translated by George Surdez
from Helgvor du Fleuve bleu (1930)
Helgvor of the Blue River
By J. H. ROSNY AINÉwith GEORGES SURDEZ
3rd installment (of 4)
Argosy, June 11, 1932 - pp 103-123Primeval beasts and the primitive passions of his sworn enemy threatened Helgvor, the young warrior, as he followed the trail of vengeance...
LEADING UP TO THIS INSTALLMENT
WHEN men fought with clubs and spears, and mammoths and saber-toothed tigers roamed the earth, there lived on the Red Peninsula, near the Blue River, a young warrior of the Ougmar clan, Helgvor.
He it was who was on guard when a raiding war party of flat-headed Tzohs sacked the Ougmar camp, killed the old people and children, and carried off the women during the absence of Helgvor's fellow warriors.
Accompanied by his wolf and two dogs, and the boy Hiolg, Helgvor sets out to track the marauding Tzohs to their own encampment. Following them at a safe distance, he sees the pursuit by Tzoh warriors of two Tzoh women, Amhao and her sister Glava. With Glava as leader, they had fled from the Tzohs when Amhao was ordained a human sacrifice to the angry god of the Mountain.
About to be captured by their pursuers, the two women are startled at the sudden appearance of Helgvor, who aids them. At night, in a rocky inclosure where they fortify themselves, they are set upon by half a dozen Tzoh warriors.
Helgvor, aided by the boy and the two women, beats off the attackers, slays them all. Morning finds the defenders wounded but alive and shows Helgvor that Glava, who has fought with a man's courage and skill, resembles his own fair-haired, straight limbed tribe.
They return to the Ougmar country, meet Helgvor's returned fellow warriors, and again take up the trail of vengeance. Glava accompanies them as guide. Strife is threatened, however, when Heigoun, strongest of the Ougmar warriors, lays claim to Glava.
Helgvor defies him, but Akroun, the chief, will not permit them to fight until the Tzohs have been overtaken and punished. To appease Heigoun, he sends him off at the head of a scouting party, and sends Helgvor in another party, headed by Shtra, Helgvor's father.
At dawn, Heigoun started out inland with six warriors, a few Gwahs and dogs. Shtra, with Helgvor, left for the river, his troop bearing two canoes to ford the pond. When the sheets of water were narrow they circled them or at times waded across.
Gloomy thoughts depressed Helgvor: the image of Glava tormented his youth, and because he was incapable of analyzing his mind, that image dominated his acts and his impulses. Formerly, the defeat of the Tzohs would have absorbed his whole being. Now. he thought much more of winning Glava.
Shtra loved Helgvor. He was a warrior with peaceful ways, humble before the chief, and he detested Heigoun. With much experience and little intuition, without ambition to command, he loved his ease. On the trail, at war and during the hunt, he performed his duties without ardor. He killed animals calmly, he was ready to exterminate the Tzohs. In like fashion, he would have liked to deprive Heigoun and his friends of their lives, preferably by some trick, had Akroun so ordered. Death did not perturb him, neither did the sufferings of those toward whom he was indifferent, but he would have mourned for Iouk or Helgvor many days.
Iouk, brother of Helgvor, resembled Shtra. More alert, he hated strongly. Although born before Helgvor, he acknowledged without anger or envy the superior strength and skill of his brother; he even was proud of him. For he was of those men for whom others may seem happy parts of their own beings.
For the first hours the little expedition progressed slowly. The six dogs, the wolf, the Gwahs and the warriors sought in vain for tracks. When the sun had crossed the first quarter of the sky, Shtra said:
If the Tzohs passed here before the flood, they must be very far ahead."
"Is not the flood wider upstream?" Helgvor asked.
Shtra shrugged. His narrow face resumed its apathetic gentleness. They had crossed a submerged ravine, had circled rocks, and walked on dry soil. The Gwahs searched casually, for they were hungry and wished to rest. A halt was ordered.
Then Helgvor explored the plain, and to see better, climbed on a bowlder. Furtive animals appeared in a flash, vanished. He saw a deer, horses, a triangular flight of cranes under a cloud. The dogs and the Ougmars also searched. At last the eyes of Helgvor lighted. A herd of aurochs had appeared in a ravine.
He slipped through the thickets, crawled in the tall grass, and came within arrow range of the herd. The aurochs had stopped in the ravine, where grew fresh grass.
Two enormous bulls protected the herd, and perhaps after an unsatisfactory combat, kept far from one another. Tawny hair grew on their shoulders and straggled over their eyes. Their limbs were slender for their tremendous bodies, which tapered from their broad, shaggy chests to slim hindquarters. They gave an impression of immense strength united with extreme agility. Their horns spread wide, very sharp, horns strong enough to toss aside lion, tiger or gray bear.
The herd grazed quietly. At intervals, one of the bulls would lift his monstrous head and seem to catch on his sensitive nostrils the emanations in the atmosphere, to catch within the radiance of his big, dark eyes the reflection of his surroundings.
Helgvor crept nearer, bent his bow.
ONE of the bulls bellowed; the cows lifted their melancholy heads as the dread effluvia of man drifted through the air. Several knew the smell, and one of the bulls, who had seen before the erect beast on his horizon, gave the signal for retreat.
An arrow struck him in the chest, a keen point stabbed for his heart. Furious, he charged for the center of the smell, while the herd fled.
Helgvor stood up. Filled with admiration for the colossal beast, aware that he was protecting the herd, he felt a dim regret. But the Ougmars, the Gwahs, the animals, waited for the flesh that creates flesh. A second arrow dug into the chest, then Helgvor drew a spear from his belt. The wounded aurochs had lost all sense of preservation, thought only of crushing his attacker, longed to gore him with his horns. He came on like a bowlder rolled in an avalanche.
