "so we are even. Had you not arrived when you did, this monster would have gotten the better of me."

One of the warriors had, meanwhile, been tugging at Tam's blade, imbedded in the skull. Presently it came away, and he peered at the wound for an instant.

"Indeed, my lord," he said, addressing the chieftain, "it was truly a marvelous cut, for it sheared clear through the brain! It was a stroke of which Brahm, himself, might have been proud."

"Through the brain, say you?" exclaimed the chieftain. "Why, that's unheard of. To even reach the brain is a feat for our strongest, and this seldom done. Who are you, Aryan, and what do you here in Brahmavarta?"

"I am no Aryan," he replied, "but come from the outer world where men call me 'Tam.' As for what I am doing in your country, I was passing through it with the Princess of Arya, whom I do not now see among you. What have you done with her?"

"From the outer world, and with the Princess of Arya? What mean you by such wild statements? Has the day-blaze got to your brain?"

"She stood here behind me when the beast first attacked," said Tam, ignoring the imputation against his sanity. "Now she has disappeared. It is as if the earth had opened and swallowed her up."

"Come, come, my friend," said the chief, patting him on the shoulder. "This ordeal has been too much for you. There was no one standing behind you when we rode up. My men and I can vouch for that. Let me give you a little wine from my flask, Then, when you have rested and eaten, ride back to Brahmatun with us."

"I see you think me demented," said Tam. "Come with me, then, and I'll show you I'm not."

He walked back a little way, the tall chieftain striding beside him, and several of his warriors following in their wake. As he expected, he soon found Nina's small footprints and pointed them out to the red giant.

"You'll have to admit I didn't make those tracks," he said, "and neither did yon dead beast."

"By the gods on the mountain!" exclaimed the chieftain. "These are the tracks of a woman! But if it is Nina, why she is a goddess as well as a princess, and could easily disappear without leaving a trace."

Tam suddenly caught sight of something else. It was the track of a large bare foot, human in form, but leaving deep paw-prints which easily identified the creature that had made them. Trained woodsman that he was, there instantly came to him the solution of the mystery. Nina had told him that where one manacvan was, others would be found dose by. She had told him, also, that these creatures were man-eaters, and of the horrible fate that awaited women and girls who fell into their clutches.

He instantly set out on the trail of the dog-faced man followed by the puzzled Brahman chieftain. The trail led directly over the brow of the hill and into a filthy, evil-smelling burrow on the other side.

Tam seized the chiefs tulwar and plunged into the opening. At first he could see nothing in the darkness of the interior but he heard a yapping snarling sound which appeared to come from many little throats, suddenly punctuated by a thunderous growl, and followed by the rush of a large and heavy body. Dimly he saw, hurtling toward him through the gloom, one of the hideous monstrosities which Nina had called a manacvan. The dog-like mouth was open in an ugly snarl, and fetid saliva drooled from the foam-flecked jaws.

Tam whirled the tulwar in a flashing arc. The hideous thing before him flew apart, its upper half falling one way while the lower fell another. But he had not yet rid himself of his enemies, for the young manacvans, always eager for fresh blood, were snapping and slashing at his legs. They were, however, more annoying than deadly, and a few blows of the tulwar silenced their voices forever.


AT the far end of the cave his eyes, . now accustomed to the gloom of the interior, caught the glint of armor. With a glad cry he bounded across the bone-littered floor and caught up the slender gold-clad form of Nina. With his knife, he quickly cut her bonds, and then carried her out into the light and fresh air, where the Brahman chieftain and a number of his followers awaited him. They greeted him with shouts of acclamation as he emerged from the cave mouth with the girl in his arms. But when he stood her on her feet and they were able to see her beautiful features and insignia, the Brahmans, to a man, knelt down before her.

With a gesture that was at once imperious and friendly, she bade them arise.

"Holy priestess, illustrious princess, and bright and shining goddess of the Aryans," said the chieftain. "We, the humble warriors of the great god, Brahm, extend you his greetings and salutations, since you have seen fit to honor us by setting foot upon his territory. If there is some way that we may be of service to you, you have but to name it and we will gladly do your bidding."

Nina smiled, and the smile was at once that of a woman and a princess.

"You may escort me to my own land of Arya if you would profit yourselves and lay up merit by serving me," she said.

"We hear and we obey, majesty," replied the chief. Then he issued a few swift orders to his men. Two of them quickly dismounted and led their huge beasts up to where Tam and Nina stood. After helping the two into the saddles, they retired to the rear ranks, each clutching a stirrup of one of his fellows.

Placing himself at the head of the column, the chief then gave the order to advance. Directly behind him, riding side by side in saddles of such great size that they were made to look almost like children by comparison, rode Tam and Nina. Behind them came the giant red warriors, riding by twos.

All that day, and until the red light of evening replaced the blue-white day blaze, they rode thus without further adventure. Then the giant red warriors made camp for the night. Nina was given the chief s tent and was regaled with the finest food the knapsacks of the Brahmans afforded. Tam took pot luck with the others, and when the meal had ended, stretched out with them around the fire. With two of the giant warriors standing guard over her tent, he felt no apprehension for her safety, and soon fell asleep.


IN the orange glow of dawn the party breakfasted, broke camp, and set out once more. The shadows had grown perpendicular and the day blaze was at its hottest when Tam saw, far ahead of them, the heaving, scintillating bosom of a broad river spanned by a great arched bridge. Beyond the river a series of gray, stony bluffs supported much verdure.

"The River Ind," cried Nina, "and beyond it my own dear country of Arya."

Swiftly the huge beasts carried them to the foot of the bridge. Here a ringing challenge from a group of red bridge guards was quickly answered by the chief of the red warriors.

"If you would cross the bridge," said the guard, "let me see your passports."

"We have no need for passports," replied the chief, "as we form a guard of honor for the great goddess, Nina, who is returning to her capital."

"Girl or goddess," replied the guard, doggedly, "she can neither leave this country nor enter Arya without the proper papers."

"Dolt!" thundered the chief of the warriors. "For Brahm or Nina there are no such things as passports. Now will you let us pass, oaf, or shall we ride you down?"

"Pass, then," replied the surly guard, "as it seems that I can not do otherwise than permit you to break the law."

With the thunder of many huge hoofs on the plank flooring, the cavalcade galloped across the bridge. At the other end they were brought to a halt by a white man of about Tam's size and build, who wore the insignia and steel armor of Arya.

"Your passports, please," he demanded politely of the chief.

For answer, that individual reined his mount to one side, revealing to the eyes of the startled guard the gold-clad form of his young ruler. Swiftly, he sank to his knees as did those other Aryan soldiers who stood nearby awaiting his orders.

"Arise, men of Arya," said the princess, sweetly. "These brave warriors of Brahm have volunteered to escort me to my capital. You will therefore let them pass."

"Harkening and obedience, majesty," replied the officer of her guard. At a wave of his hand the men stepped aside and stood respectfully at salute while the cavalcade passed through.

It was late that evening when, tinted by the scarlet light of the waning day, the magnificent towers, turrets and battlements of Aryatun, the beautiful, were revealed to the startled eyes of Tam as they rounded a sharp curve on the road.

"My capital," said Nina. "Is it not lovely?"

"It's magnificent," Tam replied, as his eyes drank in the grandeur of the scene.


XVII. — AN UNEXPECTED RECEPTION

ON the day following their enslavement by Vishnu, Major Evans and his party, after having partaken of their frugal breakfast, were promptly marched back to the building site where they had been so industriously and laboriously shaping stone the day before under the supervision of their gigantic blue overseers.

On the way over, no word passed between the major and his friend, Doctor Green, of the plan of escape which they had formulated the night before. Nor did Yusuf, the Panthan, nor Dhava, the Aryan, show by word or gesture that any such plot was afoot, though they had been taken into the full confidence of the two Americans.

When they reached the place they were detailed to the various posts which they had occupied on the previous day, and were soon hard at work. Then it was that the doctor and Dhava started work on the plan which the major's brain had originated, but which, because of his ignorance of the language, he was unable at this time to assist in carrying out.

The fellow who worked next to the doctor was a four-armed blue giant, once a soldier of Vishnu, but condemned to hard labor for insubordination. It was easy to see that this individual, who had formerly led the carefree life of a warrior, was far from satisfied with his lot. Speaking quietly, so he might not be overheard by one of the overseers, the doctor asked him if he would like his freedom.

"I can think of nothing I should like better," replied the giant, "but there is no hope."

"You fellows are entirely too docile," said the doctor. "All you lack is strong leadership. This we can supply you in the person of Major Evans, whose business it is to lead warriors."

"Vouchsafe me a leader, a weapon, and but one chance in ten to fight through, and I am your man," said the giant.

"You shall have all three, and soon," replied the doctor. "At the cry: 'For Nina!' you will seize your maul or chisel, or a granite fragment, or whatever weapon or tool may lie near your hand, and attack your overseer, depriving him of his weapons and being ready to follow the white officer in a break for liberty. The time will be just before nightfall, so spread the word, making sure that you do not disclose your plans to any not in sympathy with the cause. Then await the signal, and be ready to act when it is given."

All through the day there was much buzzing of seemingly idle conversation among the slaves. The overseers stood listlessly about, only noting that the workers were performing their tasks with a little more vim than usual, and therefore condoning the extra conversational activity. Busiest of all in spreading the word were the doctor and Dhava. While he hewed and polished the immense triangular blocks of blue stone the major, though he understood not a word of the conversation, was well pleased by the apparent favor with which his plan was being received.

Shortly after the slaves had eaten their noon meal a number of aged and richly attired blue giants came to the building site and summoned the major and doctor. Accompanying them were several slaves who carried in a shallow cushioned box, suspended from two poles, the arms and ammunition belts and pouches which the Vaishnavas had taken from the major's party.

These, thought the major, must be the sages of Vishnu who had been ordered to investigate the weapons which were hitherto unknown in Iramatri, and which had caused such consternation among the Vaishnavan warriors. He turned to the doctor.

"Let's try to stall them off until just before nightfall," he said. "Then we'll grab our weapons, shout the war cry, and be all set to fight our way out."

"Good idea," replied the scientist. "We'll do our best to hold them until evening."

And so, during the long afternoon, the sages of Vishnu listened first to a long dissertation on the origin of gunpowder and the various chemical constituents used in its manufacture. Then they were regaled with a historical account of the various weapons in which gunpowder had been used through medićval times. But by the time the doctor had come down to the match-lock and arquebus, the advent of the scarlet evening glow announced the coming of darkness, and the moment for which the slaves had been waiting all day had arrived.

The major looked significantly at the doctor who, in turn, flashed a comprehensive glance at Dhava and Yusuf. Then the four, as if impelled by a single impulse, leaped for the firearms which lay so tantilizingly near. So unexpected was their move that the accomplishment of the thing was ridiculously easy. The major whose hand first fell on his forty-five Colt six-shooter leveled it in time to bring down two giant blue guards who, with upraised tulwars had sprung forward to cut them down. At sight of the sudden and terrible deaths wrought by these weapons the sages of Vishnu abandoned their dignity and fled incontinently.

"For Nina!" shouted the doctor, at the top of his voice.

"For Nina!" echoed his three companions. And the war cry was picked up and roared by a thousand throats. Slaves grabbed their working tools—mauls, chisels, wedges, saws, and such granite fragments as were small enough to hurl yet large enough to do injury. A few moments, and all the guards and overseers lay dead on the ground, their weapons stripped from them and appropriated by the howling, blood-crazed slaves.

Then it was that Major Evans, with Doctor Green interpreting his commands and his small party now fully armed with rifles and pistols, led the assault upon that portion of the wall which stood between them and freedom. To the slaves, schooled in the cutting and shaping of stone, it was but the work of a few moments to open a breach through which two men could pass abreast. Then the major, the first to enter, led his motley army out into the jungle which fringed the city walls.

There was a thunderous roar of hoofs mingled with the shouts of warriors as the last few slaves hurried through the breach, for the alarm had been given at the palace and Vishnu did not propose to permit them to escape thus easily. But the huge baluchitheriums were unable to pass through the low breach which had been made in the wall, nor were they able to scale it, so their riders were compelled to turn them about and dash for the nearest city gate before they could even begin to take up the pursuit.

In the meantime darkness had fallen—the complete inky darkness of early evening in Iramatri—so that the escaped slaves melted away into the jungle like so many wraiths.


MAJOR EVANS had traveled by day and by night in all the jungles of the upper earth, but in none of them had he ever encountered such tremendous and terrific beasts as those that wandered here after nightfall. With the skill of a trained woodsman, he did his best to keep his party out of the way of the great hunting carnivores. But the long column of men strung out behind him covered too much territory to make this possible. Thrice some huge jungle flesh-eater cut through the line in the blackness, and each time a man was lost.

Like his princess, Dhava carried one of the luminous-faced bow-shaped median-isms, one indicator of which pointed always toward Aryatun. And barring such detours as they were forced to make to avoid roving carnivores and pass around insurmountable obstacles, the major kept his party traveling toward that city.

The advent of the violet-silver night light which corresponded to moonlight was a great help to them, but also a source of danger, as they would the more readily be revealed to the pursuing Vaishnavas should they come within sight of them.

As Vaishnavarta was east of the River Ind, they were not forced to cross this, nor any other stream of formidable size, in order to reach Arya. After they had passed the Vaishnavarta-Arya border, which was shortly aft-er daybreak, the major divided his motley army into small units, which he advised to scatter, each unit from then on looking out for itself. Then he and his three companions, Doctor Green, Yusuf and Dhava, struck out boldly for the Vaishnatun-Aryatun paved road, and soon came to one of the caravanserais which Arya maintained for her soldiers and for travelers within her borders. They were promptly placed under arrest, but this they had expected, and yielded their weapons without offering any resistance.

Although Dhava was unable to convince the commander of the border guards that they were innocent of any designs on the empire, he did persuade him that they were much in need of food and a few hours' rest, and that this kindness to them might be the means of his advancement when it should come to the ears of the princess. In the meantime, riding mammoths were sent for, and the prisoners were thus enabled to travel on to Aryatun in as much comfort as any captives might expect.

When they reached the capital late that evening they were placed in one of the palace rooms, ostensibly guests, but actually prisoners.

"What the devil do they mean?" fumed the major. "Here we risked our lives in order to try to rescue their princess, and they treat us like a bunch of convicts. Do you hear those guards pacing outside our door?"

"I think they'll change their attitude, once we've explained things to the proper authorities," said the doctor. "I'll ask Dhava what he makes of it."

For some time the scientist held converse with Dhava in the Aryan tongue. Then he turned to the major.

"I'm afraid we're in for it," he said. "Dhava doesn't hold out much hope. We've run into a bit of family politics here that rather puts us on the spot. Nina, it seems, has a cousin who is an aspirant for her throne—would, in fact, be next in line for it in case of her demise or departure for a certain length of time. And this cousin's father, Nina's uncle, is ruler, pro tem., while she's away. This amiable chap, whose name is Nirgo, likes the job of bossing Arya. He wouldn't be at all averse to seeing his daughter, Bina, ruling in Nina's place and assuming her name and title."

