|Cave-Boy Erek, pp 554-556
The Triumph, The Boys' Best Story Paper
No. 465, Vol. 18, 533-556 (price 2d)
Week Ending Septermber 16, 1933.
CAPTURED BY THE PYRAMID BUILDERS
"THE shaggy men have captured us!"
Cave-boy Erek opened his eyes and gasped in dismay as he found himself swinging up and down in the air, and realised his position.
He and his comrade, Tala, both belonging to an early prehistoric age, were travelling over a part of the world where evolution had played strange freaks, and man, ape-man, and great reptilian monsters lived in eternal strife.
Having reached a district peopled by shaggy-haired tribes, who had tamed a number of the wild beasts, Erek and Tala had been taken by surprise by a number of the tribe.
Now, bound to the tusks of a pair of giant mammoths, they were being conducted into the valley where the tribe had its home, and where they were using their queer-looking animals to help build a giant pyramid.
"It is the end, O Erek!" shouted Tala despairingly. "We shall perish!"
Risking another blow from the trunk of the creature who carried him, Erek shouted back words of encouragement.
"Have courage, and trust in Erek. We can yet escape these hairy-faced ones," he declared.
Erek was not one to lose heart. Now he calmly began to look about him and think of a means of defeating whatever fate the shaggy men might have in store for them.
The feet of the giant mammoths shook the ground as they pressed slowly forward through the mob of yelling men, women, and children who swarmed round them; staring up at the captives.
Erek could make nothing of their screams or of their language.
But he showed no fear as he stared around, noted the cave-eaten cliffs, with crude ladders leading up to them, then turned his attention to the queer-looking beasts that were engaged in building the monster pyramid.
The huge animals were as docile as cows, obeying the pricking of their drivers' sticks implicitly.
Someone ran racing to the workers round the pyramid and shouted an order. Instantly work ceased, and the queer-looking beasts were led off towards the top end of the valley, which was thickly wooded.
There they were tethered by means of powerful cables made of woven vines, but of considerable length, which permitted each animal to venture a slight distance into the woods and tear down branches, leaves, and fruit to eat.
In the meantime the mammoth-riders had brought their beasts to a halt in the clearing now formed in front of the pyramid.
Here, at a shouted command, the shaggy monsters dropped clown on their knees, so that the captives bound to their tusks were within a foot or so of the ground.
A number of white-haired men, who appeared to be the heads of the strange tribe, came and inspected Erek and Tala with interest. One even went the length of poking Erek's ribs, whereupon the young giant started to wriggle and laugh.
The shaggy-haired man was tickling him, and when he saw how Erek reacted to this treatment he was highly amused himself. In a moment two others had joined him, so that Erek started to yell and kick with his feet.
Suddenly a lashing gave way, and one of Erek's kicking feet caught a shaggy-haired man in the stomach, rolling him over on his back.
"It has given!" gasped Erek, in delight, and united all his force in tugging at the other lashings.
The dried-up vine ropes were not strong enough to defeat the pull of Erek's powerful muscles.
One by one they gave way, and he leaped from the mammoth's encircling tusks, to charge straight at the shaggy men, snatch a club from one of them, and fight his way towards the other mammoth where Tala was pinioned.
The shaggy men came at him with a yell, but Erek's club sent them bowling over one by one like so many ninepins.
Tala, seeing what was happening, let out a cry of joy. He had sufficient faith in his brainy cave-boy partner to think that Erek could rescue him single-handed from this valley of mystery and monsters.
But the shaggy men had their servants.
The man who had bestrode the mammoth to which Erek had been attached now gave a scream, stabbed at the creature's ear with his stick so that it rose to its feet.
Prodding it again, he sent it shambling through the crowd straight for Erek.
"Look behind you!" screamed Tala to his comrade.
Erek whirled, but too late, for a giant trunk had encircled his waist and lifted him right off the ground. Up in the air rose the cave-boy.
When the shaggy rider saw that Erek was secure he gave the order to lower. The mammoth obeyed, and as soon as Erek reached the ground a score of men raced forward.