Helgvor leaped aside as the aurochs charged.
Helgvor threw his spear. It penetrated near the shoulder. From rage and pain, the aurochs roared like a lion. When the gigantic beast was but a stride away, Helgvor leaped nimbly aside, and his club swung down. It struck on the skull, bounced off, fell back and broke the bull's foreleg. From then on the man was the master. Clumsy, almost helpless, the beast tried several attacks, which the hunter easily avoided.
"The warriors and the dogs need the flesh of the great aurochs!" he said.
He expressed thus, without being aware of it, his admiration for the immense beast, and his sorrow to slay it. For the bull was dying. His large eyes were foggy. He no longer attacked, but waited motionless, in the dream of death, on the mysterious brink of Nothingness. Then he trembled, a raucous plaint rose from his deep throat and suddenly he tumbled into the grass, dead.
Helgvor called the Gwahs and the Ougmars. All were coming near, their eyes avidly fastened on the enormous prey. The Gwahs grinned their silent, primitive grimace of a laugh, almost like that of the dogs.
"There!" Helgvor announced," there is much flesh now."
"Helgvor is a great hunter!" Shtra said, while Iouk made a fire.
But Helgvor paid no heed to his praise. He had seen, not far away, a wide, dark spot in the grass, and joy dilated his breast. The Tzohs had camped there. The ashes still seemed fresh. Bones were strewn about, with rags of fur. Helgvor called his wolf and his dog, made them smell the encampment.
Behind, the Gwahs were watching Iouk striking flint. Their eyes gleaned like those of jackals. Shtra was laughing softly.
"The Gwahs have forgotten famine. They will follow the warriors like dogs."
Helgvor announced: "The tracks of the Tzohs are found. They camped in this ravine last night."
The Ougmars were skinning the aurochs, and already large quarterings of meat emanated the heady aroma of cooking food.
If Helgvor thought of the Tzohs, who had to be exterminated, he thought even more of Glava; he could imagine her, somber and angry, near the fires; her breast would dilate as if to lift space, while her heart was heavy as a block of granite. And he intensely hated Heigoun with the hairy chest.
THE dog and the wolf followed the tracks.
To avoid confusion, other animals were held behind. Because of the numbers of the Tzohs and their captives, their trail was easily followed for a long time. Across pools, plains and hills the scouts progressed for two-thirds of one day. A tributary river was reached, which rolled muddy waters rapidly. And on the far side of that stream the tracks had vanished.
As the Tzohs could not have gone upstream the river was swift as a torrent the scouts must seek downstream. In any case it was easier in that direction, for the ground was high and dry. The tracks of the Tzohs were found.
Then a blood-stained spear left behind announced that the Tzohs had passed here recently. Shtra, Iouk and Helgvor examined the weapon carefully.
"The Tzohs are near," Shtra concluded. "The blood is not yet black." He shook his head anxiously. "Did not Helgvor see one hundred warriors before meeting the fugitives?"
"They were more than one hundred when they attacked the Red Peninsula, and more than one hundred also when Helgvor counted them on the plain."
"Then Shtra shall take care not to start a fight with them, having only a few warriors and the Gwahs."
"That fire of which Shtra saw the ashes was not a fire for one hundred warriors!"
"Perhaps they didn't have enough dry wood!"
"Helgvor thinks the pursuit must be kept up."
"So does Iouk!"
"Let's follow the tracks," Shtra said with resignation. They walked for two hours, then the trail was evidently so recent that all were aware the Tzohs were very near. All doubts were removed when the distinct imprints of feet were discerned on moist soil. Some were so clear that Shtra commented : "Here passed the heavy feet of the Tzohs, and here the light feet of the women." A sudden rage swept this pacific man and his fists knotted.
Helgvor, trying to read the tracks, followed them for some hundreds of yards, then retraced his steps. "The Tzohs are not more numerous than the fingers of three hands!"
"The Gwahs and the Ougmars united are less numerous than the Tzohs! The Gwahs are weak and poorly armed."
"Helgvor's wolf will fight, and the dogs will harass the foes."
Shtra was silent, uncertain as to what should be done.
"Our arrows carry further than those of the Tzohs," the young man argued. "Their warriors aim badly. The men on our side who cannot shoot well can turn over their arrows to Helgvor."
"Yes, Helgvor has the eye of the hawk," Shtra agreed.
"Helgvor shall go first. He shall kill some Tzohs and lure the others into pursuit. Shtra and the warriors will lie in ambush."
While Shtra still hesitated, Iouk intervened. "Our women are with them!" he growled, and his eyes flashed.
"Let Helgvor guide us, then," Shtra said, filled with fury, speaking in a vehement voice. "When we get near the Tzohs, we shall ambush thern."
The little troop started again, preceded by Helgvor and Iouk. The tracks vanished, reappeared. A long hill, low and green, barred the horizon. They climbed the slopes slowly. On the crest they came upon a circular clearing studded with bowlders and thick with bushes.
"Let Shtra await his son here," Helgvor said. "The Tzohs are down below."
HE progressed alone, cautiously. A narrow granite plateau crowned the hill's crest. Coarse grass grew there, broken by small trees, bushes, and low, stone masses. Since a moment ago, the dog showed an agitation which the wolf soon shared. They crept between the bowlders with care.
A low whistle checked them. Helgvor had reached the rim of the plateau. Crouched on the ground, he crept, and his quicker breath revealed his emotion.