"That does tangle things up a bit, doesn't it?" agreed the major. "But what can we do about it?"

"Well have to follow through as planned," replied the scientist, "and tell our story to this Nirgo. Of course he'll pretend not to believe it. His actions in keeping us prisoner show that. Our only chance is that some of Nina's loyal subjects may hear and believe our story—then force his hand. In this event he'll be compelled to treat us as honored guests, and to equip a powerful expedition against the Saivas for the rescue of the princess."

Servants brought them food and drink that evening, but much to their surprize, Nirgo did not send for them. Evidently he had heard their story from the lips of the officer of the border guard who had captured them, and was deciding whether or not he should grant them an audience at all.

It was not until the morrow, when the day-blaze had reached the meridian, that their door was flung open by an officer of the palace guard and the four men were conducted through a maze of hallways and passageways to a small audience chamber.

Seated on a throne which stood on a dais at one end of the chamber was a red-nosed, beetle-browed man of immense girth. He was richly robed in imperial purple and wore a dagger and tulwar, both of which had elaborately jeweled hilts. Resting slightly askew on his bullet head was a golden crown in which many precious stones blazed and sparkled. His pudgy fingers, so laden with rings as to be almost invisible, were interlaced over his immense paunch, which he cradled in his lap as tenderly as ever a mother held her first-born infant.

It was significant that, except for the two guards who stood on either side of the throne, he was alone.

As the four men were brought before him, he looked at them appraisingly for a moment, then interrogated the officer of the guard:

"Who are these low creatures?"

"One calls himself 'Dhava, Captain of the Bodyguard of Princess Nina.' The others, though two of them have the look of Aryans, claim to be men of the outer world who saw our princess captured by the Saivas and followed to rescue her."

"What an absurd story," sneered the figure on the throne. "But of course they might invent fictions for officers of the guard, reserving the truth for the ears of the provisional maharaja, alone. We are kindly disposed toward them, and will give them the opportunity to tell us the truth."

"You have heard the benevolent words of His Imperial Majesty," thundered the officer. "Now choose your spokesman, tell him your story, and be sure that you speak truth, for otherwise it will go hard with you."

Doctor Green translated for the major. "What will we tell the old buzzard?" he asked. "Evidently he's dead set against hearing the truth."

"Why, tell him the truth anyway, and be damned to him," replied the major, hotly. "There are six guards and an officer present who will hear it, and among them there is almost sure to be one man loyal to the princess. Then, let's see him keep us in jail any longer, or order us executed."

"Guess you're right," said the doctor. "There's nothing to be gained, that I can see, by lying just to please him. In any event, we know too much to suit him, and that means taps for us."

"Cease talking in your strange tongue, and tell the truth to His Imperial Majesty," warned the officer.

The doctor accordingly began at the beginning, and told his story completely and truthfully. He noticed that the beetling brows of Nirgo contracted more and more as he proceeded with the narrative, and that by the time he had finished, the thick imperial lips were pursed in a manner that boded no good for the prisoners.

"So!" roared Nirgo, when he had finished. "You had the effrontery to lie to us, after all!" He clapped his fat hands.

Instantly there burst into the room fully two score warriors, who had evidently been awaiting this signal. Eleven of them carried gags and thongs, and in a trice, every man who had occupied the room a moment before except the bloated monstrosity on the throne, was bound and gagged. The guards and the officer were also deprived of their weapons.

Nirgo waved his hand, and the four men of the major's party were led away. After traversing a number of corridors and hallways they descended a circular stairway cut from stone. Down, down they went, until it seemed that the palace must be at least a mile above them. The air grew damp and musty, moisture trickled from the slimy walls, and the dim oil lamps, set in niches at regular intervals along the way, added to the stench with their carbon-laden smoke.

At length they came to the bottom of the shaft and were led across an uneven slimy floor, covered with moldering human bones, to a wall from which depended a number of thick rusty chains. At the ends of these dangled strong iron collars. From one chain there hung a festering corpse, and from another, a whitening skeleton. Bones were scattered everywhere.

An iron collar was clamped around the neck of each prisoner and fastened with a padlock. Then the bonds and gags were removed.

"I have the honor to inform you," said one of the warriors, "of a decree by His Imperial Majesty, Nirgo of Arya. If any of you so much as mention his past adventures, either to one another, or to a guard or attendant, his tongue will be tom out by the roots, grilled and forcibly fed to him."

With this, the warriors turned and clanked away, leaving the prisoners there in the flickering yellow light, sickened by the charnel stench of moldering bones and festering bodies, and unable either to stand up or lie down because of the shortness of their collar chains.


SOME hours later, an old and toothless guard brought them rye cakes and water. The major noticed a bunch of keys swinging from his belt, and from the size of the majority of them, surmised that they fitted the collar locks. If he could but get his hands on that jailer!

They sipped their water, but were unable to eat the hard and nearly tasteless cakes because of the nausea induced by their horrible surroundings.

Seeing this, the guard grinned toothlessly.

"You do not want this poor fare, now," he said, "but in a short while you will devour it eagerly, and beg for more. Soon you will become very thin. Then you will get like that," pointing to the cadaver "like that," indicating the moldering skeleton, "and at last like these," with a sweep of his hand toward the bones that littered the floor.

"What a cheerful little ray of sunshine you turned out to be!" growled the doctor.

For answer, the guard grinned, displaying his withered, blue-white gums, and departed, cackling horribly.

Shortly thereafter, they heard the clank of armored men descending the spiral stairway. Then there marched into the room the bound and gagged guards who had conducted them into the presence of Nirgo, and the two who had stood on either side of the throne, each between two warriors. Behind the procession strode a tall masked man, bearing across his shoulder an immense, two-handed tulwar.

The bound and gagged guards were lined up in a row before the prisoners chained to the wall. Then the warriors stepped back, and the masked giant with the two-handed tulwar came forward. Lowering it, he carefully tested its keenness with his thumb. Apparently not quite satisfied, he drew a stone from his belt-pouch and carefully whetted a part of the blade. Again he tested it with his thumb, then plucked a hair from beneath his helmet and drew it along the edge. It was instantly shorn in two.

Replacing the stone in his belt-pouch, he stood up and began whirling the long keen blade above his head until it formed a flashing, shimmering circle. Slowly he moved toward the line of bound and gagged men. Suddenly the head of the first flew from his shoulders. For an instant the body maintained its erect posture, a little fountain of blood spouting upward from the severed neck. Then it slumped to the floor.

Scarcely had the first body fallen ere the second prisoner met the fate of the first. Then, one by one, the shimmering blade removed head after head, until there lay on the floor, seven gory heads and seven headless corpses.

The blood-spattered executioner paused, leaning on his dripping blade, and gazing at the four prisoners chained to the wall.

"It is dangerous," he said, "to know too much, and trebly dangerous to talk too much. Thus endeth the lesson."

For a moment, the four chained prisoners caught the glitter of his eyes through the slits of the hideous death-mask he wore. Then he turned, shouldered his immense blade, and marched away, followed by the warriors.

The heads and bodies were left, undisturbed, where they had fallen.


XVIII. — THE TREACHERY OF NIRGO

AS Tam and Nina rode side by side on the huge baluchitheriums with the beautiful city of Aryatun looming before them in the scarlet light of the waning day, and the troop of four-armed red giants forming a guard of honor behind them, there suddenly charged out at them from both sides of the road, a host of Aryan warriors mounted on mammoths.

"What's this?" asked Tam. "Are your own warriors attacking you?"

"Treachery!" cried Nina. "They wear the livery of my uncle, Nirgo."

Tam whipped out his tulwar, parried a blow from the foremost rider, and split him from crown to groin. The riderless mammoth then shouldered past, and another mounted warrior took the place of the first. Tam served him in like manner, and waited for a third. This was easy, compared to fighting the gigantic Saivas, he thought.

As he engaged the third man, he noticed that the red giants, hopelessly outnumbered by the attacking Aryans, and evidently believing they had been purposely led into a trap by Tam and Nina, had turned their steeds and were galloping back down the highway. This left only Tam and Nina to fight it out against fully two hundred mounted warriors. And Nina was unarmed.

Splitting the head of his third adversary. Tam reined his huge mount up beside her, and grasping her around the waist, set her on his saddle bow. Then, with tulwar slashing to the right and left, he spurred his steed forward, attempting to cut his way through the circle of attackers. But it was hopeless. The mammoths now stood shoulder to shoulder, and beyond them the charging baluchitherium could not pass.

Flailing tulwars and maces hemmed him in. As fast as he could strike down one warrior, another leaped in to take his place.

Someone threw a mace. It struck Tam's right elbow, numbing his arm. He strove to hold his tulwar but a blow from the warrior in front of him sent it hurtling from his grasp.

A soldier leaped at him from behind, flinging a heavy thong around his arms and pinioning them to his sides. Then both he and Nina were dragged from the saddle.

The girl was placed in a howdah, where two powerful females, already installed, saw to it that she did not show her face. Tam, bound hand and foot, was thrown across the neck of a mammoth like a sack of meal, the driver, sitting just behind him and carelessly holding him in place while he directed the great beast. When they drew close to the city gates a coarse cloth was rolled around him, hiding him completely and also shutting out his vision of what went on around him.

He heard the challenge of the sentries, and the opening of the city gates before the cavalcade filed in. Then he judged by the sounds and motions that the beast which carried him was threading numerous thorofares. Presently he was lowered to the shoulders of four men, carried up a flight of steps, and into a building where the sandals of the men clattered on the hard tiles. Presently the men who carried him stopped and lowered him to the floor. Then they unrolled him from the bundle of cloth in which he had been wrapped and jerked him to his feet.

Seated on a throne on a dais before him, Tam saw a red-nosed, beetle-browed and extremely corpulent individual. A short distance from him he saw Nina, who had been stripped of her golden armor and insignia and now wore a soft dinging garment of white material, standing between two guards. She was looking defiantly up at the bloated figure on the throne—her eyes flashing.

"And so, uncle, you stoop at last to treason," she cried. "Do you think my people will permit you to go through with this?"

"They do not know," wheezed the fat one on the throne. "My daughter Bina is as near like you as if she had been your twin. The priests will gladly accept her when your allotted time for absence is up. She will be Nina, Princess-Goddess of Arya. And you—why you will be but dust unless you choose to accept my terms."

"Terms! I make terms with you? Absurd!"

"Then you do not care to hear them?"

"No."

"Very well. I promise you that a few days' confinement, such as I have prepared for you will make you quite eager to hear them—and to accept. As for this, your champion, called the Son of the White Tiger, who it is said has come to fulfil a prophecy, he will never live to accomplish it. There will be confinement for him, also, in the dungeon where his sire and three friends are already imprisoned—confinement and a slow, withering death, during which he will have time to reflect that it is always best to leave the fulfilment of prophecies to the prophets."

"You would dare do this, beast?"

"For the accomplishment of my desires and a throne for Bina I would dare anything. Of course if, at the end of a few days, you decide to hear and accede to my terms, you may be in time to save the life of this youth."

Tam had heard more than enough to make his blood boil. Standing between two guards with his arms bound behind him, he fumed impotently. Suddenly throwing all discretion to the winds, and sure that his action could bring naught but sudden death, he whirled to the right, then to the left, flinging his guards from him with such force that both crashed to the floor. Then he leaped up on the dais, and with all the force he could muster, planted one foot in the puffy and tenderly nurtured midriff of the purple-clad potentate.

With a grunt and a moan, the usurper bounced from his throne and collapsed on the dais. Tam raised his foot for another kick, but it never landed. For at that instant, something collided with the back of his head. There was a brief instant of whirling, multi-hued stellar constellations, followed by oblivion.


SOME time later, he had no means of knowing how long, Tam came to his senses with the feeling that he was strangling. Automatically, his hand went to his neck, where he felt a thick metal collar. He tugged at the thing, and finding that he could not loosen it, sat up, whereupon the strangling sensation disappeared. Then he noticed that there was, impinging on his olfactory nerves, a most horrible and disgusting stench. And he began to be conscious that his head was aching, almost unbearably.

He opened his eyes. In a dim and flickering yellow light cast by a sputtering oil lamp set in a niche in the wall at some distance from him, he saw a corpse, its neck encircled by a collar like the one he was wearing, sagging from a thick rusty chain attached to the wall. The cadaver was quite obviously in an advanced state of putrefaction, and its festering eyes stared at him sightlessly in a manner that made him shudder.

Beyond the corpse, Tam saw a skeleton hanging by a chain and collar. Slowly, he turned his aching head. Lying on the bone-littered floor in front of him he saw seven headless bodies, with the severed heads scattered around them. Turning still further, he gave a start of surprize, for chained to the wall on the other side of him was a living human being. And beyond him were three others, similarly fettered.

The man nearest him smiled.

"You're Tam, aren't you?" he asked.

"Yes. And you?"

"I'm your father," was the unexpected answer.

"My father!" It was some time before Tam could realize the magnitude of this statement. The elder man extended his arms, and the youth moved toward them, but was jerked up short by his chain, which was contrived too cunningly to permit adjacent prisoners even the touch of hands.

"I'm glad to see you, my father," said Tam.

"And I you, son," replied the major, a huskiness suddenly creeping into his voice, "even though it's rather a messy place to meet in. But I've been in worse. Have you?"

"Yes, once," replied Tam, remembering the Black Pit of the Saivas.

"Meet my friends who have recently been sharing my good and bad fortunes," said the major. "The gentleman next me with the flaming beard is Doctor Green, a scientist who is continually poking about looking for old bones and stones, thereby getting himself and his friends into a lot of trouble."

"Glad to meet you, lad," said the doctor, "but sorry to find you here."

Tam acknowledged, and the major continued:

"Next on my right is Yusuf, who has been with me in many a tight place. A most execrable liar, and a beautiful scrapper. Give him a charay and a cause, and he'll carve his way out of almost any situation.

"Next beyond Yusuf, is Dhava, the Aryan. He can't understand me fully, as he only knows a little English, but you can rely on him. He was captain of Nina's bodyguard, and went down fighting for her. Fortunately, his helmet saved him from mortal injury, and the doctor and I came along in time to revive him."

"Any man who has fought for Nina is my good friend," said Tam.

"So? It has come to that? Well, I don't blame you, son. She's a pippin."

The major settled down with his back against the wall, thoughtfully stuffed his pipe and lit it. Tam also leaned back and tenderly caressed the lump on his head.

"Where's Nina now?" asked the major, presently.

"Nirgo has her imprisoned, somewhere in the palace, I suppose," replied Tam. "He threatened her, the fat toad! Said something about some terms of his which she would be glad to meet, within three or four days, and announced his intention of establishing his daughter, Bina, on her throne."

"So much our friend Dhava surmised. And moreover, he tells us that if but one man could escape and get word to one of the loyal followers of the Princess, Nirgo and his confederates would soon be where we are, with the prospect of losing their heads. He says that the only men left alive who know of our presence here, wear the marks of Nirgo."