In five minutes' time he was again bound and helpless.
One of the white-haired chiefs gave an order and the mammoth picked him up in its trunk and started off towards the cliff of caves.
Behind followed the mammoth with Tala. Passing ladder after ladder, the leading mammoth at last arrived beneath a cave to which no ladder gave access.
Raising Erek in its trunk, it pushed the bound cave-boy within, then stepped backwards. Erek found himself in a dark recess about twenty feet from the ground.
A moment later Tala joined him.
The mammoths and their attendants backed away, and the comrades were left in the darkness of their prison.
THE VITAL TUSK LOST
MOST of the night Erek fought and struggled to free himself from his bonds, but the shaggy men had tied him too firmly this time, and the vine-ropes were new.
Exhausted, the cave-boy fell asleep. It was the early rays of the morning sun that awoke him. Rolling over on one side, and, peering out of the cave, Erek was just in time to see the commencement of a strange ceremonial.
A procession of the shaggy men were heading for a tall, circular stone which stood in the centre of the valley and to the right of the partially erected pyramid. The stone was perhaps thirty foot in diameter at the summit, and a long wooden ladder had been erected against one side of it.
In the middle of the procession marched two men who carried the body of a newly slain deer.
Mounting the ladder, they laid the carcass on the summit of the stone, and then backed down to the ground again. When they had done so the whole crowd retreated a slight distance, and one of the men picked up a long reptilian bone that had been hollowed out to form a trumpet.
Blowing into it, the man produced a loud, tremulous, but powerful note that boomed all over the valley.
In answer to the summons a cloud of winged creatures came swooping down from the craggy cliffs on the opposite side of the valley.
They were much smaller than pterodactyls, but larger than the modern vultures. There must have been at least a hundred of them, and they swooped for the sacrifice on the stone with fierce, squawking cries.
For about twenty minutes to half an hour there was a horrible squawking, rending, and tearing of the carcass that lay on the pillar top. Then, one by one, the sated horrors rose in the air and winged off to the cliffs.
By the time the last one had gone only the skull and bones of the deer lay drying in the pitiless sunshine.
"That is what they will do with us, O Erek!" said a terrified voice.
Erek turned to see that Tala had rolled over and was gazing at the scene with wide, horrified eyes. The brown-skinned boy had seen all, and had judged that this was to be the manner of their end.
Erek, however, only smiled at his companion.
"We shall not die like that if I can help it, O Tala," he whispered. "Listen, I have still the magic crystal. If you bite through the cord that holds it with your teeth I can pick it up with mine."
Tala looked at the small pouch that dangled on a piece of hide which ran round Erek's neck. The pouch contained the magnifying crystal, or fire-stone, which had been so useful to the cave-boy during their travels.
Wriggling over on his stomach, the brownskinned youth started chewing at the cord on his comrade's neck. It was half an hour before he had cut through the leather with his strong teeth, and cord and pouch fell on the sandy floor of the cave.
"How can you use it if you are bound?'? said Tala. "What do you want it for?"
Erek laughed, and, bending, gripped an edge of the large, circular crystal in his strong teeth. Then he turned his face towards the sun, wriggled up to his knees, and struggled towards Tala.
"I free you first!" he gasped. "Roll on your face and lie still."
When Tala had obeyed, Erek got into a kneeling position, slightly over him. Bending his head, the cave-boy started focusing with the crystal between his teeth.
The sun rays were striking directly into the cave. Could he burn through Tala's bonds before the shaggy men came to inspect their captives?
Erek had a plan, and he hoped to carry it out. He had no desire to die himself, or see Tala die on the pillar of the prehistoric vultures who seemed to be the gods of this primitive people.
Tala squirmed. The hot spot of light was burning his back. Erek grunted, and moved his head so that the light fell on the rope of dried vines which bound Tala's wrists.
The same sun that was focusing on the cords was also beating strongly on the cave-boy's head, but he had a thick mop of hair which prevented him feeling the heat too much.
Gradually a faint spiral of smoke came from Tala's bonds. They were burning through.