At the bottom of the hill, stopped by the flood, the Tzohs were lighting their fires. The captive women, squatted, huddled, were obviously exhausted. Perhaps thirty warriors were there on the nude soil, and although the majority seemed as worn out as the females, almost all were young men, fitted for combat. Before those thick torsos, those mighty shoulders, the Gwahs would be as children. Only the strongest Ougmars might cope with them.
Nevertheless, Helgvor saw that the encampment, protected from direct attack, could be flanked and riddled with arrows. He cast a glance at the big bow suspended from his shoulder. He had five arrows, all tipped with nephrite stone points, and he knew that he could shoot them from a distance beyond the range of the Tzohs' puny bows.
His chest swelling with the fighting excitement of war, he went back to the crest of the hill. He addressed Shtra: "If Helgvor has many arrows, he will drop a good many Tzohs. The others can be wiped out by the warriors and the Gwahs."
He described the position occupied by the enemy.
"Shtra wants to look," the chief said.
He requisitioned a dozen arrows for Helgvor. The two warriors climbed to the crest and Shtra, having counted the Tzohs, yielded gloomily to the prestige of his tall son.
"Shtra and his warriors will wait among the bowlders."
He went back to camp and Helgvor descended the far slope of the hill, very slowly, having ordered the dog and the wolf to wait for him, a command which they understood as well as men might have. Helgvor felt this would be a great day in his life; his heart was beating hard and a great lucidity reigned in his brain.
But the nearer he approached the more daring the adventure became. The faces and bodies of the Tzohs appeared to be more alive; he discerned clearly their broad, swarthy faces, the granite-like jaws, the jackals' pupils. If they surrounded him his death was near, and he sensed this fully as he advanced upon them.
Although he thought himself quicker than they, doubts assailed him like treacherous beasts. Among so many young warriors perhaps a few would possess, as he did, the speed of the stag and the spring of the leopard. Even a slight wound in the leg would cause his death, by placing Helgvor at his enemies' mercy. Skilled in the use of trees and grass to screen himself, he had arrived within two arrows' flight. The soil was bare, covered with silvery moss, save on the bowlders, where the growth was reddish and green.
Another step, and Helgvor would be visible.
For a moment his heart pounded so fast that his strength seemed puny before these gathered forces; the love of life stirred in him like the leaves of the sycamore in the breeze. Thinking of Glava, he faltered. Her glowing eyes and tawny hair appeared all the joy in the world. It was brief; the day was come when victory would make him a warrior feared by all. If he drew back now Glava would scorn him and he would not dare reappear among his people.
ATZOH saw him, another, and in succession the cubical heads lifted. Their stupefaction was so intense that they were silent at first. They stared at this lone warrior and sought for his companions. There were none. And the man was coming on, in long strides, charging upon the camp alone.
Then some of the Tzohs identified him. He was the very man who had rescued the fugitive women. Kamr had gone after him with five men, and none had come back. Trusting in their numbers and accustomed to battle, they rose and uttered the challenging death yelp.
"Helgvor killed two Tzohs, then four of those in the big canoe," the nomad shouted. "Helgvor killed the chieftain with the wide shoulders. All the ravishers shall perish!"
The women, mute and filled with terror, with hope, listened to this ringing voice. Their youth, memories of the Red Peninsula flooded them with quivering joy.
Helgvor ran nearer. He was within range soon, stretched his bow. The arrow scarcely grazed the shoulder of a warrior and the Tzohs howled with rage. Two other missiles reached their targets. One pierced the breast of a warrior, the other sank into his belly.
The Tzohs returned his fire, but their bows did not carry far, the few arrows which reached the nomad were spent, powerless. Three more times the great bow hummed, and two enemies received deep wounds.
Enraged, the Tzohs started for the lone man. He retreated, and while retreating wounded two other men. The others rushed madly, save for six, staying to watch the captive women. Helgvor had but three arrows left. He saved them for the supreme struggle and took flight, which scattered the pursuers. Three, faster afoot than were the others, had gained a long lead by the time the Ougmar reached the crest. They were young men, at the age when legs are very speedy but arms weak. They were together, armed with bronze hatchets and spears.
Suddenly they saw Helgvor no snore. Fearing ambush, they slackened speed. A rustling caused them to turn. The Ougmar had risen behind them, between two bowlders, a spear poised; the sharp weapon hurtled through the air, and the nearest Tzoh fell. The others launched their spears. One of them wounded Helgvor in the head, but rushing forward he swung his club, smashed the skull of one of the young warriors, while the point of a spear darted from the left hand, piercing the throat of the other.
The attack had been so swift that none of the other pursuers was within arrow range when Helgvor resumed his flight and scrambled down the slope. He shouted, in a voice which resounded in the camp of his comrades:
"Helgvor wounded nine Tzohs. Let the warriors be ready for combat."
Within a few moments his strides seemed to falter. He lifted his hand to his head, from which blood flowed, and looked at that hand, reddened with blood. He gestured then, to make his injury obvious to the Men of the Rocks. Then, pretending to weaken, he stumbled. Sure that he was dropping, the most eager dared to leave the group of runners.
"Let our warriors attack!" he screamed.
He whirled when very near the ambush, and with the quick spring of a leopard he was on the nearest Tzoh, knocked him down. Another, coming on in great leaps, stopped too late. The enormous club smote across his loins, fractured his spine.
At the same moment, arrows, stones, spears spouted from the refuge of the Ougmars and the Gwahs. The dogs barked, the men bellowed like aurochs and wolves: six tall warriors emerged, then others, blacks with pointed ears, sliding through grass as rapidly as the barking dogs.