"The marks of Nirgo? Where do they wear them, and what are they like?"

"The minions of each royal family wear the coat of arms of that family tattooed on the backs of their hands and in miniature on their ear lobes. Nirgo's symbol is the head of a mammoth surmounted by a gold crown with the inscription: 'The strength to rule.'"

"And Nina's followers. What of them?"

"They are similarly tattooed, but with the symbol of the goddess, Nina, the golden disc of the sun above the silver crescent of the moon, set on a uraeus, and below the words: 'Jagan Mata,' which, I am told, mean: 'Mother of the World.'"

"Then," said Tam, "it is plain that we must get out of here, somehow, and tell our story to men who wear this symbol, avoiding or finding the means to silence those who wear the mammoth's head emblem."

"I have noticed," said the major, "that our jailer is tattooed with the symbol of Nirgo."

"Our jailer?"

"The old dotard who brings our food, and who also carries the keys which would undoubtedly unlock these collars. If I could but get my hands on him! But he's canny enough to keep well out of reach."

"Perhaps I can find a way," said Tam.

He looked at his heavy chain speculatively, and at the ring, fastened to an immense rusty pin cemented into the solid stone wall, to which it was attached. Turning, he set his feet against the wall, and gripping the chain with both hands, tugged with all his might. But it would not give even a fraction of an inch.

"How soon do you expect this jailer?" he asked.

"It is nearly time for him to bring the food and water," said his father, "unless he should change his schedule."

Tam studied the links of the chain. Each link formed a twisted figure eight, but the rings were only bent together, not welded. By holding two links center to center, he was able to employ one as a lever against the other. He twisted with all his might. One circle of the figure eight bent a little. Again he gave it a mighty twist, and found that he was able to slip the links apart. He was free!

Faltering footsteps sounded on the stairway.

"Look out!" called the major in a hoarse whisper. "The jailer is coming!"

Tam squatted back against the wall, holding his chain so the two severed ends met. In came an old man bearing a tray of rye cakes and stone mugs, and a stone water bottle.

"By the seven heads of the first Naga," he cackled. "I'll warrant ye eat the cakes this time, stench or no stench." Then he observed Tam. "What's this? A new prisoner, by the bones of Krishna! And only a boy. No doubt his stomach will be quite delicate because of his neighbor on the right."

He tossed a rye cake into the filth at Tam's feet, took a mug from the tray, and reached for the water bottle.

Tam watched him with tensed muscles. Like a tiger, he had waited for just the right moment, and like a tiger he now sprang straight at his mocking jailer. But it seemed that the old fellow was not so easily taken off his guard. With a grin that displayed his blue-white, toothless gums, he whipped a dagger from his belt and met the charge of the unarmed youth.


NINA was astounded at the fearlessness of Tam when he shook his two guards from him and mounted the dais to plant his foot in the huge soft paunch of Nirgo. She screamed a warning when one of the guards, recovering his balance, unhooked a mace from his belt, and leaping up behind Tam, brought it down on the back of his head.

But her warning came too late. Tam toppled from the dais, and lay senseless on the floor below with one guard standing over him awaiting the command to beat out his brains, while the other helped the gasping and groaning usurper back to the throne. It was some time before Nirgo was able to speak.

"Slay him not," he wheezed, "but chain him in the dungeon with the others from the outer earth. He would die too easily this way. We must have time to devise a death, lingering and horrible, which will in some measure compensate for the magnitude of his crime."

The two guards caught up the unconscious Tam, one by his shoulders, the other by his feet, and carried him out.

"And now," said Nirgo, turning toward Nina and once more composing his pudgy hands over his great belly, "we will attend to your case."

"Speak not of my case, but rather of this young man's," said Nina. "Do you mean to slay him?"

"Assuredly," replied Nirgo. "You saw what he did. Think you that we would permit any man to live after he had thus attempted our life? He shall die a death of lingering agony."

"Slay him," said Nina, with flashing eyes, "and I will promise you a death ten times as painful as his, with the curse of Nina to follow you to the nether world."

For a moment the usurper quaked on his throne. The temporal powers of Nina he did not fear, for he was in control, but the curse of the great goddess was something else. It could follow a man into the nether world, drive his wandering spirit into a worm, a slug, or some other low organism, and cause him to live a million lowly and harassed lives before he could once more become even a man of the lowest order. Then he remembered that if his plans worked, his daughter Bina would soon be Princess-Goddess. She would then become the temporal Nina, with the power to undo the curse. He grinned a porcine grin.

"I am in command here," he said. "As for your curse, I do not fear it. My daughter will see that the blessings of the Jagan Mata descend upon me throughout life, and follow me in death. As for this youth, whose life you seem to value so highly, it may be that I will permit him to live—grant him life because my dear young niece desires that he be spared. Of course I shall expect my niece, in this event, to be amenable to certain suggestions which I will make to her, touching her future welfare."

"You will not slay him," said Nina. "You dare not. Nor will I temporize with you."

"Ha! We shall see!" He scowled beneath his beetling brows. "To the cage with her, guards."

Nina's two guards, after gagging her and carefully muffling her so that she would not be recognized, hurried her from the room. After threading numerous corridors and descending a stairway with her, they thrust her into a place of foul and acrid odors. As they removed her gag and hoodwink, she tried to remember where that horrible scent had assailed her nostrils before.

A gate closed with a metallic clank. She opened her eyes, and with the memory of that odor came the picture which had eluded her. But in this case, the picture was real. She was standing on a foul, straw-littered floor in the middle of one compartment of a double cage. Between her and the other compartment was a locked door, with several bars set on each side of it to form a partition. And in the other compartment, sniffing and reaching toward her through those bars was a manacvan, a huge and hideous dog-faced man, the source of the odor she had smelled once before when dragged into its malodorous burrow by one of these foul creatures.

Instinctively, she shrank away from the hairy-faced, brush-tailed monster that readied for her. A faintness assailed her, and she leaned against the bars farthest from the center of the cage.

The manacvan was making little whining noises, evidently intended to be conciliatory. But she knew too well the fate of women and girls who fell into the clutches of these monsters, to be deceived by such manifestations.

For moments or hours, she knew not which, she clung there to the bars, unwilling even to sit down in the foul litter that covered the cage floor. Then she heard a door open, and saw the portly form of her uncle squeeze through. He was followed by a single, hunchbacked figure, behind whom the door swung shut.

The two men advanced toward the cage, the former with a ponderous, duck-like waddle, the latter shuffling behind him with a sheepish, hang-dog gait.

Nirgo paused before the half-fainting girl. Beside him, gaping at her with a vacant, idiotic expression, was his companion.

The youth, for he appeared to be in his early twenties, was not only hunchbacked, but malformed in nearly every feature. His ears were large, and the tips flopped downward like those of a hound. His eyes pressed outward as if about to pop from his head, and his hare-lip drooped disconsolately over the irregular yellow fangs which answered him for teeth. His chest was sunken, his belly protruded, and his hands and limbs were gnarled and twisted. The vacant, imbecile stare with which he regarded Nina showed that he had a mind which matched his twisted body.

"Perhaps you don't remember your cousin, Virgo," wheezed her uncle. "Virgo, however, remembers you—don't you, Virgo? He has always admired you from afar—loved you with a love that is pure and honorable—haven't you, Virgo?"

The hunchback mumbled something between his yellow snags of teeth which Nirgo evidently interpreted as: "Yes."

"In many ways, fortune has frowned on Virgo," continued Nirgo. "But in one thing has he been fortunate—that is in having me for a father. He is the apple of my eye, and I have always given him everything he wanted—within reason—haven't I, Virgo?"

Again the malformed idiot gargled an inarticulate answer—an animal-like sound deep in his throat, which his father appeared to understand.

"As I have said," Nirgo went on, "I have always given my only son everything within reason that his heart desired. He wants to marry his fair cousin, and I can't see anything unreasonable about that. But of course he doesn't want an unwilling bride—a spitfire to be dragged to the bridal couch and subdued like a tigress. Nor should I care to see him take an unwilling bride. I have therefore arranged an alternative."

He pointed to the dog-faced man, still reaching through the bars toward Nina, panting with tongue protruding and slaver dripping from his immense jowls.

"You will name your choice, and quickly," continued Nirgo, "for some things have occurred which make it imperative that we get this matter over and done with at once. I had thought to grant you a few days to think it over—here—but now even that may not be. You must decide at once. Promise that you will become Virgo's dutiful and obedient bride now, or I will pull this lever which opens the door between the two compartments of your cage.

"Which shall it be? Virgo, or the manacvan?"

Horror stricken, Nina clutched desperately at the bars of the cage, and prayed that she might not betray her fear by fainting. Presently she steadied herself, released her hold of the bars, and walked to the front of the cage where her uncle and cousin stood. As she walked, she slowly formed a desperate plan.

Coming before Nirgo, she said, sweetly:

"Why, uncle, You should have told me in the first place that you wished me to marry my cousin, instead of bringing me here to threaten me with the manacvan? Did you think it would be necessary to——"

While she was speaking, she had reached through the bars and arranged a buckle on Nirgo's cloak as if she would wheedle him. Softly, her hand had dropped to the jeweled hilt of his tulwar. Now she whipped it from its sheath, swung it aloft, and brought it down on the head of the usurper.

Nirgo fell to the floor, blood streaming down over his face. But Virgo, the idiot, with a scowl like that of a petulant child, as if he had but half understood what had taken place and was yet annoyed by it, leaped to the lever which his father had previously indicated, and pulled it as far as it would go.

Instantly, the door between the cages flew wide open.

With an eager whine, the manacvan leaped through and charged straight for the horrified girl, while the idiot who had released him jumped up and down with ape-like gestures, laughing uproariously.



Did Tam escape from the dungeon in time to save Nina? Read the answer to this, and the smashing dénouement that follows in the concluding installment of this story, which will appear in the next, the December Weird Tales, on sale November 1st.

Illustration


An exciting weird novel of wild adventure in a subterranean world under Tibet, and the ancient gods of Asia



PART SIX

Illustration

Weird Tales, Dec 1931, with sixth part of "Tam, Son of the Tiger"


THE STORY THUS FAR

TAM, the infant son of Major Charles Evans, American sportsman in Burma, was carried off and reared by a white tigress. The tigress had been raised by a lama named Lozong, who had gone on a long pilgrimage, and returned to find Tam, now about twelve years of age, living with the tigress and her full-grown cub, Chiam.

Tam believed himself a tiger and acted as such until the lama taught him languages, and much other knowledge.

One of Tam's jungle friends was a huge elephant named Ganesha. He strayed one day, and Tam, while in search of him, rescued a beautiful girl in golden armor from a man-eating tiger. In a language that resembled Sanskrit and Tibetan, both of which Tam understood, she told him that she was Nina, Princess of Arya, a country in a subterranean world called Iramatri, and that she had come to save the world from Siva the Destroyer, who planned to conquer all the earth.

Tam and the girl were attacked by four-armed giants riding beasts larger than elephants, who carried Nina off and left Tam for dead. But he had only been stunned by a blow from a mace. Ganesha arrived as Tam recovered his senses, and together they set off in search of Nina.

Meanwhile, Tam's father, who had devoted his life to killing tigers, had seen Nina's bodyguard massacred by the four-armed white giants, or Saivas. Major Evans and his party trailed the victors, and joined forces with Lozong, the white tigress, and her cub, who were seeking Tam.

His trail led them through a secret passage under the hills into a subterranean jungle. After many adventures, they caught up with him in the City of Aryatun, Nina's capital.

But all, including Tam, were captured and imprisoned in a dungeon by Nina's treacherous uncle, Nirgo, who sought the throne of Arya for his daughter, Bina.

Nirgo, who had also captured Nina, put her in a cage and threatened to loose a manacvan, a man-eating dog-faced man, upon her unless she would agree to marry his idiot son, Virgo. Pretending to accede to his desires, she was able to snatch Nirgo's tulwar, and felled him with it.

Seeing her strike his father down, the idiot Virgo became enraged, and opened the door which let the man-eater into her cage.

Meanwhile Tam, who had succeeded in breaking his chain, sprang at his jailer, who was armed with a dagger.


XIX. — LORDS OF THE SERPENT

WITH the swiftness of a darting serpent, the dagger of the old jailer flashed straight for Tam's breast. Surprized though he was at the speed and skill with which one apparently so aged and decrepit could use the weapon, Tam's training in the lair of the tigress stood him in good stead. Quickly turning so that the keen blade barely grazed him, he seized the bony wrist and gripped it so tightly that the weapon clattered to the floor.

"Help!" squawked the jailer. "A prisoner has broken his chain! He!——!"

He could not finish, for Tam's fingers had suddenly cut off his wind.

"Another sound from you, old one," he said, "and I'll tear out your throat. Nod your head if you agree to silence. And no tricks."

Weakly, the warder nodded.

Tara released his throat, and said: "Now unlock the collars of these four prisoners."

"But I—" protested the jailer.

"Unlock them," warned Tam, "or I'll slay you, then take your keys and do so myself."

With shaking fingers the warder took the bunch of keys from his belt. After conning them over for what seemed to Tam to be an unnecessarily long time, he selected one, and unlocked the major's collar.

"Boy! It's a relief to get that off!" exclaimed Tam's father, rubbing the chafed creases made in his neck by the metal.

One by one the old man unlocked the collars of the others. When he had opened the last collar—that of Dhava the Aryan—Tam seized the key. Then he thrust the scrawny neck of the jailer into the collar and locked it.

"Have mercy!" groaned the old fellow. "Would you leave me here with these rotting corpses—these whitening bones? I can't stand it. I'll go mad!"

"It seems that you have so left many others during your career as jailer here," said Tam.

"And laughed at them," added the doctor.

"And taunted them," said the major. "I really think we should bind and gag the old dungeon rat," he continued. "He may start squawking as soon as we are gone, and bring the guard."

"I had intended doing that," said Tam, "but first I want to question him." He turned to the cowering warder, and in his hand gleamed the sharp dagger of the old fellow, which he had recovered from the floor. "Where is the Princess Nina?" he asked, presenting the keen point of the weapon to the scrawny chest.

"I do not know," replied the warder. "I swear to you by the seven gods on the mountain that I do not know."

"Liar!" said Tam. "Will you tell, or shall I cut out your heart?" He advanced the dagger threateningly.

"I swear to you by the seven great names—!" whined the frightened jailer, but stopped when the dagger point pricked his skin. "Wait! Don't kill me! I will tell you!"

"Ah! That's better. Speak."

"She is confined in one side of a cage, in a room on the fourth level above this one."

"A cage!"

"Aye. Such a cage as wild beasts are kept in. And in the other side of the cage, separated from her by a door and a few bars, is a male manacvan. Nirgo himself is to come soon, to pull the lever which separates them if she refuses to wed his idiot son, which she probably will do. It will be a most amusing sight. Ho! Ho! Ha! Ha! Ha!"

"Obscene and cackling fool!" grated Tam between clenched teeth. "Tell me quickly how to reach that cage if you would not have your voice stilled forever."