"Pull apart your wrists!" cried Erek, at last.
Tala obeyed, and there was a cracking sound as the bonds parted.
"Quick, stamp out the fire!" ordered Erek, as Tala dragged himself to his knees.
Tala quickly rubbed the ends of the severed ropes in the sand, and, following Erek's instructions, bit off the charred pieces.
"Now, quick, slacken mine!" ordered the cave-boy. "I will retie you so that the shaggy men will think you are still tightly bound, but in such a manner that you can easily escape when you want to. Then I will retie myself, so that I, too, can slip free my wrists."
Tala worked quickly, and soon Erek was free. Then he glanced anxiously out into the valley, lit by the morning sun. The shaggy men were moving, and the herd of queer-looking beasts had been brought up from their pasture.
The work of building the monster pyramid was being put under way again. So far nobody was paying any attention to the captives.
"I will just have time to do it," thought Erek.
He picked up the fire-stone, replaced it in its pouch, and knotted the cord, holding it once more round his neck. Then he retied Tala's wrists, and pushed his companion into the shadows.
If they could escape and reach the spot where they had left the horses Erek had caught and broken in as beasts of burden, they could soon evade pursuit. The shaggy men world never catch up on them.
Erek had barely finished refixing his own bonds when he saw a band of men and a mammoth approaching the cave where the companions had been lodged.
One man, as usual, bestrode the mammoth's bead. Halting the beast below the cave-mouth, he stood up and peered over the edge of it, poking at the captives with his sharp-pointed stick.
Erek and Tala both cried out as the pointed stake pricked their flesh, and the shaggy warder smiled in content. The prisoners were both alive and, apparently, secure.
He marched the mammoth off, and soon it and others of its kind were engaged in shifting the big stones for the pyramid by means of the crude trailing sleds. What the purpose of the giant pyramid could be Erek could not fathom, unless it was to replace the pillar of sacrifice with something on a grander scale.
Now began a long and dreadful day. The shaggy men had no intention of bothering to feed their victims, or even give them water.
The sun beat into the cave for hours on end, but never once did Erek see a chance for him and Tala to make an escape from the valley.
Towards nightfall the man on the mammoth came back. Lifted by the mammoth's trunk into the cave, he and another man stepped towards the captives and eyed them.
Suddenly one of them nodded towards Tala, and the other man rolled the brown-skinned boy towards the cave-edge.
"They take me to kill me!" screamed Tala in horror.
"Have courage, Tala!" shouted Erek. "Remember the sacrifice is in the morning. They wait for the rising of the sun."
The mammoth had now seized Tala and lowered him to the ground. There a band of men gripped the cave-boy and hurried off in the dusk towards the pillar of sacrifice. It was apparent that they intended sacrificing their captives one at a time, and that they had taken Tala to have him in place for the rising of the sun the following morning.
Erek bit his lip.
"Somehow I must rescue Tala and escape from here!" he muttered. "I have all night yet."
The minute night came down and silence fell over the valley Erek slipped from his bonds and commenced unknotting them. When they were extended they formed a rope eight feet long.
Taking this, Erek made for the cave-edge, and, selecting a small spur of rock, he tied one end of the rope securely round it, then slipped the rest outside.
A moment later he was wriggling down the rope till he could go no farther. The drop, however, was only some seven feet or thereabouts, and he landed like a cat.
On his hands and knees Erek made off in the direction of the pillar of sacrifice. When he got near it the moon appeared from behind the scurrying clouds, and the pale light disclosed to him two men sleeping at the foot, armed with spears and flint axes.
The ladder for mounting to the top lay beside them, flat on the ground.
"Tala must be on top!" muttered the cave-boy.
He crept forward, then pounced for the two guards like a panther, hands outstretched.
There was the smack of bone on bone as Erek's fingers locked round the warders' throats and banged their skulls together, The force of the contact stunned both men. They went limp without uttering even a groan.
Erek chuckled, gripped the ladder, and placed it against the wall. As he mounted he heard a stirring, and Tala's face peered down at him.