IT was a panic the Tzohs believed themselves facing the whole clan, and the majority, filled with terror, scattered at random. But six or seven faced the unexpected foes. They slew two Gwahs and one Ougmar, but great clubs broke their bones, knocked out their bowels from ripped bellies. When then had been exterminated, the Men of the River and their beasts took up the chase. Those who were caught made no resistance. The pointed stakes of the Gwahs, the clubs, the hatchets, the spears of the Ougmars cut off their defenseless lives.
More agile than were the short-legged Tzohs, the victors had wiped out almost all the vanquished when they reached the camp and the women. Their guards, mediocre fighters, had fled. Those that were overhauled allowed themselves to be slain without a fight.
The day was about to end. The red sun, half-buried in clouds, already slid down toward the river. Almost all the Tzohs had died.
Shtra, filled with admiration and enthusiasm, cried out:
"Helgvor, Son of Shtra, is a mighty warrior strong as the mammoth, swift as the tiger Heigoun is only a wolf!"
The Ougmar warriors repeated:
"Helgvor, Son of Shtra, is a mighty warrior!"
The women, overjoyed at their rescue, clamored with the men. They had seen Helgvor's first exploits.
And the clouds were twisted into mirages like all the mirages that had filled the clouds through aeons and aeons. It was a brilliant evening upon the perishable Earth; a soft breeze ran across the waters; and when the fires were lighted, the joy of life filled those who had suppressed life.
Helgvor felt the pride of being a dreaded warrior, but his pride was laid before a remote fire, before a supple shape, and his heart quivered with sweet yet terrible anguish.
GLAVA IN THE NIGHT.
WHEN Helgvor vanished beyond the hills, horror swooped upon Glava. Haggard, she stared at these unknown beings about her, found the sight of them less and less bearable.
Akroun had given strict orders that no one should go near the foreign women. She was in the middle of the encampment. Men's glances went toward her, irritating. Because she was alone, the peril was not great and Akroun's protection surer. For almost all these warriors had lost their women, and were rivals.
The day passed dully, without incident;. A heavy boredom crushed the men and many fell asleep. Akroun scanned the horizon, or dispatched small parties of warriors as scouts, instructing them not to go beyond the hills. These would soon return, without anything to report.
The camp was guarded by six sentries, stationed at regular intervals and changed often. No surprise could be feared. The chief remained gloomy. The Ougmars' distrust weighed on his mind, for he knew it would increase at the least failure. Then he would lose authority and would be put to death, for Heigoun would not tolerate a living rival.
The image of Heigoun oppressed Akroun as if the warrior had been near, with his cave bear's chest, his ferocious eyes and his enormous shoulders. He also thought of Helgvor, whom he admired grudgingly for his exploits, his skill and his vigor. Much too young to become a chief, Helgvor, no matter what happened, would not prove dangerous. In any event if he, Akroun, made good and recaptured the women taken by the Tzohs, he would be pitiless to his foes. But would he recapture them? The Tzohs were too numerous and his allies too weak! Dull doubt gnawed the chief's brain.
Neither Shtra nor Heigoun had come back, and the sentries on the hills signaled nothing. Perhaps the scouts had been surprised by their foes and killed off. Then, all struggle rendered impossible, the Ougmars would return to their homes beaten, to live without women, without sons, and their race would die.
Glava also thought bitter, harsh thoughts. Her youth was weary as old age; her anxiety was increasing. A few stars appeared, gleaming a while to be extinguished by a light downpour, which turned into a torrential rain.
The rivers filled space. Water rose in the pools. Wild beasts sought their dens. Owls hooted mournfully and the jackals complained.
One by one the fires went out, and the night spread thick as velvet. Here and there men still stirred, but the water soaked through their furs, moistened hair and beards, seeped into ears and nostrils, extinguishing their lust as it had put out the fires.
Nevertheless, their snores annoyed Glava. Unable to bear the sounds longer, she crept away in the darkness. No definite plan was in her mind. She fled like a doe pursued by the wolf, like the stag pursued by the tiger.
SHE crept a long time with animal prudence, noiselessly circling the prone bodies. Dogs awoke with short grow1s, then they identified Glava, whose scent was familiar, and dropped back into their shivering torpor.
Then she was alone and crawling quicker; she soon left the camp behind. There were no more rough sounds, no odors save those of the moist sod, the grass and the trees. Weary, she remained motionless an instant to gather her scattered thoughts. She ardently wished to join Amhao. She also would have desired to see Helgvor. She loved him more than she herself knew, with a love similar to that she granted her sister.
But Helgvor was away, sent off purposely to leave her defenseless. She could not understand why he had gone, although she knew that he could not disobey a chief. The terrifying silhouette of Heigoun lifted in her mind. Why had not Helgvor come back? Death was all about
She started forward again. Like an unchecked torrent the rain fell and its sounds muffled all other noises. Even the jackals were quiet. Glava was chilled to the bones, her limbs tired.
Then there was no time and no space, all melted into the dark, watery night. The water rose to the fugitive's chest, she did not know where to step. Everywhere her hands encountered the cold fluid which penetrated and submerged everything.
She struck a hard object, which moved. Glava identified a canoe. She held onto it, drew the craft near, and succeeded in climbing into the hull. There were paddles, which she handled at random. Then she felt the gentle, soft slide as she was borne away, faster and faster.
Dawn came at last, a smear of ashy white in the depth of the sky. Light increased, and the world was dripping with happiness. Far off, Glava discerned vegetation and rocks, and as the current shot the canoe along rapidly she knew that she was on the river. With this knowledge hope was reborn. She thought of rejoining Arnhao on the Red Peninsula.