"Climb the winding stairway to the fourth level. Enter the door at the left of the landing as you go up, follow the passageway to the third door on the right, and enter if it be not locked. If locked, Nirgo will be there and you will be too late."

"I'll just take your keys along in case it is locked," said Tam, hooking the bundle in his belt.

"And I'll go with you," said his father.

"I also. Yusuf and Dhava can bind the warder and follow," the doctor said. "We can arm ourselves with the weapons of these dead guards."

The Pathan and the Aryan bent to their task of making the old fellow silent and helpless, while the three men hurried away. Tam, the swiftest of the three, took the lead. Each man carried a tulwar and dagger.

Swiftly and silently, Tam went up the steps. Close behind him were the major and the doctor. The door at the left of the landing was open, but the third door on the right of the passageway was locked. Feverishly Tam tried key after key, as the sound of voices drifted faintly to him from beyond. He recognized the deep, wheezy tones of Nirgo and the soft voice of Nina. Also he heard the eager whining of a manacvan and caught its pungent, disagreeable scent. Suddenly he heard the clank of steel against steel and the fall of a heavy body. It was followed by a clang, as of a metal gate opening, the scream of Nina in deadly terror, and the horrible, mirthless laugh of an idiot.

Hurling his keys impatiently to the ground, Tam attacked the door with his heavy tulwar. The blade bit through the wooden paneling four times in quick succession, cutting a rectangular opening. Through the aperture, he saw that which made his blood boil—Nina fighting off the advances of a fierce but wary manacvan with a jewel-hilted tulwar, while a hare-lipped, hunchbacked idiot leaped up and down before the cage, laughing uproariously.

Snatching his long dagger from his belt, Tam balanced it for a moment, then hurled it with the strength and precision which his years of training had given him. It struck the manacvan's shaggy temple just back of the eye, with a force that mere bone could not resist, and passing on through the brain of the man-dog protruded from the other temple. Slain instantly, and almost painlessly, the beast slumped to the floor of the cage without a sound.

Almost before the manacvan had collapsed into the filthy litter at the feet of the astonished girl, Tam had squeezed through the opening he had cut in the door, and was bounding forward. At sight of him and the other men crawling through the cut panel, the idiot voiced a howl of fear and dived beneath the cage. But Tam grasped him by an ankle, and dragging him out, gave him into the care of the major.

Nina, still holding Nirgo's tulwar, seemed dumfounded at first by the swift sequence of events. Because of the cries of the idiot and the snarling and growling of the manacvan, she had not heard Tam cut the hole in the door. Her first intimation that rescue was at hand had been the sight of a long dagger sticking clear through the skull of the dog-faced man as he slumped to the floor. Bewildered, she had turned in time to see Tam's back as he bent to pull the idiot son of Nirgo from beneath the cage. Behind Tam stood a tall, slender man whose hair was slightly gray at the temples, dressed in clothing the like of which she had never seen before. And squeezing through the door panel was a shorter, stockier man with glasses and a flaming red beard. These, she thought, must be Tam's father and his friend the doctor of whom Lozong had spoken. With a glad cry, she hurried to the front of the cage.

There were doors at the back of the cage, but Tam did not even see them. Gripping two of the heavy bars, he bent them apart as if they had been putty, while his father and the doctor looked on amazed at his great strength. Nina stepped through the opening, and Tam, standing on the floor below her, caught her in his arms as she jumped.

No longer clad in metal, but now wearing a soft, white diaphanous garment, she seemed a new Nina to Tam. It thrilled him unaccountably to hold her there in his arms, to feel her soft young body close to his. And looking down into her eyes, he saw a light which sent the hot blood coursing through his veins. The cage, the dead beast, the idiot, the presence of his father and his father's friend—all were forgotten in that instant. A soft arm stole about his neck. A hand caressed his hair. Their lips met in a moment of ecstasy that set them both trembling.

"Tam," she said. "My Tam, I thought I should never see you again."

"And I feared that I should be too late," he replied.

He turned to face the others, but as he did so his foot encountered something soft, warm and sticky. Looking down in surprize, he beheld the bloodstained countenance of Nirgo, his jeweled crown jammed down over his forehead and badly dented in the center.

"Dead?" he asked Nina.

"No, only stunned," she replied. "I struck him down with his own tulwar but the blade did not touch him. His crown cut him as it was driven down over his forehead."

"Then," said Tam, "while he remains in oblivion permit me to present my father, Major Evans."

The major advanced, and with a courtly bow, kissed the hand of the Princess, while the doctor took charge of the frightened idiot. In his turn, he held the quaking Virgo while the doctor was presented.

At this juncture, Dhava and Yusuf arrived, both dressed in armor taken from the guards who had been slain in the dungeon, and bearing their weapons. The former dropped on his knees before the Princess, who gave him her hand to kiss, and commended his brave defense of her during the attack by Ranya, lieutenant of Siva. The major presented Yusuf, who had knelt beside Dhava.

"What are Your Majesty's commands?" asked Dhava, who was now attired in the armor of an officer of the palace guard.

"You will know where to find my loyal retainers," she told him. "Take this man with you in case you are attacked, and as soon as you have gathered sufficient forces, put every Nirgo vassal in the dungeons. Send a guard of ten men to me, here."

"I hear and I obey, Majesty," replied Dhava, and departed, followed by Yusuf.

"What will we do with the usurper and his idiot son?" asked the doctor.

"I suggest the cage as a good place for them," said Tam, "until such time as Her Majesty shall have decided their fate."

"A splendid idea," said Nina. "Let it be the cage."

The idiot, Virgo, was placed in the compartment where the manacvan had been confined. Then, after the door between the two sides had been closed, Nirgo, who had begun to recover consciousness, was deprived of his dagger and thrust into the other. Tam then pushed the bars back into place, and after he had straightened them, neither Nirgo nor any other man in that company could have moved them from their places again.


SOON there was the clank of metal in the corridor, and the guard of ten men which Nina had ordered, arrived. Leaving a man to guard the caged usurper, who was now groveling in the filthy litter in abject terror, and his idiotic son, they ascended to the ground floor of the palace. Here Nina was met by her lord chamber-lain, who had just been notified of her presence, and who, with a hastily assembled group of dignitaries and servitors had hurried down to meet her.

After all had made obeisance, she gave a few swift orders, as a result of which Tam, his father and the doctor were conducted to a magnificent suite of rooms, where each had private sleeping-quarters and bathing-pool, and a host of slaves to minister to his every want.

Tam bathed in a pool of lapis lazuli, the major in one of agate, and the doctor in one of jasper. Emerging from their baths, refreshed, they were clothed in silken court garments held by belts and fastenings so richly decked with jewels that each man had on his person the ransom of a rajah. Then, at a table the legs of which were carved mammoth ivory and the top polished jet, there were served on engraved golden plates with purple silken napery, wines, meats, cakes, fruits and sweetmeats of so many varieties that they could not begin to taste even a tenth of the dishes.

When they had eaten and drunk their fill, the major and doctor lighted their pipes, and all three settled back contentedly among their cushions while the slaves cleared away the dishes.

Presently a page appeared.

They rose and followed the page. He led them down a tiled corridor before which stood two mailed guards with tulwars at their sides and spears in their hands.

The guards stood aside, crossing their spears above the doorway. Two others inside parted heavy curtains of imperial purple.

They entered an immense audience chamber large enough to have held at least a hundred thousand people, but in which there were, at the moment, less than a hundred. Its floors were of carnelian, its pillars of jade, and its wainscoting of onyx. Above the wainscoting, set in paneling of gold, were mural paintings in life size and natural colors, depicting battle scenes and triumphal processions in which mammoths played a prominent part, hunting scenes, religious ceremonies, and men and women engaged in agricultural and pastoral pursuits.

The hugeness of the place and the richness of its decorations elicited gasps of astonishment and admiration from the major and doctor, but Tam had eyes only for a slender girl seated on a high throne at the far end of the room, surrounded by her soldiers and courtiers.

"Never, in the history of the outer world, has there been a throne room to equal this," exclaimed the doctor. "Pool the grandeur of Rome, Athens, Memphis, Thebes, Babylon, Ur—all the great capitals of the world at the height of their glory, and united, they pale to insignificance beside such splendor as this. Why, there is assembled in this room alone, wealth greater than that of all the outer world today. Here, in addition to more gold than is held by all the great powers combined, are precious minerals employed in building with a prodigal and lavish hand."

"It's magnificent," agreed the major. "Almost beyond belief."

Their footfalls echoed hollowly in the vast emptiness of the place as they marched across the floor to the foot of the throne, which was at the top of seven semicircular steps of gold. The throne itself was a masterpiece of the goldsmiths' and jewelers' art. It was supported by two crouching golden tigers, whose eyes were emeralds, whose stripes were jet inlay, and whose heads formed the arm rests. Forming the back of the throne as well as a glittering canopy above it, was a gigantic uraeus, a cobra head and neck of platinum encrusted with jewels. The color and form of each scale of the serpent's head and hooded neck were reproduced faithfully in sparkling gems. The uraeus was crowned by a large crescent of burnished silver surmounted by a shining golden disk—emblems of the moon and sun respectively, Tam had only a glance for these things, for the warriors in their shining armor, and the richly dressed courtiers who stood at either side of the throne. Then his eyes centered on the slender form of Nina, who looked very tiny indeed, seated between the two massive golden lions with the gem-studded platinum uraeus rising behind her and arching above her head. Over the white, diaphanous garment which clung to her shapely body, she wore a robe of imperial purple, lined with soft white fur and caught at her shoulders with jeweled clasps. In her left hand she held the golden scepter of ancient Arya, which was about a foot in length and had a small trident at each end. It was richly powdered with gems, and glittered with each movement of her hand. On her head was the three-pointed golden crown of Arya, blazing with precious stones and circling a helmet of the same metal, at the point of which reared the uraeus surmounted by crescent and disk, thus combining in one headpiece the symbols of both goddess and princess.


AS THE three men halted at the foot of the golden steps which led to the throne, Nina smiled and stood up, thus honoring them as she would have honored visiting monarchs of her own rank.

"I have asked you here," she said, "that I might formally thank all of you in the presence of my chief nobles and officials for the parts you have played, severally and individually, in saving my life and restoring me to my throne and people. You are my honored guests, and the guests of the Aryan Empire for as long as you choose to remain. Although it is not within my power to reward you fittingly for your services to me, and therefore to my cause, I shall bestow on each of you a slight token of my gratitude and that of my country. Each of you will mount the steps as his name is called."

Nina's pompous lord chamberlain now stood forth from the others at the right of the throne. Removing the gold cord wrapping from a small book he carried, he opened it and read:

"Tam Evans, known as 'Son of the White Tigress.'"

Tam stepped forward, and mounting the seven golden steps, knelt before the throne. From a tray tendered her by a slave girl, Nina took a small jeweled platinum cobra. She wound its malleable coils twice around his right wrist.

"By this emblem and my proclamation," she said, "you will henceforth be known as a Lord of the Serpent. Hereafter your slightest wish will be a command to each and all of my subjects, from my highest nobles and officials to the lowliest slaves. And who would say you nay must deal with me. I have spoken."

"Her Holy and Imperial Majesty, Nina of Arya, has spoken," intoned the courtiers. "As she has commanded, so must it be."

Tam thanked her, rose, and descended the seven golden steps.

"Major Charles Evans, known as 'The Tiger Slayer,' " cried the lord chamber-lain.

"He must have been reading my mail," grinned Tam's father to his friend the doctor, when the latter had translated his title for him. He mounted the steps and received a decoration similar to that of Tam and bestowed with the same ritual.

"Doctor Hubert Green, known as 'The Wise One,' " called the lord chamberlain.

After the doctor had received his decoration and resumed his place once more, Nina said:

"This ends the formal audience, but in a few moments I will confer privately with you three. Arvai, my lord chamberlain, will conduct you to the conference room."

Arvai, with the pomposity which seemed an attribute of his office, conducted them through a side door into a small but elegantly appointed room, furnished with low divans, ottomans, cushions and taborets. He left them there.


IN A few moments the curtains parted, and Nina entered the room. She had discarded the heavy crown and purple cloak of state, and wore only a clinging white garment which accentuated the shapely curves of her slim young body. Her hair was caught with a band of pearls woven on golden threads.

The three men were on their feet in an instant.

"Please be at ease," she said, smiling.

"No formality here. We are all just friends."

Lightly she took the hands of Tam and his father and led them to a divan, seating them at each side of her. The doctor, at her invitation, drew up an ottoman facing her.

"Three days hence," she said, "I make pilgrimage to the Place of the Gods. There I will petition the Seven Who Rule, imploring them to keep the ancient weapons from Siva the Destroyer, for if they should be given him, he would be invincible. There would be a holocaust of blood and horror such as your world has never known, for he is bent on conquering it, and would stop at nothing. 'Submit or die,' would be the only terms accorded to the people of the earth, and submission would mean abject slavery. The world would be in chains, supine beneath the mail-shod foot of Siva the Bloodthirsty, Siva the Lustful. And a terrible tribute would be exacted—her handsomest sons and fairest daughters. With the former he would sate his blood-hunger in the games. The latter would go to his zenana to satisfy his libidinous desires.

"I know that Tam will want to go with me, and I take it that his father and his father's friend, who are interested in protecting their world from this menace, will want to go also. But, first, I must warn you of the dangers. This is no picnic journey, ending at some wayside shrine. The Place of the Gods is not easily reached, has not been reached by any from Iramatri for many generations. The Seven Who Rule saw to it, long ago, that their abode was well guarded. Three only who attempted the journey have succeeded during the last six thousand years. The others turned back at the first obstacle, or were heard from no more. Now will you go with me?"

"Of course," responded Tam. "Anywhere with you."

"After what you have told me, you would have to put me in double irons to keep me from going," said the major.

"And I," stated the doctor, "am positively afire with eagerness to start."

"For three days," Nina told them, "we will hold services in the temple, that Nina, Jagan Mata, may look with favor upon our enterprise. On the morning of the fourth day, we start. Your strange weapons from outer earth, which the men of Nirgo took from you, have been recovered and will be restored to you. And so——"

She was interrupted by the abrupt entrance of her lord chamberlain, who stood hesitatingly in the doorway.

"I crave pardon, Majesty," he said, "for interrupting, but a rider has just arrived from Indratun with an urgent message."

"Admit him."

A mailed warrior, whose face was streaked with blood and dust and who was so weary that he could scarcely lift one foot before the other, entered and knelt before the Princess.

"Your message, soldier," she said.

"This night," the warrior answered, "Siva will be guest of Indra in Indratun. Tomorrow he will cross into the Land of the Gods and make pilgrimage to the Most High Place where sit the Seven Who Rule. I was in Indratun when his advance guard arrived this morning, and securing a pass, rode out of the city immediately. One of Siva's spies followed, and gave me this," pointing to a cut on his forehead, "but I silenced him forever and came on."