"Erek!" hissed the young hunter. Erek nodded.
"Descend after me!" he ordered. "I have a surprise for the shaggy-haired ones when the sun comes up."
Tala descended, and found Erek lifting up one of the unconscious guards. In a moment the cave-boy was up the ladder, dropping him on the summit of the pillar of sacrifice. Then he raced down and lifted up the second.
Tala waited, breathless, till his companion descended for the last time.
"Now they are prisoners," said Erek softly, removing the ladder. "They cannot follow us or give the alarm. They will have to cry very loudly to awaken the men up in the caves."
"Now we shall be able to slip away and escape to where we left the horses!" he added triumphantly. "And we will skirt round the north of this valley, and curve round to find our right road again afterwards. With the mammoth tusk to aid us we cannot get lost."
"The mammoth tusk!" cried Tala in dismay. "I had forgotten it! I have it no longer! It was taken by one of those who brought me here. One of the white-haired ones. The chief one!"
Erek gave a cry of surprise. The dismay on his face was clear to see.
"The tusk! Without the tusk we can get nowhere," he whispered. "We cannot leave here without it. We must get it back!"
EREK'S BID FOR LIBERTY
CAVE-BOY Erek was now faced with a new and acute problem.
The carved mammoth tusk, upon which arrival at their destination depended, was lost. It had been stolen by one of the shaggy-haired men.
Tala, who as a boy had formed part of a hunting party which had traversed this region of the world, had always carried the tusk.
The hunting party had mounted various painted and carved stones along their route, and the mammoth tusk had been marked to show where these could be found again.
Minus the tusk Erek and Tala could never achieve their ambition, that of finding their way back to the latter's country.
"The chief lives in a cave to the north," said Tala. "I saw him enter it this afternoon."
The comrades sped across the darkened valley, and reached the spot Tala had spoken of. The mouth of the chief's cave showed forty or fifty feet above.
A long ladder, made of twisted vines and wooden bars, had been pulled up well off the ground, and now dangled, some ten feet down from the cave mouth. The rocky wall beneath was bare and offered no hope to a climber.
"We cannot gain it!" said Tala in dismay. "The ladder has been pulled up."
Erek bit his lip. He hated to be beaten. Suddenly from the top of the valley close to them came the booming call of one of the tethered beasts.
The cave-boy's face lit up.
"Tala," he whispered, "we shall get the tusk. There is a creature that can enable me to gain that cave. One of the strange animals that the cave-dwellers use to help them build their pyramids."
Tala stared at his comrade wide-eyed.
"If the shaggy men can make them do their bidding, why not you and I?" Erek continued. "I have watched their riders all day. I am sure I could make one of the beasts do as I wish. They are huge, but very docile.''
Erek marched off into the darkness at a pace which had Tala trotting.
"We shall have to go carefully in case there is a guard," said the cave-boy.
The moonlight showed them the clearing where the great domesticated reptiles were.
Four of the great brutes were asleep on the ground, but two others were lazily feeding on the grass and shrubs around them. At sight of Erek and Tala the nearest animal gave a peculiar sound that must have been a cry of pleasure, and moved towards them.
Tala backed as the reptile's head swung at them, but Erek, undaunted, moved forward, and patted the scaly forehead, making a clucking sound just as he had overhead the shaggy men do.
"We are in luck!" hissed Erek, pointing to the creature's shoulder. "The basket to carry the driver is still there. We will loosen his rope and then climb up."
At last the big knots were undone and the animal was free.
"Now!" said Erek. "Quick, into the basket!"
Tala sped forward, and with his heart beating fast, clutched at the ropes which bound the queer-shaped basket to the animal's shoulders. He was hardly inside when he felt Erek behind him and the animal rising on its hind logs.
Never in their lives had the pair experienced such a sensation as this rising motion. Soon they were perched on the reptile's back, over twenty feet above the ground, and it started moving forward with curious hobbling movements of its hind legs.
Erek, as cool and confident as could be, was directing the animal by means of a large pointed stick, similar to that used by the drivers of the big mammoths.