Despite her weariness she paddled long, to increase the distance between herself and the Ougmars. When she was tired she inspected her boat. There was only a pointed stake for a weapon and a sharp-edged stone for a tool. The point of the stake was worn dull, and could be employed only against weak beasts. For a long time she suffered from cold, then the rising sun warmed her chilled limbs, which resumed the suppleness and the spring of youth.
"Glava shall see Amhao!" she said.
Then the canoe slid slowly on the immense surface. Glava had gone near the left bank, to be sheltered from sight. She was hungry, and she found a haven in which to land. It was a gently sloping stone platform in a rocky cliff, at the end of which was a small cave. Glava, having made sure that no wild beast lived therein, dragged the canoe into a seam of the stone and fastened it with leather ropes left in the craft by the Ougmars.
The cave connected with the top of the cliff, through cracks. Glava picked up the stake, to hunt game and defend herself. By a corridor of basaltic rock she reached soil that the waters could not reach: a narrow plain fringed the thick forest which had spread over the universe long before the birth of the Gwahs, Sons of the Night.
GLAVA was afraid, less of the beasts than of the forest and of the unnamed things which menace living creatures. When she had fled with Amhao, the presence of her sister and the child had populated the world. Now, she was wholly alone, to face the immensity of the river and of the forest, and hostile life.
She hesitated before plunging into the jungle, but nothing appeared on the plain save a few animals which remained too far away to be caught. In the forest Glava found white mushrooms such as were eaten by the Tzohs. Raw, they smelled like mouldy wood, but she ate two to appease her intense hunger, before disgust overcame famine.
Two squirrels appeared on the lower branches of a sycamore tree. Invisible behind a young tree, she spied upon the small beasts, covered with gray fur, with brushy ears and extraordinarily hairy tails longer than their bodies. Their rats' eyes glittered and each of their movements was graceful. With a bow, or even with a spear, she could have killed one of them, but the clumsy stake would surely miss the target.
They gnawed peacefully and did not see, in the thick foliage, death nearing them. A lynx was there, strange feline with triangular ears, hair sprouting on each side of the jaws like a beard, and a spotted pelt. He was as silent as night. They saw him suddenly, leaped. But the quick beast fell on them like a projectile, broke their backs with two strokes of his paws. They dropped to the ground and the lynx slid down the tree to get at them.
Rage at seeing his legitimate prey claimed by another vibrated through the slim body, and the lynx lifted a paw warningly. Glava held the point of the stake toward him. The animal measured the height and mass of the girl with a glance, and recalled Gwahs encountered in his native forest. They were beings such as this one, more dangerous than wolves, equipped with queer claws that they shot far from their bodies. A lynx should yield to them. But this was the first time one of the erect beings had seized a prey from a lynx.
"Glava is stronger than the lynx!" the young girl shouted, knowing that animals must be menaced. The lynx growled, and she tossed the stake at him. Then, furious but resigned, the beast leaped away, vanished into the undergrowth. One of the squirrels was dying, the other dead. Glava, with their flesh, could face the unknown forces which destroy human beings. Laden with the small, tawny bodies, she went back to the canoe.
One of the squirrels contributed his mysterious energy to her body without driving off the need for sleep. She sought a shelter, found none. Wild animals could come down to the river bank. She could not sleep in the canoe; tiger or lion would have reached her in one leap. And the craft was too heavy for her to turn over, as she had done on occasions while with Amhao.
An island would be the best refuge, but the flood had submerged the low ones, and of the larger, only the crests emerged. Glava would have preferred a small, easily explored islet, on which she could be sure no felines lived.
THE canoe had started again, and now slid swiftly, bearing away the weak human beast.
After a long time, Glava espied two islands of different sizes. The largest was prolonged by long, slender headlands, at the tips of a thickly overgrown plateau. The sight of many large crocodiles and snakes which the flood had driven to the center of this island kept her from attempting a landing. The second island, smaller and very rocky, appeared more hospitable: the trees were few and the low grass revealed no suspicious presence.
Two bowlders left between them a slit too narrow to give passage to tiger, lion or gray bear, which, in any case, would have had to come from one of the banks, something that Glava deemed impossible. To avoid risk, she further barred the way with twisted branches and lianas, and having moored the canoe, fell asleep.
The sun was already low on the horizon when she awoke. Its yellow radiance flushed the right bank, and a deep, luminous peace reigned over the waters. An old hippopotamus, hideous and peaceful, slumbered at the tip of the island. A bird twittered, perched on a quivering bough.
Toward morning, a slight noise awakened her, and in the light of the stars she saw a head gnawing the small bones of the squirrel. It was a diminutive animal, the size of a young fox, with pointed ears and eyes that glowed like fireflies.
The immensity of the sky was still sprinkled with luminous flowers. In their weak glow, Glava identified a jackal. He did not appear to have attained his full growth, and his presence on the islet was astonishing. Doubtless he had been brought here by the flood, shaken on the rushing water and thrown upon this deserted rock. Was he alone?
She did not drive away the jackal but listened to the little sounds made by the teeth on the bones. Glava, no longer sleepy, stood slowly. The baby jackal fled, and she already regretted moving when she saw it returning, furtively, eyes on the heap of branches hiding the unknown beast.
It started gnawing the bones again, then, having discovered the pelt, it chewed it. Its presence became pleasing. Itself, at an age when distrust did not yet have roots in the depths of instinct and experience, grew accustomed to Glava's scent. Prompt to terror, it was also prompt to familiarity, once certain no harm would befall it.