"You have done well, soldier," she said, "and I will see that you are rewarded. You may go."

Rising, the warrior backed from the room.

"That changes our plans," she told the three, when he had gone. "Tonight only will we hold services in the temple. We will leave tomorrow at dawn." She stood up. "I must go, now, to prepare for the evening ceremony, which you are invited to attend."

She gave her hand to the major, who bent over it with courtly grace, pressing his lips to her fingers. The doctor did likewise, when she laid her hand in his. Tam held her hand for a moment, looking into her eyes, for he would fain have kissed her lips. But there was no tenderness in her look. It was friendly, but impersonal. He bent and brushed her fingers with his lips. A page showed them to their apartments.


FOOD and drink were brought, but Tam would not come to the table. Despite the repeated invitations of his father and the doctor to join them, he sulked in a corner.

Presently the major rose, and walking over to where he stood, threw his arm about his shoulders.

"I know just how you feel, son," he said, "but you are wrong. This girl you love is no common wanton who wears her heart upon her sleeve, and whose kisses may always be had for the taking. She did not deliberately repulse you today, nor, I am convinced, have her feelings changed toward you since, in an unguarded moment, she revealed them to you. That was not a surrender but a revelation. Be patient, son, and some day in her own good time it may be that she will come to you. For your sake I hope so, for I see that you love her very dearly. But it is possible that, being a princess, she may not marry one not of the blood royal. And being esteemed a goddess, it may be that she is not permitted to marry at all."

"Princess or goddess, I love her, and must have her," said Tam.

"There are many beautiful women—" began his father.

"For me there can be but one," Tam cut in.

"In that case," said the major, "I'll do what little I may to help your cause along. And now, come. Eat and drink with us. Tomorrow we start on a long and dangerous journey, and you will need your strength."

Without another word, Tam rose and followed him to the table.


XX. — THE JEWEL IN THE LOTUS

TAM, his father and the doctor had dined, and were contemplating the yellow glow from the windows of their magnificent living-room, which heralded the approach of evening.

"Puzzling thing, isn't it?" said the major. "This simulation of sunlight and moonlight in an underground world. I can't understand it."

"Nor I," replied the doctor, "but I have a theory. I've kept my watch going since we left the outer world, and find that dawn and darkness here correspond with sunrise and sunset outside. Moreover, the coming of the violet night-light has agreed exactly with the rising of the moon as it would have been on the outer earth at this point and time. See any connection?"

"I must confess that I don't," admitted the major.

"You've heard of the so-called cosmic rays, haven't you?"

"Yes. But what have they to do with it? I understand that they are believed to strike the earth from outer space—possibly coming from distant stars or nebulae."

"I don't believe their origin has been definitely established. But they have one characteristic which gives me an analogy for my theory. They have been found to penetrate the earth's crust as far as man has been able to dig underground to check up on them. It is even possible that they pass clear through the earth. Now suppose there are some emanations from our sun, not identical with cosmic rays, but having the power to penetrate the earth's crust for a considerable distance. Suppose the moon, because of the composition of its surface, has the power to reflect at least a part of these rays."

"I don't see how we could get so much light from them, even at that," argued the major. "We know that sunlight is easily cut off, even by the simplest and flimsiest sort of screen."

"That is true of the visible rays, and most of the known invisible rays. But I doubt very much if our scientists have discovered and isolated all the emanations which are beyond the violet on the one hand and beyond the red on the other. Let us presume, for the moment, that far beyond the ultra-violet or the infra-red, are rays unknown to science. Suppose these rays at one or the other extreme have the property, when penetrating a certain radioactive substance, of greatly stimulating its activity—making it luminous if not incandescent. Then, if such rays do come from our sun, and are partially reflected by our moon, and if the vault above this inner world is composed of, or contains a considerable quantity of this hypothetical radioactive substance, we will have daylight and moonlight occurring here in precise chronological agreement with the daylight and moonlight above us, the color of the light being governed, of course, by the substance from which it is generated. I submit that things happen as if all these hypothetical facts were true."

"And I agree with you," said the major. "Your theory seems perfectly sound."

"Of course," the doctor finished, "I have offered no proof. Merely evidence. Such a theory could only be proved or disproved by a series of complicated investigations and experiments, and with the aid of extremely complicated and sensitive instruments. However——"

He was interrupted by the entrance of Dhava, followed by Yusuf, who between them carried the arms and ammunition which Nirgo's henchmen had taken from them. Both were richly dressed in court attire with jeweled fastenings, and Tam noticed that Dhava wore a glittering cobra bracelet like his own.

"You two seem to have prospered mightily since last I saw you," greeted the major.

"I have been made a Lord of the Serpent," replied Dhava, proudly flashing his bracelet, "and have been advanced in rank. Her Gracious Majesty has made me supreme commander of the armies of Arya."

"That's great, Dhava. I'm glad of it," said the major, as he inspected his weapons which Yusuf had handed him. "And what about you, Yusuf?"

"Her Majesty gave me jewels to the value of at least ten million rupees," said Yusuf. "Moreover, she presented me with two mammoths, one for riding and the other laden with as much gold as it could carry. I am content, for when I return to Afghanistan I will be wealthy as a sultan. But despite my wealth I would still serve you if you will have me."

"I'm suspicious," said the major with assumed sternness, "that you've been talking about me behind my back. Today in court I was named 'The Tiger Slayer,' yet I am convinced that there was none here but you and the doctor who knew that I had killed a few tigers. What about it?"

"I did speak modestly of your prowess, and of the great wisdom of the doctor," admitted Yusuf, shamefacedly.

"So? What has he been telling about us, Dhava?"

"Why, merely that you had slain some ten thousand tigers, and were the greatest hunter of the outer world. And he mentioned that the doctor was, without a doubt, the wisest man on earth, and was readily acknowledged as such by the leading scientists of all nations."

"So I thought. Well, we'll let it pass this time, in view of his past faithful services."

"Then it wasn't true?" asked Dhava.

"Only partly," said the major. "I should say, very slightly. Yusuf meant well, but he has given both the doctor and me quite some reputations to live up to."

"Her Majesty bade me inform you," said Dhava, "that if you will accompany me to the front balcony you can see the procession leave for the temple. She thought perhaps you might be interested."

"We are," said the major. "Lead on."

Dhava led them through a number of corridors and hallways to a wide balcony at the front of the palace, where there were assembled a group of Aryan nobles with their wives and children. The palace gates had been opened, and beyond them, as far as they could see in the orange glow of evening, both sides of the broad street were thickly packed with spectators.


THEY had scarcely reached the railing ere a ringing blast of trumpets sounded from below, and there rode forth from the courtyard a score of heralds mounted on mammoths. Behind the heralds marched a hundred members of the palace guard in their shining armor. Then came Nina, riding in a jewel-studded golden howdah on the back of an immense white mammoth. She was wearing her golden helmet and chain-mail, which, Dhava told them, signified that she would shortly go forth to battle. Behind her marched another hundred of her guards. Then there followed processions of priests, nobles and officials, all pointed out and described by Dhava.

As Nina rode down the street, the multitude cheered itself hoarse. It was plain to be seen that these people loved their Princess, and were glad of her safe return.

At the end of the procession a large cage on wheels, drawn by a single mammoth and guarded by six warriors, rattled and bumped into view. Tam saw that it was occupied by two men, kept apart by a partition which divided it in the middle. With one of the men, he saw the carcass of a manacvan. The man was Nirgo, and the other his idiot son, Virgo.

"What will they do with them?" Tam asked Dhava, for the multitude roared angrily at sight of Nina's treacherous uncle and cousin.

"Her majesty has graciously spared their lives," replied Dhava. "She ordered as their punishment that they be paraded through the streets in the cage in which they had confined her, and afterward banished to Namanacvarta."

"Namanacvarta?" asked Tam. "Where is that?"

"It is an island in the middle of an almost trackless marsh, where the worst felons of all nations, if they are not executed or otherwise punished, are sent. There is but one road through the swamp, and this is guarded night and day by warriors supplied by the seven nations of Iramatri; so those who are banished to Namanacvarta may not leave it except by permission of the officer in charge. And he can only grant a prisoner such permission by royal edict of the prisoner's sovereign. It is, as you may imagine, a horrible place, made more horrible by the criminals who inhabit it. I am told that a licentious Saiva princeling has gathered a band of desperados around him and made himself ruler of the place, but it is not difficult to picture what such an administration would be like. Such prisoners as have anything of value when they reach the island are quickly despoiled of it by the Saiva tyrant and his ruffians."

As the cage passed out of sight down the street, followed by the denunciations and sneers of the multitude, darkness replaced the red glow of evening and the city lights flashed on.

Dhava said:

"Mammoths are waiting to conduct us to the temple, where the ceremony will shortly begin. Follow me."

He led them back through the palace, and down a stairway to the inner courtyard, where a number of the nobles were mounting the necks of riding-mammoths. Women and children were carried in howdahs on the backs of the great beasts, but men invariably rode the necks of the animals.

Attendants brought a mammoth for each member of the party, and caused the beasts to kneel. Then, with Dhava leading the way, they set out for the temple. Once they were outside the palace gates, Tam saw that nearly every one else was headed in the same direction. Most of the populace was afoot. But not an inconsiderable number rode mammoths, and a still larger number bestrode bullocks, some of which closely resembled zebus, while others of a different breed looked like large buffalos. Many of these hauled two-wheeled carts in which rode mothers and children.


FROM a distance, Tam had seen the great central dome of the temple, and had been impressed by its size and architectural beauty, but now, on closer inspection, it stood forth among the lesser buildings of the city, the most colossal and magnificent example of the builders' art he had ever seen. Brilliant flares of red, blue, green, yellow and white lighted and brought out in sharp relief every detail of its graceful lines. The dome was of burnished gold, and the roof of shining silver was supported by columns of turquoise set on bases of clearest crystal. The stairways and floors were of polished jet blocks, set in a mortar in which tiny jewels had been mixed.

The five mammoths knelt at a point near the entrance, and waiting grooms rushed up to take charge of them when Tam and his companions dismounted.

They were about to climb the glittering black stairway when a soldier who had hurriedly ridden up, dismounted and bowed low before Tam.

"O Son of the White Tigress and Lord of the Serpent," he said. "I crave your indulgence for but a moment. A short time ago there appeared at the western gate of the city an old man riding a hairless mammoth of a slate-gray color. He wore a hat and robe of red, and carried, in addition to his spear and bow and arrows, a strange double-curved sword and a knife of much the same pattern. He claimed that he was friend to you and Nina, and asked that we bring word that Lozong had arrived. I admitted him, but was naturally suspicious of so strange a character, believing he might be a spy of Siva. He and his great hairless beast are being brought hither now guarded by a dozen warriors on mammoths, but I thought it best to come on ahead of them, to ascertain whether or not his story is true. Shall I bring him here or detain him until after the ceremony?"

"Bring him here, by all means," said Tam. He turned to Dhava. "I don't want the others to be late for the ceremony, but I must wait here for my teacher. Take them on without me."

"There will be plenty of time," said Dhava, "if the soldier hurries." He turned to the warrior. "Dismiss the guard," he commanded, "and conduct the red-robed one to us as quickly as possible."

The soldier bowed, leaped to the neck of his waiting mammoth, and rode away at Cop speed. In a few moments he returned, followed by Lozong astride the neck of Ganesha. When the elephant saw Tam he dashed ahead of the mammoth, trumpeting eagerly to the alarm of a number of the people arriving for the services. Hurrying straight to where his master stood, he nuzzled him affectionately with his trunk, while Tam patted him and called him all manner of pet names. Then he set Lozong on the ground, and Tam embraced his old teacher and foster father.

"You found our trail at last," he exclaimed. "I'm glad. But where are the tigers?"

"I left Leang and Chiam in a wood near the highway," replied Lozong. "When I saw that a city lay ahead, I did not deem it advisable to bring them with me. They can forage for themselves, and I doubt if any of the beasts I have seen hereabouts will have the hardihood to attack them."

"We leave at dawn, on the most dangerous expedition we have yet begun," said Tam. "We can pick them up then, and take them with us."

Lozong greeted the other men in turn, all of whom he had camped and traveled with on the journey to Iramatri. Then, leaving Ganesha in charge of a capable groom, they mounted the black steps and entered the temple.

After crossing a broad foyer, they entered the main auditorium, in which more than two hundred thousand worshippers had assembled, and were now kneeling, facing a truncated, four-sided pyramid placed beneath the center of the immense dome. It was faced with blocks of glittering chalcedony jointed with gold. Four jet stairways, one on each side, led to its broad flat top. At each corner of the top an altar was placed, and on each of the four altars smoldered a mound of incense. In constant attendance on each altar were seven vestal virgins who wore tunics of translucent white, girdled with robes of gold.

AS TAM and the members of his party knelt in their places there sounded from high in the dome the booming of an immense gong. Instantly all the lights in the palace were extinguished except the blood-orange glow from the four altars, which lighted up the top of the pyramid but left everything else in darkness.

The booming of the gong ceased, and there was a moment of impressive silence. Then there drifted down from the dome, the slow strains of a plaintive, haunting melody, soft at first, and carried by only one violin-like instrument. But other instruments joined in, one by one, adding to the volume of sound in a gradual crescendo, until it became evident that no less than a thousand musicians were taking part, and it seemed to Tam that no greater volume of sound could possibly be reached. Then it ended with a crash, and a single booming stroke of the gong.

Once more there was a moment of silence, followed this time by barbaric minor strains in dance tempo, accompanied by drums. On top of the platform there suddenly appeared, as if by magic, a troupe of a hundred dancing girls. There followed a dance, lasting some twenty minutes, in which the girls, with lissom steps and graceful postures, kept perfect time with the music of the unseen orchestra.

Presently Tam noticed that something red and pointed was slowly rising into view from the center of the platform. The red was presently followed by a band of green, and he saw that the object was a beautiful replica of a closed lotus bud about four feet across, with petals cut from ruby and leaves and stem of emerald. It rose to a height of about fifteen feet above the platform on its emerald stem, and stopped. Instantly the music ceased, the gong boomed, and every dancing girl and vestal virgin turned and knelt, facing it.

Tam gave an involuntary gasp of astonishment as he noticed that the petals were slowly opening. Beside him he heard the awed whispering of Lozong muttering to himself:

"The sacred lotus! Om mani padme hum! O jewel in the lotus, amen!" accompanied by the clicking of the wooden beads of his rosary.

Presently, as the ruby petals flattened out, Tam saw that there was something white in their midst. Suddenly their movement ceased, and the white object moved—sat up. There, sitting cross-legged in the heart of the lotus, was Nina, clad in a gossamer wrap that seemed woven of nothing more substantial than cobwebs and moonbeams. On her head was a plain circlet of gold, from the front of which arched a uraeus surmounted by a silver crescent and golden disk. Jeweled breast shields and girdle, glittering beneath her diaphanous garment, completed her attire.