Slowly but surely it headed into the valley, and hugged the cliff wall till it was almost alongside the cave where dwelt the chief and his family.
"Now, Tala," whispered Erek. "It is thou who must wait with this beast while I seek the mammoth tusk. I have a rope with me here which you will attach to the ladder foot when I go up. See, it is already tied to the basket. The animal will not move when it finds itself tethered. It is very stupid."
"I will do as thou sayest, O Erek!"
When they at last reached the cave, Erek pulled up his strange mount by giving it a backward prick with the stick, as he had seen the drivers do.
The animal stopped dead against the wall, close to the foot of the rope ladder that dangled, folded up in a great bunch, from the mouth of the chieftain's cave.
Erek turned, held up a hand for silence, and started to climb out of the basket. Before he was at the top Tala had made the rope fast. He looked up just in time to see Erek vanishing into the cave-mouth.
Erek moved soft as a cat, holding his breath.
Not a yard from the entrance one of the chief's sons lay sleeping on the ground, a large flint hatchet beside him. Erek's eyes gleamed, and he quickly took this and slipped it into his girdle,
Roving fingers now found the handle of a giant club. This would serve as a weapon.
"Now to find the old one!" thought Erek, as he stepped stealthily forward.
There were three or four other indistinct figures in the cave. Erek stepped over two more of them before he found the white-bearded man who was the chief of the tribe. Glistening in a ray of moonlight that filtered in through through the cave mouth lay the mammoth tusk, only two inches from the sleeping man's hand and attached to his girdle by a cord.
Erek dropped, raised his stolen hatchet, and made a swift cut.
The chip of flint on stone instantly awoke the sleeping man. One loud terrified scream left his lips as he recognised Erek, then, ere he could snatch up a weapon, the mammoth tusk caught him a heavy blow across the temple.
Down he went with a moan, while Erek whirled to face the other forms that leaped from the floor of the cave and stared at him in surprise.
As they recognised the youth whom they thought to be still their captive, the chief's sons let out furious cries, and charged at Erek with clubs and hatchets.
In a moment a battle was raging on the floor of the cave. But Erek, skilled in the use of a club, soon k.-o.'d all his assailants. Erek laughed, a loud primeval laugh of victory, and sped for the mouth of the cave. Down below Tala's mount, startled by the noise of battle, had commenced pulling at its tether, and was uttering loud booming cries. In a minute or two the whole valley would be awake.
Erek, stowing the precious tusk in his girdle, clutched the top of the furled ladder, and went scampering down to where his comrade waited for him.
Ahead of them, mainly from the upper rows of caves, heads were peering, and the shaggy men had started to descend. One blow of his purloined flint hatchet and Erek had cut the rope that tethered their mounts to the ladder.
"Now," he roared, "we must escape. But to make sure of gaining time I have a task to complete."
He seized the pointed stick and prodded their mount off along the cliff wall, and at the same time raised his hatchet. Yells and shouts of fury greeted his approach.
In the moonlight the shaggy men could see quite clearly who it was that rode in the reptilian beast's basket. Stones and flights of crude arrows started to shower down on the comrades.
But Erek rode on, and, as they reached the first line of ladders, he started hacking at the ropes with his axe. The dried vines were little proof against the well-sharpened flint.
Down fell the lower ladders, thus removing the shaggy men's means of descent. Erek cheered and pricked his giant steed on to the next line. Three shaggy men dropped from them on to the beast's back and started climbing towards the basket.
"Take my club and deal with them!" yelled Erek toTala.
Tala obeyed and, turning round in the basket, swung his club at the little shaggy men, He managed to stun two of them. But, even as he did so, a heavy stone, aimed from above, took the brown-skinned youth on the back oŁ the skull.
Without a sound Tala flopped senseless to the basket floor, while the third little man came scrambling up, climbed into the basket, and raised his flint hatchet to strike Erek a mortal blow on the back of the neck.
Tala was senseless and unable to warn the cave-boy of his terrible danger, so it looked as if Erek was doomed!