The little stars vanished, the larger ones dimmed. And beyond the right bank, where the Ougmars pursued the Tzohs, light rose so slowly that it seemed it never would reach the bank. The forest was lighted in turn, and an enormous sun spilled its motionless flames in the clouds. The sky became a limitless world.
The jackal uttered a little, plaintive cry. Ceaselessly it fled, ceaselessly it came back. It was very graceful, with its brownish pelt, paler on the chest, its fine, mobile ears, its delicate paws. All its movements had the awkward ease of a still-growing animal. And, looking at him, obscure tenderness swept the young Tzoh girl.
Meanwhile, hunger had come again, and the islet produced no plant suitable to feed man. The Tzohs knew how to fish with a harpoon, even with bare hands. Motionless, Glava stared a long time at the perch, the trout and the pike which swam in the stream. But it was a tortoise which brought its strength. It had climbed upon a flat rock, and its snake-like head was over the stream, seeking prey, when it became prey. The head withdrew into the shell, and Glava seemed to hold nothing but a colorful stone.
She made a fire and cooked the tortoise. The jackal roamed about, constantly driven away by fear, brought back by hunger and hope. When it received the organs of the tortoise, it dropped all distrust. It joined Glava as it would have joined its breed. It rubbed against her legs, did not dread the touch of her hand, but when Glava took it into the canoe and it saw itself floating on the river, fever flared in its pupils.
Then the canoe itself became familiar, and, in the infinite chances of life and death, the jackal followed the fate of the woman.
MEN OF THE NIGHT.
A FEW days elapsed.
As long as light endured, Glava sailed on the river, upon which, despite whirlpools and rapids, she felt more secure than on land. Each evening she was nearer to Amhao, and her impatience waxed like the crescent of the moon. Between her and the young jackal, alliance was complete. The young animal attached itself the more as it realized its weakness and the imperfection of its instinct.
In the vast solitude the little beast became very dear to the fugitive. It showed quick intelligence and already its subtle senses helped Glava in tracking down animals and discovering prey. By living with a human being, the jackal understood all that an animal may learn from man. and Glava, with her intuition of her companion's reactions, wondered how much it could make plain, by its action, its caresses and its glance.
It appeared scarcely less intelligent than certain human brutes, such as the Son of the Sheep, a clumsy, loutish warrior, whose eyes remained still as those of a crocodile, while the eyes of the little jackal were alert and full of willingness to serve.
One night, when the fire had gone out, the jackal scratched her shoulder, and the girl, awakening with a start, sat up to see two tall black wolves creeping toward her. Had she been surprised asleep she would have succumbed to their fangs. She uttered a harsh cry and cast her stake, the point of which she had mended and hardened in fire, Moreover, Glava now had a club hewn from a locust-wood branch, and a provision of sharp stones. The wolves, seeing the vertical beast rise, startled by the shout, stood still.
The half-moon revealed their necks and their keen fangs; they were wolves of the big breed, able to strangle a man, to fight a panther. But even hunger had not killed their prudence. The young jackal had taken shelter behind the woman, although it knew, by instinct inherited from generations, that it was not a good prey for these huge animals which resembled it somewhat.
"Men are mightier than wolves," Glava threatened them. "Glava will pierce their bellies with this stake, crush their bones with this club!"
The wolves listened attentively. The human voice was not unknown to them, for they had heard, rarely, the voices of the Gwahs. But the Gwahs spoke little, confined their speech to war howls. Higher pitched and changing in tone, Glava's voice awoke distrust, without, however, persuading them to avoid combat. Their entrails, ablaze with hunger, gave them courage.
"Let the wolves hunt the stag, the doe or the antelope!" the woman resumed.
The stronger wolf, excited by her scent, breathed hard and bared his teeth. All his flesh sensed the joy of a meal. It needed but one leap, teeth dug into an artery of the throat, and the prey would appease the call of his belly.
Filled with fury against the beast which kept food from him, the wolf howled. Glava tossed a sharp stone at him, not too hard, for the rage of wounded beasts was to be feared. The less bold of the wolves, struck on the head, uttered a cry of mingled pain and terror, retreated, while the other understood that this prey might be dangerous.
NEVERTHELESS, he started an attack, and Glava hit him with another stone, on the flank. He retreated also. Though he knew the sound of human voices, he had not known that men could hit at a distance, for the Gwahs had never hunted him. Taking refuge behind a bowlder, disconcerted by this bizarre prey, he showed less ardor. Had it not been for the scent quickening his hunger, he would have run off, but a foggy lust held him.
The moon vanished. The girl still saw the eyes of the wolves, like four green stars. But they did not attack, and doubtless would attack only if they believed her asleep. To keep them in hesitation, she cried out, spoke. Sometimes, also, to spare her sharp stones, she picked up large pebbles which she threw at random.
The night was fearfully long. Often the wolves started forward, and toward dawn they came within three arms' lengths. Two more sharp stones, perhaps the smell of another prey, decided them to retreat at last. They were lost to sight in the morning's haze.
A new morning dawned on the river, the forests and the plains, a morn heavy with fog. The girl shivered. Having ascertained that the way was clear she went to the canoe. She was hastening to leave this evil spot, to find herself on the waters again, rid of sinister animals.
Then fear flooded her arteries; the canoe had vanished.
There remained only fragments of the leather ropes, gnawed away by wild beasts. On the surface of the river there was nothing save scum, leaves and twigs carried by the current. A measureless sadness filled the girl. She wept bitterly, squatted on the shore. As on the night when she had fled from the Ougmars' camp, she conceived the horror of solitude, felt weaker than the little jackal moaning its hunger at her side.