Tam once more became aware of the audible whispering of Lozong, beside him:

"I thank thee, O Prince of Righteousness, for that thou hast led my faltering footsteps to this place, and a thousand thousand times I thank and praise thee, for that thou hast vouchsafed me this sight of the precious jewel in the lotus. Om mani padme hum! Om mani padme hum!"

Nina raised her right hand, and the unseen orchestra responded with a sweet melody, the soft strains of which were in waltz time. Slowly she stood up—stretched out her arms. Her gossamer wrap slid from her shoulders and fell to form a little mound of shimmering white at her feet. The temple dancing girls had been selected for their beauty and grace from among millions of applicants throughout the Empire of Arya. But as Nina stepped out upon the point of the nearest ruby petal, and in perfect rhythm with the music danced from petal to petal with easy grace, she so far outshone them that their performance, beautiful as it had been, paled to insignificance in comparison.

With bated breath Tam watched her, the pious muttering of Lozong no longer heeded. Her dancing ended, she leaped lightly to the center of the lotus, and held one hand aloft, the index finger pointed upward. The music ended with a single stroke of the great gong. Then, dear and silvery sweet, the sound of her voice drifted out over the kneeling multitude.

"O, Nina, Mahadevi*, Jagan Mata,†" she said. "We have performed thy ritual in accordance with thine ancient command. We pray that thou wilt never turn thy radiant countenance from thy humble and faithful followers, and beseech that thou wilt look with favor on the pilgrimage which we will make tomorrow to the Place of the Gods, where thou art seated in the highest place among the immortals. This we ask in the name of humanity, that millions of thy children may be saved from the ravages and lust of that cruel and bloodthirsty monster, Siva the Destroyer."

[* Great Goddess. † Mother of the World.]


HER prayer ended, Nina resumed her cross-legged posture in the center of the lotus, and drawing her gossamer wrap about her shoulders, bowed her head. Swiftly the ruby petals folded, hiding her from view. And more swiftly the closed flower descended until lost from sight in the pyramid.

Lights flashed on in the immense auditorium until it was ablaze with brilliance. The vast multitude rose from its knees and slowly surged toward the door.


21. — THE PILGRIMAGE

AT the first red glow of dawn, a cavalcade of immense pachyderms, carrying their relatively tiny riders on their necks, filed through the western gate of Aryatun. There were a hundred human beings in the party, ninety-eight woolly mammoths, and one huge bull elephant. At the head of the procession rode Tam and Nina, side by side, the former mounted on Ganesha, the latter on an immense mammoth. And walking beside Ganesha, with the skirts of his red robe tucked up to insure more freedom to his limbs, was Lozong the lama, carrying his long spear, the shaft of which he used as a staff, his bow and arrows at his back, and his yatagan and dab at his waist. For though he might have had a mammoth to ride, or shared the broad back of Ganesha with Tam, Lozong expressed a preference for walking.

Just behind Tam and Nina rode Major Evans and Doctor Green, each astride the neck of a mammoth. Special holsters had been built for their rifles and fastened to the harness of their mounts, and they wore pistols and knives- at their belts. They were followed by Dhava, Yusuf, and the warriors and attendants of Nina.

They had not traveled far when Nina raised her hand, and the procession stopped. Tam dismounted, and accompanied by Lozong, plunged into the jungle at the side of the trail. The two returned about twenty minutes later, accompanied by a white tigress and a striped tiger, that leaped and cavorted about Tam, showing their affection like two big dogs.

The mammoths became restive at sight of the carnivores, so it was decided that Lozong should take them to the rear of the cavalcade, where they could range as much as they pleased without disturbing the mounts of the party.

"Why have you taken so small an army when a million men would have marched at your command?" asked Tam after he had remounted. "You spoke of great dangers, and the imminence of a battle with Siva."

"An ancient law," replied Nina, "drafted by the Seven Who Rule, explicitly states that no one may make the pilgrimage to the Land of the Gods with a party of more than a hundred. After the Land of the Gods has been penetrated a little way, half this party must be left behind at a certain point. A little farther the party must be again divided. This splitting-up process continues until, when I have reached the antechamber of the gods with but one companion, I am compelled to leave the companion there and mount alone to the high place where sit the seven immortals."


AT this juncture they came to a crossroad where Nina turned to the right, following a curving highway which seemed to form a sort of belt line about the city.

"We left by the west gate to get your tigers," she told Tam, "but the road we will travel lies northward. By following this circling highway we will come to it." "I'm sorry to have had your expedition delayed on account of the beasts," said Tam, "but they will come in handy if there is to be fighting."

"We've only gone a few varsads out of our way," replied Nina. "I should probably have come this way anyhow, as Siva has undoubtedly posted spies along our route, and perhaps archers with instructions to assassinate us."

It was not long before they came to the north road, which was the direct route to the Land of the Gods.

There was a stop at midday at one of the caravanserais maintained by the Aryan government. Here men and beasts ate and drank, and rested for a brief time. Then they pressed on without a pause until nightfall, where a stop was made at another government caravanserai.


AFTER two more days and nights of swift but uneventful travel, they came, early one morning, to a place where three highways blended into one.

"The one from the southwest," Nina explained to Tam, "comes from Indratun. That from the southeast is from Nagatun. Soon we will reach the end of the paving, and will then learn whether or not Siva has beaten us here."

True to her prediction, the paving soon ended at the edge of what appeared to be an impassable marsh, in which rushes and jointed grasses contested for standing room in the muck and stagnant water, and the united hum of countless millions of insects formed a steady, monotonous undertone, punctuated by the calls of birds, the clatter of frogs, and the bellows, shrieks and roars of its mightier inhabitants.

At the right, Tam saw a place where the rushes had been bent and trampled into the water as if by a host of large animals. Then his jungle-trained eye caught the print of a large foot on a small hummock some twenty feet from the paving, and he recognized the track of a baluchitherium.

Nina saw it at the same time.

"Siva has been here before us," she said.

"The trail is fresh," Tam told her, "not more than an hour old. Perhaps we can overtake him."

"Perhaps, but we must proceed with caution," she replied, "ever alert for trap or ambush. The Destroyer is wily and ruthless."

"I'll lead the way," said Tam.

"But you are without armor. I forbid you."

Ignoring Nina's protest, Tam swung Ganesha to the right and urged him along the trail at such speed that there was nothing left for her to do but follow. The rest of the procession strung out after her, single file.

Despite his seeming recklessness, Tam was constantly on the alert as his big mount splashed and floundered across the marsh. He had armed himself with a long, straight Aryan lance, bow and arrows, a tulwar and dagger, and with arrow fitted to bow he watched every bit of suspicious cover that might conceal a foe. Insects rose in swarms, and not a few of them alighted on man and beast, biting viciously. Waterfowl, both swimmers and waders, disturbed at their feeding, flapped swiftly away. Small marsh animals scampered from the pathway, and serpents crawled sluggishly from underfoot.

Presently he came to higher and dryer ground, a small tree-covered hummock. An ideal place for an ambush, he thought, and scarcely had the idea occurred to him ere the reality appeared. Yelling like demons, and riding with three-pointed lances couched, in semicircular formation, a force of fifty Saivas came charging out from among the trees.

Tam's arrow transfixed the throat of the nearest four-armed giant, pitching him from the saddle. Two riders charged at him from each side—trident points gleaming, menacing. He threw himself flat on the neck of Ganesha, and the pronged heads clashed together, splintering the shafts.

Unsheathing his own long lance, he lunged at the breast of the rider on the left. The point went true, and a second assailant was disposed of. But meanwhile, the third Saiva had ridden in so close that the lance was out of the question. Dropping it, Tam whipped out his tulwar just in time to parry a vicious cut for the head. As the blade of his antagonist slid from his own, he struck back with a neck cut that sent the grinning head flying from the giant's shoulders.

The line had swept beyond him now, and mingled with the shouts, screams, clashing blades and thundering hoofs, he heard the sharp reports of rifles.

Swinging Ganesha about, he charged back to where a group of a dozen Saivas had surrounded Nina, cutting her off from the others. The plan of the Saivas was instantly manifest. Believing that she would be at the head of the party, where she would have been had Tam not insisted on taking the lead, they had hoped to kill or capture her by this unexpected coup. And despite Tam's presence, it began to look as if they would succeed. The major, the doctor and Yusuf were completely cut off from her and unable to fire at her assailants, while Dhava, whose men were strung out in single file far back into the marsh, was beset by the remainder of the attackers.

With dagger in one hand and tulwar in the other, Tam smashed into the ring of giants that encircled the Princess. Two fell beneath his blade before they were even aware of his presence. But in the meantime a four-armed giant had succeeded in snatching Nina from her seat, while another knocked her tulwar from her grasp. She struggled desperately but unavailingly in the grip of the giant, who immediately turned his steed and rode off at full speed, followed by all but two of his comrades who remained to engage Tam. One of these fell with his head split open, and the other with a thrust through the abdomen, but as he fell, the arm holding the reins jerked the head of his mount to one side, and straight at Tam. Struck unexpectedly by the massive head of the baluchitherium, Tam was swept from his seat, and hit the ground with a jolt that dazed him for a moment.

Getting to his feet, he shook his head to clear it and looked unsteadily about him. The Saiva who had captured Nina, and his seven remaining companions, were riding for cover as fast as their huge mounts would carry them. And following in swift pursuit on their woolly mammoths, were Tam's father, the professor, and Yusuf. A glance at the place where these three had been surrounded a moment before was sufficient to tell the story of their deadly rifle fire. Not one of their former assailants was in his saddle. And the remaining giants, who had attacked Dhava, were now surrounded and all but annihilated by his warriors.


"CRACK!" The major's rifle spit angrily and a Saiva pitched from his saddle.

"Bang!" The doctor's double-barreled elephant gun brought down a baluchitherium which fell on its side, pinning its rider. Yusuf, following closely behind the two Americans, gave the fellow his coup de grace as he passed, while they continued their bombardment of the fleeing Saivas.

Two more riders fell to the rifle of the sportsman, and one baluchitherium to the heavier gun of the scientist, as the remaining three plunged into the woods. Tam, whose senses had cleared meanwhile, had sprinted after them as fast as his legs would carry him, which was far swifter than either mammoths or baluchitheriums could travel. As the three Saivas entered the wood, he passed the major's party like a shot, and plunged in after Nina's abductors.

Suddenly he heard a muffled roar, only a short distance ahead of him. It was followed by a second roar louder than the first. He instantly recognized the voices of Leang, the white tigress, and Chiam, her striped offspring. Puzzled at their presence in the wood when he had thought them at the end of the line, he strained his eyes for sight of them as he bounded forward.

In a few moments he saw them in a small grassy glade. Leang was crouching over one of the Saivas, who lay mangled and still on the ground. Chiam, who had pulled another from his mount, had sunk his teeth into the giant's shoulder and was shaking him as a terrier shakes a rat. The third and sole remaining rider, he who carried Nina, had evidently been in the lead and had decided to return to the aid of his companions, for he was charging at Chiam with his trident couched.

Tulwar in hand, Tam leaped forward to intercept him, but at that moment a bow twanged, a long arrow sank feather-deep into the shoulder of the baluchitherium, and the great beast toppled and fell. Then Lozong, bow in hand, stepped into the glade.

Still gripping Nina with one arm, the giant rider shook his stirrups from his toes, swung clear of the saddle, and alighted on his feet as his mount went down. Confronted by both Tam and Lozong, he backed against the bole of an immense tree. Then, holding Nina before him with both left hands, he whipped out his long tulwar and said:

"Back! Stand back, both of you, or by the Sacred Seven I'll cut the Princess in two!"

He raised his tulwar as if to carry out his threat. Tam and Lozong stopped in their tracks.

"O coward who hides behind a woman," taunted Tam. "Put her down and I will fight you alone. If you kill me you shall go free."

"I will go free," rumbled the giant, "and the Princess shall go with me. Otherwise——"

His speech was cut short as a rifle cracked and a bullet drilled him between the eyes. Without another sound he slumped to the forest floor.

Bounding forward, Tam freed Nina from the death-grip of the Saiva. The major stepped from a patch of undergrowth, a wisp of smoke curling upward from his rifle barrel. He had dismounted at the edge of the wood and followed Tam's trail on foot.

"A splendid shot, my father," said Tam, as the major came up.

"It was easy, son," replied the major. "I couldn't have missed the big oaf."

"It saved my life," said Nina, "for which I am again beholden to you."

They walked back through the trees to where their victorious cavalcade waited. Lozong, with difficulty, pulled the two tigers from the giants they had slain, and led them to one side until the party should pass. It was found that Nina had lost twenty warriors in the engagement. A number of others were wounded, but not incapacitated, Yusuf and Dhava among them.

Nina, Tam and the major remounted, and the cavalcade was once more on its way.


THE tree-clothed hummock passed, they came to a gently sloping flat on which the mud had dried and split into large cakes. Beyond this the black waters of a wide river glistened in the day-blaze like molten tar. It was dotted with verdant islets, and its farther shore appeared to be fringed with willows. A haze hung over it, obscuring the country beyond.

"The Kalaudan, or Black Water," said Nina, "River of the Gods. Beyond it lies the Land of the Gods."

As they drew near the river bank, Tam saw an immense, square-nosed craft which had been previously hidden by one of the islets, coming toward them across the black stream. It was low in the water, without sails or upper structure, and at least a hundred rowers manned the long sweeps that were swiftly propelling it toward the shore. From the glint of the day-blaze on their bodies as they moved, he judged that they wore close-fitting, polished armor.

Nina's party halted on the river bank, awaiting the coming of the huge barge. As its square nose slid upon the gently sloping bank, Tam saw that the rowers were not wearing armor, but were covered from head to foot with scales like those of a cobra.

"What are these creatures?" Tam asked Nina.

"The Nagamanacs," she replied. "The Snake-men. They are evolutionary descendents of the Nagas, the great serpents who ruled the earth long before the advent of man. It is said that they have jewels in their heads, which give them their sparkling appearance. They are immune from attack by the Nagas and Mahanagas, and for this reason are able to exist on the shores of the River of the Gods, where they ferry pilgrims to and fro for a fee."

One of the Nagamanacs, who appeared to be a leader, now leaped from the prow of the boat and advanced toward them. Tam saw that he was hairless, and that the markings on his scaly body corresponded to those of a cobra, even to the dread spectacle mark. He came straight to where Nina sat her mount and bowed low before her.

"Speak, Nagamanac," she commanded. "We await your pleasure, Majesty," he said, and Tam saw when he opened his mouth to speak that his teeth were needle-sharp like the fangs of a serpent, "Will it please Your Majesty to cross to the Land of the Gods in our humble craft?"

"Your price, boatman?" she inquired.

"A hundred fish spears with heads of steel and a hundred keen-bladed kukries."

"The price is high, Nagamanac," she said, "but I will pay it." She raised her hand, and led the procession up onto the barge. All the mammoths were marched to the end of the craft farthest from shore, whereupon the end which lay on the shore was raised above it and the rowers easily pushed off.

As they rowed away, Nina sent for the mammoth that carried the fish spears and kukries, and the leader of the scaly boatmen was paid his fare.