The breeze swept the sky clear of fog. The sun revealed limitless space, and Glava, frightened by the distance separating her from Amhao, despaired of the morrow. She still had some cooked meat, left from her evening meal. She gave a part to the jackal, ate the rest. But while the world became happy again for the satiated animal, it remained somber as agony to the daughter of the Rocks.
Nevertheless, she started forth. Between the shore and the forest spread a plain on which walking was easy, but while she had been fearless on the river, here peril might lurk anywhere Although he hated daylight, the jackal trusted in her, and trotted contentedly.
Rounding a bowlder, the fugitive stopped short and trembled throughout her body; the lordly beasts had come!
There were five of them, black as slate, with their horsy faces, their hairy, pointed ears, their slender limbs and hollow stomachs. She recognized them as Gwahs, allies of the Ougmars, ferocious as hyenas, men who ate the flesh of human beings. Armed with stakes and stones, they were completely naked. She remained as if petrified, her eyes on those fearsome, repulsive creatures.
They soon espied the maid. Despite the throbbing of her heart, she kept the half-calm of the grass-eaters before the carnivorous beasts, which ends only after they have been caught. The line of rocks, steep and without cleft, offered no shelter; the plain was open to the forest. She must retreat to the bushes.
But the Gwahs were but five hundred arms' lengths away, arriving rapidly. Brief though it was, Glava's hesitation allowed them to gain fifty strides.
AT last she sprang forward. In the land of Rocks her speed equalled that of the fastest runners, and doubtless she would have reached the thickets had not her path been barred by a passing herd of large deer, trotting to the forest. At sight of them the Gwahs hurried to cut her off, and the speediest one succeeded, calling his companions in a strident voice. The Gwahs hesitated but an instant between the girl and the four-footed game. The deer were already far off, the human prey was near.
They started after Glava with a great outcry.
She no longer hoped to hide in the bushes, where the Gwahs could have surrounded her easily, and counted solely on her speed. In fact, she ran quicker than those short-legged men, and after they had covered two thousand arms' lengths, she had gained five hundred.
Gradually she drew nearer the forest, although she had resolved not to enter it until she had attained a reassuring lead. For if the undergrowth offered many hiding places, it made running difficult. Moreover, the Gwahs were jungle people, skilled at sliding through spiny bushes and tangled growth. She turned at intervals, and perceived their odious silhouettes loping steadily, tirelessly.
The little jackal followed her without effort. Doubtless it vaguely understood this peril, which is never remote and which hovers eternally over jackals as well as antelopes and deer.
Glava's chest heaved. A sharp ache came below her ribs; her legs faltered. Two of the Gwahs were running now as fast as the girl. She knew it; her discouragement increased, despair leading to defeat and death. Nevertheless all her will power concentrated on escape, and she fought the weakness of her limbs.
The forest was near, its fringe gnawing irregularly into the plain. A last time she turned, and this time she saw that the leading Gwahs were progressing faster than she. Then they were out of sight, a jutting clump of trees screening them.
The terrible choice had come: should she keep running or hide? She hesitated until her labored breathing, the hammering of her heart, persuaded her. She leaped across a pond of water, trod on stones which would not reveal her passage, penetrated into the land of trees and numberless dens.
For a long time Glava roamed in the thickets, across clearings, without discovering a good hiding place. Branches smote her face as she sped by, spines brought blood on her hands, her knees, her feet. She paid no heed, and thought only of escaping the Men of the Night.
A brook barred her way. Instead of leaping across it, she waded on its bed, carrying the jackal. Thus, her tracks would be washed out.
She hesitated before a thick clump of bushes, fearing that a wild boar might be hidden there. Urged by her fatigue, she decided to take the risk, and slid to a small clearing in the center. Worn out, she slumped to the ground and was half-conscious, in a sort of torpor which abolished worry without lessening her caution. And as the shadows of the branches crept over the soil, she grew to hope that the Gwahs had lost her trail.
IN fact, they had lost it. For a long time they kept running through the fringe of the forest. Then they came to open country, saw nothing of their prey, and stopped. But their fierce instincts, their race hatred had been aroused. They belonged to a clan which never had allied itself with the Ougmars. As they had seen Glava from behind, they did not know she was a woman.
Tired and out of breath, they halted to confer. If their souls were rudimentary, scarcely less so than those of wolves or jackals, words wielded a fearful power among them. And that though they knew few words, and completed thoughts with gesture. They agreed that they had run too far, and that they were to retrace their steps.
While they were arguing, other Gwahs appeared, come from the river bank, where they had captured fish among the stones.
One of them was a chief, a chief such as the Gwahs had, one whose sway waned or grew according to circumstances. His ruses were many, he was more intelligent than the rest. He was more successful when hunting and brought back more flesh and fish than he needed, so that his surplus won him followers. He was told of the adventure.
"The stranger cannot live near the Gwahs!" he decided. "Ouak and the warriors must eat the stranger!"
In an instant, he became chief again,
"The warriors must eat the stranger!" the others repeated.
Ouak made them understand that they must travel scattered, but remain in touch one with the others. If this tactic worked well when seeking wolves or boars, why would it not succeed when seeking a man? Those who had fish ate it raw, to avoid delay and be ready at once to follow Ouak. The tracks must be found. The Gwahs entered the forest.