THEY had passed one of the wooded islets almost in the center of the stream, when Tam noticed a tremendous boiling of the water ahead of them. Then seven gigantic cobra heads, each of which appeared capable of swallowing an elephant, were suddenly reared above the water on scaly necks that flared for fully thirty feet at the widest point. But what amazed him the most was that all seven necks sprouted from the same immense body.

"It is Sesha the Mahanaga, who guards the Kalaudan," explained Nina, "so that none may enter the Land of the Gods save their chosen ones."

"But how can this big snake know?" asked Tam, as he watched the gigantic reptile swimming toward them.

"If he hears the 'Song of the Serpents' all will go well with the pilgrims, but if there is no one in the party who can play this song for him, all are doomed."

So saying, she extracted a tiny golden flute from her belt pouch and began playing a shrill, plaintive air. By this time the seven great heads were rearing precariously above the barge, and Tam saw that his first estimate of their immense size had not been exaggerated. For a moment the heads poised threateningly above the boat. Then they slowly began swaying in unison, keeping perfect time with the music as the monster swam beside the craft. Tam recognized in the strange melody some passages that he himself had learned from a snake-charming fakir when he was quite young. Remembering that Iramatri had been cut off from the outer world for five thousand years, Tam reflected that in all probability these wandering mendicants had passed fragments of the original "Song of the Serpents" down through the ages for that length of time.

Presently the immense reptile swung in behind the boat, and Tam, watching it fascinated, saw that seven mammoths had been stripped of their packs and led aft under the direction of Dhava. For a moment the seven heads ceased their swaying, poised in midair with red tongues darting. Then, with one accord, they struck downward, each seizing a mammoth with its enormous fangs and raising it aloft as easily as a cobra would lift a mouse. Lightly the great beasts were flipped about in the horrible jaws until all were turned endways. Then they were swallowed, and the monster veered off, to swim sluggishly away toward the nearest island.

Nina ceased her playing.

"Our toll to Sesha," she explained. "On the way back we must offer him seven more mammoths, and he will probably take them—if we come back."


A FEW moments later they reached shore and landed. Lozong went ashore last with the two tigers, both of which had given him some trouble on the way over, snarling at the scaly boatmen and only restrained from charging them with great difficulty.

The bank was much steeper here than on the other side, and they followed a narrow, winding path, which led up through the trees that fringed the shore. At the top of the bank they emerged upon a flat open space facing a wall about fifty feet in height in which there was an arched gateway closed by two immense gates faced with gold and studded with jewels. Pacing the wall, and armed with tridents, bows and arrows, and tulwars, were a number of gigantic, four-armed females, jet-black in color.

"Amazon warriors of Kali, the Black One," Nina told Tam. "She is friendly to Siva, his inamorata in fact, but these warriors she has sent as tribute to the Seven Who Rule are slaves of the gods and subject only to their dictates. Her nation is not in Iramatri, but lies beyond the Land of the Gods in a place of eternal darkness which borders the domain of Yama, King of Hell."

There was a hail from the wall, and an Amazon warrior looked down at them. "Who comes?" she asked.

"Nina of Arya on pilgrimage," replied Dhava.

"Enter the Land of the Gods, Nina of Arya."

The two huge gates swung open, Nina raised her hand, and the cavalcade moved forward.

Before them stretched a broad road paved with white stone, which led over a country of low, rolling hills. This country was divided into fields, where crops of various kinds were raised. And laboring in the fields, Tam recognized men of every race of Iramatri, monkeys of Hanuman, and strange specimens of humankind, the like of which he had never seen before.

"The fields of the gods," Nina told him. "Every ruler in the Nether World sends slaves to work for the gods—even Hanuman, the monkey god, and Yama, King of Hell. They till the fields, labor in the workshops, guard the borders and various other places, and serve the priests in the temples. Arya alone sends ten thousand male and ten thousand female slaves every year, to serve the gods. From Iramatri, one hundred and forty thousand slaves go forth to the Land of the Gods each year, and an equal number, having served their allotted time, return."

As they rode farther away from the river, the fog lifted, and Tam gave a gasp of astonishment at the sight which it had previously veiled. For he suddenly perceived, about ten miles ahead of them, an immense dazzling-white mountain, the peak of which extended up to and disappeared in the luminous mists through which streamed the day-blaze, and which formed the sky of the Nether World.

"The Mountain of the Gods," said Nina. "At its peak is the Most High Place, the destination which I hope to reach ere Siva has persuaded the Seven Who Rule to let him have the ancient weapons."


AFTER they had traveled about two smiles they came to a second wall, higher than the first, and again two massive gates barred their way.

This second wall was policed by red warriors of Brahm. An officer called down to them from a tower beside the gate.

"Who comes?"

"Nina of Arya on pilgrimage," Dhava answered.

"You must leave half of your party here," said the man on the wall. "The rest may enter."

Encamped in a small grove a short distance from the road, Tam saw a party of twenty-five Saivas. Dhava was selecting the forty men who should stay behind at this point, as well as the camping equipment they should keep for their use.

"Do you see those Saivas?" Tam asked Nina.

"Yes. What about them?"

"Why not attack them while we are here in full force. If we leave but forty men here to battle those giants we may find them wiped out on our return."

Nina smiled. "No danger of that," she replied. "Fighting between pilgrim bands is not permitted in the Land of the Gods. If the Saivas were to attack our men, an army would be quickly sent against them and they would be wiped out, or, if taken alive, punished with horrible lingering deaths."

When the party was properly divided, the gates swung open and Nina once more gave the order to advance.

This time they passed through a belt of thick forest before coming to the third wall—a hunting-preserve of the gods, so Nina informed Tam. This third wall was guarded by warriors of Indra, who challenged the party as before, and informed them that half their number must be left behind. It was decided that Lozong and the tigers should be left here with the nineteen warriors Dhava selected to remain, as this would be the best place for the beasts to find sustenance. After turning the two beasts into the forest, the old lama came up to where Tam sat his mount. Unbuckling his belt, he passed it, with his yatagan, up to Tam.

"Take this with my blessing, my chela," he said. "It's a good strong blade, and the kind you use best. Leave that clumsy, brittle-bladed tulwar with me. I'll have no need of it here, but you are going into unknown danger and must go well armed."

Tam took the yatagan to humor the old fellow, and passed his tulwar down to him. Nor was he sorry to have it strapped to his side, for it was his favorite weapon, the weapon with which he could split the skull of a buffalo or tiger.

As they rode on, he noticed that a party of thirteen Saivas was encamped near the wall at some distance from the highway.


THEY then passed successively through a region of lakes which Nina said was the fishing-ground of the gods, and a region of graves and mausoleums—the burial ground of the gods. They left ten men to make a camp in the former, before a wall guarded by Vaishnava warriors, and five more, among whom was Yusuf, in the latter before a wall guarded by Saiva soldiers. Then Nina, Tam, the major, the doctor and Dhava entered the gate of a ring-shaped city which extended around the base of the mountain—the City of the Gods.

Nina gave the signal to halt when all were inside and the gates had closed behind them.

"Now listen carefully to what I have to say, all of you," she told them, "for each man's life will depend upon his actions during the next few minutes. We are about to enter the Street of the Archers. The gods have ruled that pilgrims traversing this street must not speak, and must not look either to the right or left. The houses of this street are topped with battlements, behind which archers are posted. A word, a look to the right or left, is a signal for them to loose their arrows at the offending pilgrim. And in the street below, people are posted, whose business it is to sorely tempt you to break the rule. Heed them not, or you will surely die."


XXII. — THE PLACE OF THE GODS

WHEN the four men had assured Nina that they would neither speak nor turn their heads, she gave the order to advance in single file.

Riding just behind her, Tam could see, from the corners of his eyes, that the city through which they were passing was much like Aryatun in construction, and was inhabited by people of all the races of Iramatri, as well as those of strange races which he concluded must live in that part of the Nether World mentioned by Nina, beyond the Land of the Gods. He saw the battlements on the houses that lined the street, and behind them caught the glint of the day-blaze on many a polished helmet, and on the gleaming points of hundreds of arrows, held to bowstrings and pointing over the battlements.

Suddenly something soft, and of a most disagreeable odor, struck the side of his face. In the street beside him there was a peal of mocking laughter. Furious, he was about to turn on his tormenter when he remembered, just in time, the reason for the archers on the wall. He saw that Nina had not been spared similar treatment, and judged from the sounds behind him that the others were also being bombarded with rotten fruit.

After that, various ingenious means were employed to cause the five riders to forfeit their lives. Insults, curses and threats were hurled at them by men who danced and shouted before and around them, while the archers watched grimly—silently. Mud and other filth was thrown at them. Caged or chained wild beasts were made to roar close beside them, to distract their attention. Fires blazed up, men shouting around them in alarm. Brawls were started in the street, with dashing weapons and furious shouts. A screaming girl was dragged out of a doorway by her hair. But the five riders never spoke—never turned to look.

After a few moments these demonstrations ceased. Then Tam heard a voice beside him say: "The danger is over now. You may look and speak. You have done very well indeed."

He glanced at Nina and saw that she was looking straight ahead. From the corners of his eyes he could still see the gleam of arrow points and helmets above the battlements. He had been about to turn and reply to the courteous speech. What a narrow escape!

But this was the final trick of those who sought to trap them into forfeiting their lives. They emerged from the street of the archers into a small park, evidently built especially for pilgrims. Here one lone Saiva was encamped—and so Tam judged that, from this point, Siva had gone on alone.

Traversing the park, they came to a wall guarded by Aryan warriors.

"Who comes?" called an officer from beside the gate.

"Nina of Arya on pilgrimage," Dhava answered.

"Three must remain. Two may go on," said the officer. "Also the beasts must stay. Beyond this gate, pilgrims must travel on foot."

All the members of the party dismounted, and farewells were said, Nina having announced that Tam should be the one to accompany her up the mountain. Just before she left, Dhava handed her a small parcel, which she examined, then passed to Tam to carry for her.


THE gates opened, then clashed shut behind them, as Tam and Nina began the steep ascent of the rocky incline. There was a broad and well-worn pathway cut into the stone by the countless millions of human feet that had trodden this path through the ages. Most of them, Nina told Tam, had been the feet of priests and slaves conveying offerings to the Place of the Gods. The only pilgrims permitted to come this far were the rulers of Iramatri, each of whom might bring one companion as far as the antechamber of the Most High Place. And this royal pilgrimage, she told him, was seldom made more than once in a thousand years, though lesser pilgrims came in hordes to visit the City of the Gods and its shrines at the season when Sesha, the monster serpent who guarded the river, had gone to drowse in his lair and shed his skin, which he did annually.

The path narrowed presently, and turned onto a ledge which slanted up a sheer wall of rock. It was slippery and narrow, and they were compelled to walk in single file, often walking sideways and hugging the precipice in order to keep their balance where parts of the path had crumbled away leaving little more than toe-room.

It was tiring and dangerous work, and Tam, who was not accustomed to such tremendous heights, made the mistake of looking down when they were nearing the top of the precipice. A dizziness overcame him, so that he swayed and would have fallen to a swift death on the rocks five thousand feet below, had not Nina steadied him until he recovered his poise.

Tam breathed a sigh of relief when he scrambled up over the top of the cliff. Turning, he extended a hand to Nina and helped her up.

The path they followed was now horizontal for a time, leading across a wide boulder-strewn ledge. As they advanced Tam noticed a strange increase in the temperature of the air. Then suddenly a tremendous chasm yawned at his feet, from the bottom of which yellow flames leaped and swirled upward. It extended as far as he could see to the right and left, and the sole visible means of crossing it appeared to be a grassy, smoke-blackened pole.

"The fiery' chasm," said Nina. "The most dread ordeal of them all. It is the law that each pilgrim, priest or slave to pass this place must walk across the pole alone."

"I'll go first," said Tam, "and see if it will bear your weight."

He started for the pole, but she laid a restraining hand on his arm.

"No, Tam. In this case, I must go first. It is the law of the gods."

Resolutely, she stepped out on the slippery pole, which bent slightly under her weight, and swayed from side to side as she walked. Tam watched her with bated breath. She had passed the middle, and he thought she was going to make it, when suddenly her foot slipped and she fell. He groaned, expecting to see her disappear into the fiery hell beneath, but quick as a flash she threw out her arm and caught the pole, swinging dizzily above the licking flames, her elbow-crooked about it.

Tam was about to go out after her when she began creeping toward the opposite wall, hand over hand, her body still dangling beneath the pole. He restrained himself from following when the sudden realization came to him that the slender shaft would not, in all probability, support their combined weights.

As she neared the wall her movements became more slow and labored, showing that her strength was nearly gone. She was endeavoring to perform a feat which any trained athlete would find difficulty in imitating, and it appeared that the strain would be too much for her. A few feet from the wall she stopped to rest, breathing heavily. Then she made a last desperate dash for the wall—and reached it. But when she tried to draw herself up, her strength failed her. Twice she tried, and each time slipped back helplessly, one hand clutching the pole and the other hooked over the ledge.

It was obvious to Tam that she could not hold on much longer, and that unaided she would never be able to pull herself up on the ledge. There was a chance that he might loosen her grip on the pole by its swaying if he should cross, and another that the pole might break. But against these there was the certainty that she would fall to her death if not aided within the next few moments.

"Hang on. Don't try to lift yourself. I'll help you," he shouted. Then, thrusting the bundle he carried into the bosom of his garment, he sprinted lightly across the pole, so forgetful of self in his anxiety for Nina's safety that not the slightest dizziness assailed him. Once across, he seized her wrists, and quickly hauled her to safety. For a moment she stood bravely erect. Then she went limp in his arms, her head on his shoulder.

"Oh, Tam, it was horrible!" she said. "You came just in time." He felt her trembling in his arms, and saw that she was weeping. The strain had been too much for her overwrought nerves.

She ceased her sobbing presently, and looked up with tears still trembling on her long, curled lashes.

"We must go on," she said, "or darkness will catch us here on the mountainside. And it may be that, by that time, Siva will have accomplished his purpose."


A CLIMB of about a half-hour brought them to a doorway cut in the mountainside. Only a short distance above them now was the luminous mist through which came the day-blaze. It did not seem any hotter here than on the ground, but there were odd electrical emanations that caused a prickly sensation as of many tiny needles, and the air was filled with the peculiar sweetish scent of ozone.

They entered the doorway and went up a winding stairway cut from the solid rock. It was lighted by small, heavily glazed portholes excavated through the mountainside. As they mounted higher and higher, the light from these portholes became so bright that they were nearly blinded, and the electrical emanations grew so powerful that their limbs were numbed and they walked as if they were carrying heavy burdens.

But relief came as they passed from the zone of bright light into one of comparative twilight. Here there were no portholes, and the way was lighted by guttering lamps burning aromatic oil and set in niches in the rock.

Tam felt no ill effects from the ordeal of having passed through the blazing light, but was, on the contrary, refreshed and stimulated. He noticed that Nina, too, was walking more buoyantly than at the beginning of the climb, despite the fact that only a short time before, it had appeared that her strength was nearly exhausted.

Abruptly the ascent came to an end as they entered a large room carved from the solid rock. It was brightly lighted by a score of aromatic oil lamps set before mirrors. Having looked upon the magnificence of the Aryan palace and temple, Tam had, up to this moment, fully believed that he had seen the utmost limit of man's ingenuity in the lavish use of precious stones and metals for interior decoration. But the vision of splendor which dazzled his gaze as he entered this room convinced him that he had been wrong. The floor and wainscoting were of golden tiles set in a mortar of platinum. The domed ceiling was of lapis lazuli, in the rich azure sky of which were set immense diamonds that sparkled like stars of the first magnitude. At one end of the room seven colossal and richly bejeweled figures sat on immense thrones. Before each was a golden altar on which a brazier of incense smoldered. At first Tam thought the gigantic figures were living creatures, perhaps the gods themselves, but as he approached more closely he saw that they were only images, so convincingly wrought that they appeared alive. They represented Brahm, Vishnu, Siva, Nina, Indra, Hanuman and Vasuki, the two latter depicted as an immense monkey and a huge seven-headed cobra, respectively.

"This is the antechamber of the gods," said Nina, "and is as far as you may go. Give me the parcel you carry for me, that I may make ready to go on alone to the Most High Place."

He handed her the bundle, which she unwrapped. It contained a garment of white, semi-transparent silk, a golden circlet for the hair adorned with uraeus, disk and crescent, and six half-opened lotus buds.

"Help me remove this armor," she said. "I can not go before the gods in the panoply of war."

Awkward but efficient, he helped her remove her suit of chain mail, nor did the thought occur to either of them that there might be any impropriety in her disrobing before him. The Semitic tradition of Adam and Eve, who ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and thereafter grew ashamed of their own bodies, had never reached this ancient Aryan stronghold. Nor had it affected the naive personality of the jungle-reared Tam, who had spent ten years of his life without clothing of any kind.


DIVESTED of her mail, she wound the silken garment about her trim little figure and adjusted the circlet on her fluffy head. Then she took up the seven lotus buds, and walking up to where the seven colossal images looked down from their lofty thrones, laid a blossom on the altar of each with a short prayer.

She turned to Tam. "I am ready to go up now, to the Most High Place. Somehow, I feel afraid. It seems that the Mahadevi is warning me not to go, that danger lies ahead."

"Then don't go," said Tam. "Or if you feel that you must, why, let me go with you."

"I must go," she told him, a note of terror in her voice, "and alone. Siva of Saivarta has gone up and has not returned, so he must be there petitioning the gods for the ancient weapons. Perhaps they have already granted his prayer. It may be that I am too late."

"And you will go up there alone to face Siva the Destroyer—Siva the libidinous? It is unthinkable."

"It is inevitable. And after all, reason tells me that my fears are groundless, for he would not dare to harm me in the very presence of the seven immortals." She stiffened resolutely. "I am going."

She walked toward an arched doorway at the opposite end of the room. It was closed by seven golden bars, beyond which could be seen golden steps leading upward. And above it was the inscription in Aryan:


TO THE MOST HIGH PLACE


AS Nina came to a halt in front of the doorway, a deep voice which seemed to come from the bars themselves, said: "Who comes?"

"Nina of Arya, to petition the gods."

"Enter, Nina of Arya."

The seven golden bars slid upward, and Nina stepped through the doorway. As she began her ascent of the stairs they dropped smoothly back into place.

Listening intently, Tam heard the sound of her footfalls gradually grow softer as she climbed the golden steps, until they died away altogether. Thereafter, for some time, he stood there in a silence so intense that the sound of his own breathing seemed to fill the whole room. Tense with anxiety, he listened on, but the silence continued.

This would not do. He must pull himself together. With measured strides, he began pacing back and forth across the floor, oblivious to his surroundings. Then a sudden movement in the direction of the seven colossi attracted his attention. It had seemed to him that something about the central image, that of Nina Jagan Mata, had moved. But what? He looked carefully. Then he saw, to his astonishment, that the right hand which had previously pointed heavenward had straightened out, and was now pointing toward the door to the Most High Place.

Puzzled, he stared for an instant at this seeming miracle—the movement of an arm of apparently solid and jointless metal. Then the thought came that this gesture might be meant for him. Was the Jagan Mata directing him to go to that door?

Swiftly turning, he ran up to the golden bars and stood there, listening. Faintly there came to his ears, from far above him, the sound of a woman's scream of terror. Was it Nina crying out in agony or in mortal fear? He must investigate. He pounded on the nearest bar.

There was a booming challenge from the concealed voice:

"Who comes?"

"Tam, Son of the Tiger."

"Go back, Tam, Son of the Tiger. You may not pass."

Desperately, Tam wrenched at the thick golden bars. To his surprize they bent in his hands as easily as would iron bars of a much smaller diameter. Spreading them apart, he squeezed through the opening he had made and bounded up the stairs.


IT seemed to Tam as he rushed up the spiral stairway that he would never reach the top. From time to time he plainly heard the frightened screams of Nina, which grew louder as he mounted higher, until at length he came to a second doorway, barred like the first. Wrenching two more golden bars apart, he pushed through, and into a great domed room ten times as large as the one he had just left, but constructed and decorated in much the same manner, though with an even more lavish hand.

In the center of the room stood an immense, seven-sided golden altar, from the middle of which yellow flames like those he had seen in the Abyss of Fire and evidently fed by a natural gas well, blazed upward, shedding a flickering radiance that caused the jewels in the dome to twinkle like stars and made shadowy objects appear to move.

From behind the altar came Nina, screaming, and running like a frightened deer. She was closely followed by the largest and most hideous quasi-human monster Tam had yet beheld in this land of strange beings. Gigantic, four-armed, and a sickly white in color like the Saivas, this creature was fully a head taller than any Saiva Tam had yet encountered. Five ugly faces, each with a third eye peeping from beneath the golden helmet, made it evident that this was Siva of Saivarta—Siva Panchanana, the Five-faced, Siva Trinetra, the Three-eyed. He wore a necklace of human skulls, and the skin of an immense tiger was wrapped about his loins. From his belt depended an immense tulwar, a mace, and a battle-ax.

Whipping out the yatagan which Lozong had pressed upon him, Tam leaped between the monster and the girl.


Illustration

Whipping out the yatagan, Tam leaped between the monster and the girl.


Astounded and enraged at this sudden interruption of his pleasant little girl-hunt, Siva paused, glaring down at Tam from his towering height.

"Fool!" he roared. "Who are you, and what do you here in the place of the immortals?"

Tam did not speak, but rushed at the monster, who promptly drew his long tulwar and came on guard.

It was Nina who answered for him as their blades clashed together.

"He is the Son of the White Tigress," she cried, "come to fulfil the prophecy—to destroy the Destroyer."

"Ha! A two-legged tiger, is he? I have slain many of the four-legged kind, but this one will be much easier to kill."

He brought his heavy tulwar down in such a powerful head-cut that had Tam parried with an ordinary blade it would have shattered under the blow. But this was no ordinary weapon which Lozong had pressed upon his chela. And Tam was thankful that he had accepted it, for the tulwar slid harmlessly to one side. He countered with a quick neck cut which drew blood, and would have bitten deep had the giant not caught it on his mace as it was descending, breaking its force. Then he was compelled to leap back to avoid a terrific slash which the crafty Siva aimed at his legs.

After that there was a bewildering exchange of cuts and thrusts, swiftly given and deftly parried, and Tam realized that he was up against the greatest swordsman he had ever encountered. He tried every trick of swordsmanship that Lozong had taught him, and several more which he had invented himself, but although his blade drew blood again and again he could not succeed in inflicting a mortal or even a crippling wound on his wily adversary, and was himself severely cut about the head and shoulders.

Soon both opponents were bleeding from a score of wounds, and Tam began to feel his sword arm weakening from the terrific loss of blood. Not only was he sorely put to it to avoid the slashes and thrusts of the long tulwar, but in addition, he was compelled to dodge the blows of the heavy mace which Siva swung with one of his right hands. Several times the giant had saved himself from mortal wounds by parrying with the mace, and Tam believed that if the bludgeon could be eliminated from the contest he might improve his chance of winning.

Accordingly, he whipped out his long dagger, and holding it sword-fashion in his left hand, used it to parry a thrust of the tulwar while he struck at the arm that held the mace. The keen, double-curved blade of the yatagan bit through the giant's wrist, and the heavy weapon, still gripped in the severed hand, fell to the floor. But scarcely had it fallen ere the other right hand whipped the battle-ax from the monster's belt, and Tam was faced with an even more formidable weapon than before. It swung up, then down, in a flashing arc, aimed for his head. He raised his yatagan to ward off the blow, but his arm had weakened, and the heavy ax head forced down his guard, striking him in the forehead. There was a brief instant in which it seemed that all the flashing jewels in the blue dome above had crashed down around him. Then he found himself lying flat on his back with Siva bringing his ax down for the death blow. Unable to rise, he rolled over to avoid the descending weapon, which bit deep into the golden tiles beside him. With a snarl of rage, Siva wrenched it free, and again swung for Tam's head with terrific force. This time Tam rolled back to his original position, and the ax haft shivered with the force of the blow as the blade once more bit into the golden floor.

Roaring like an angry bull, Siva flung the useless handle from him and raised his tulwar. But in that instant Tam had transferred his long dagger to his right hand. He balanced it carefully, then hurled it with all the strength and skill he could muster. Straight as an arrow it flew, sinking up to the hilt in the third eye of Siva which a moment before had blinked fiercely down at him from beneath the golden helmet. Again Tam rolled to one side, but this time to avoid the body of the giant, which toppled and fell with a terrific crash.


WITH head swimming dizzily, Tam got to his feet. A single slash of his keen yatagan, and the head of the giant rolled free of the corpse. He picked it up by the tuft of hair which projected through the peak of the golden helmet, and to his surprize saw for the first time that four of this monster's faces were cleverly and artistically made masks, so constructed by means of a concealed mechanism that they would follow every muscular movement of the real face. The third eye in the forehead, however, was real enough.

He was suddenly conscious of Nina beside him, her hand on his arm.

"Tam, you were wonderful! But you are wounded—bleeding. Let me bind up your cuts."

He dropped the gory thing he held in his hand and flung down his bloody yatagan.

"I'm all right," he said, but his tongue had grown unaccountably thick. "Just a few scratches." The floor seemed to be rocking beneath his feet. Nina drew his arm over her shoulders and put her own around his waist to steady him. With head reeling, he noticed for the first time that they were standing in front of a colossal throne, a gigantic counterpart of the throne of Nina in Aryatun. On either side of it, but placed just a little lower, were three lesser thrones. In a flash, he realized that these were the thrones of the seven immortals. But where were their mighty owners?

"The thrones of the gods," he said thickly, "But where have they gone? Where are the gods?"

"Tam, you must not talk of that now. Let me see to your wounds."

A gray mist swirled before his eyes. He tried to brush it away with his hand, but it only grew thicker—darker.

"There are no gods," he muttered. The mist grew heavier, turned inky black.

Faintly, as from a vast distance, he heard the voice of Nina.

"Oh, Tam! You are falling! You must let me help you! Tam! Ta——!" Swiftly he sank into a sea of black oblivion. The sound of her voice died in the distance.

For an instant or an eternity, he knew not which, he was in a cold, dark void. Then he felt the sensation of floating bodiless in the air. And he could hear and see.

Beneath him was his own body, Nina bending over it, her head on his bosom—weeping.

In front of him were the seven colossal thrones. And they were occupied! There sat the seven immortals, looking down at the relatively tiny beings on the gold-tiled floor—Brahm, the Creator, Vishnu, the Preserver, and Siva, the Destroyer were at the right. On the central throne, which was slightly raised above the others, sat Nina Jagan Mata. At her left were Indra, Ruler of the Bright Firmament, Hanuman, the Monkey God, and Vasuki, the Seven-headed Mahanaga, Ruler of the Serpents.

Slowly Siva turned to Nina and spoke—his voice like the rolling of thunder: "Thy champion has won and saved the world, O Nina, but it has cost him dear."

The voice of the goddess was full of compassion as she replied: "Yes. It has cost him dear, O Siva, but he is a hero who does not count the cost. Had he but clung to life a little longer——. But no matter. The love of my priestess will follow him, even to his next incarnation, where they will meet again."

Faintly, Tam then heard the cry of Nina, who with one hand clinging to the fingers of his own lifeless one, prostrated herself in the direction of the lofty central throne.

"O Nina, Mahadevi, compassionate Mother of the World, save him. Save this man for thy handmaiden. He has laid low the Destroyer, who would have made a bloody shambles of the earth and doomed thy children to slavery and violent death. For their sakes and mine, restore him to life."

The goddess looked down at her little priestess—smiled, "Dost want him so much?" she asked.

"More than anything in earth or Heaven, O Mother."

The compassionate eyes of the great figure on the throne seemed to twinkle just a little.

"Why then, we'll see what can be done."

The radiant face, the compassionate orbs were turned full on Tam.

"Back. Go back to thy mortal shell," the voice commanded. "It may be that I can save it and detain thee for her who loveth thee better than earthly empire or hope of Nirvana."

It seemed to Tam that he floated swiftly downward. Then he was plunged, once more, into that cold black void through which he had previously passed.


ROARS of applause. A swaying motion. Intolerable heat. Tam returned to consciousness and felt a cool hand on his brow. He opened his eyes and tried to sit up, but the hand restrained him.

"Lie still, beloved. You are very weak." It was the voice of Nina—the hand of Nina. Eagerly he grasped the hand. "Where are we?" he asked.

"Back in Aryatun, dear heart. For four days you have been delirious. I despaired of your life, but the great compassionate Mother saved you for me, and three of her priests helped me to bring you down the mountain. Praise Nina, the fever has broken at last, and you will get well."

"Those people. Why are they shouting?"

"Let me prop you up a little, and you will see for yourself." She helped him to lift his head, and adjusted the silken cushions. They were riding in a magnificent litter, swung between two richly caparisoned mammoths walking tandem. The streets were lined with men, women and children, crowding each other to get a look at the returning hero, and shouting:

"Hail, Tam, Son of the Tiger! He has slain the Destroyer and saved the world!"

Beside the litter on one side walked Dhava, proudly carrying a long pike, from the top of which the head of Siva leered blankly down at the populace, the hilt of Tam's dagger still projecting from its third eye. Behind Dhava walked Lozong, accompanied by Chiam, the tiger, and Leang, the white tigress. On the other side of the litter strode Major Evans and Doctor Green. Behind them, head stiffly erect, obviously conscious of the tremendous adulation of the crowd, walked Yusuf the Pathan with three rifles slung over his shoulder.

"Why, we're nearing your palace," Tam said, as the beautiful building loomed before them.

"We are nearing our palace, beloved," Nina replied, and there in full view of the madly cheering populace she bent and kissed him on the lips.




Illustration


THE END


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