If the Gwahs did not possess the wisdom of the Ougmars, they were patient as ants. They searched the forest for a fourth of one day. When they halted to rest, at a signal given by Ouak, they kept their intervals. The forest, in which traveled mammoths, stags, and boars, remained secretive, yielded no human trail. And Ouak's prestige dwindled with passing time, each Gwah resuming his liberty of action.
But, when the day was two-thirds spent, one of the hunters heard a short yelp from a thicket. He remembered that the running creature had been accompanied by a jackal, and signaled to his companions.
For some time Glava had sensed that humans were prowling near by. The jackal stretched out its sharp nose and moved its little ears. The scent of man was heavy on the air. The jackal yelped. She stood with an effort, still stiff from running, and her feet were black with dried blood. She listened and sniffed. Men were near!
She allowed a low moan to escape her lips, and despair raked her like a poison. Prone, her ear against the ground, she heard the crackling of twigs under feet, the soft crunching of steps. These noises came from all about her. She thought feverishly of flight, but she knew that she would meet men everywhere.
The steps came nearer, then a perceptible rustling announced a crawling man. Glava grasped club and stake. And she saw a head rise above the nearer bushes, black, with small rat's eyes and thick ferocious lips.
As she lifted the stake, that head vanished. A call vibrated, steps resounded everywhere. Death! Glava remembered the women sacrificed by the Tzohs to the Hidden Lives. She had seen them die, their eyes dilated by terror; she had heard their screams of agony.
This was what the somber men were bringing.
RETURN OF THE SCOUTS.
UNTIL dawn, the heavy rain had tormented the Ougmars. Without fire, in darkness so dense that they were as if buried in a black pit, with that soft and multiplied pattering of drops, bodies drenched by the cold liquid, they shuddered. At times they awoke from sodden slumber to intolerable sensations which stripped them of all strength, of all will power.
Those who surrounded Glava did not think of her, and the idea of an escape on such a night had not even entered their skulls. At last the rain stopped. Before dawn a cold wind blew upon their suffering flesh and a soft light seeped down. The nomads arose. One of them uttered a sharp exclamation and the others stared at him, puzzled.
"Where is the Tzoh woman?" the warrior asked.
Akroun gained his feet heavily. Slow aches twisted his muscles, for he had reached the age when humidity is evil in effects. At the warrior's cry he looked about, saw the captive had gone. Fury beat against his temples and his voice rose loudly.
What ailed the men set to watch the Daughter of the Rocks: Where are their eyes, their ears, their hands or are they like the worms crawling in the sod ?"
The four warriors set on guard lowered their heads.
"Men who are blind and deaf cannot be called warriors. They deserve neither women nor sons. They are less useful than dogs!"
"The dogs did not bark!" one of the guards said, humbly/
"The Tzoh girl was no longer a stranger to them. But she should have been for men."
He was silent, torn between the desire to punish the culprits and the fear of losing followers. Glava was to have served his plans, by keeping Heigoun and Helgvor in suspense, and finally throwing them against each other in mortal combat.
"Let the warriors scan the ground!" he ordered.
He looked for tracks himself, and was soon convinced that only chance would cause them to find the fugitive. Perhaps she had dropped somewhere, from fatigue and cold. Like their chief, the warriors knew there would be no trail; the rain had drowned out everything. Nevertheless they pretended to search, some of them with suspicious ardor. One, reaching the shore, shouted:
"One of the canoes is gone!"
Then Akroun recalled that the Tzoh women had come into the Ougmars' realm in a boat, and while his anger against the young girl increased, it became mixed with admiration.
"That Tzoh woman fought at Helgvor's side!" he murmured. "She has the heart of a man!"
He thereupon desired to recapture her the more, for he recalled the glance glittering with hatred she had turned upon Heigoun. This made him think of his own grandmother, Awa, who had killed a warrior whom she had been forced to wed.
"Let two canoes go after her," he said. "But the warriors must return before the sun is midway between the river and the top of the sky."
The prolonged absence of Heigoun and Shtra worried him.
The pursuing canoes returned before the scouts. Akroun mused, filled with regret: "The Daughter of the Rocks is as clever as the lynx!"
SUBMITTING to fate, and having but a poor notion of passing time, he squatted again, waited. The sun crossed the zenith and was started westward when the watchers on the hills came back to camp from the northeast.
"Heigoun is in sight beyond the hills returning."
The jaw of the chieftain protruded as he foresaw a victory for his rival.
"Heigoun is bringing prisoners!" another watcher announced.
The soul of the leader was bitter. His ears buzzed with the quickened flow of his blood; Heigoun would claim leadership now! Turning his face toward the hills he saw, standing on a crest, Heigoun waving his arms triumphantly, indicating two captive Tzohs and four women.
The Ougmars howled with frantic enthusiasm and one of them was bold enough to express the general belief: "Heigoun will make a great chief!"
All trotted to meet the newcomers. Three warriors, recognizing their women, leaped like wild sheep. Heigoun came straight to the chief and said with significant pride: "Here are two captives and four women; three Tzohs were slain."
"Heigoun is a skilled warrior!" Akroun tore the words from his heart. "How many Tzohs did he fight?"
"Five!" Heigoun answered. "Did I not state that there were two captives, that three had been slain?"
"Why were there but five Tzohs?" Akroun wondered.
"There were twenty Tzohs or more before, and ten women," one of the Ougmar women replied. "The flood drowned six women and fifteen warriors. Then Heigoun came with his companions."
"Did the five Tzohs fight hard?" Akroun asked, cleverly.
"They were worn out, spent," the woman answered, without distrust.
Silent laughter creased the corners of Akroun's eyes, while Heigoun glared at the woman with indignation. But few of the Ougmars understood; all admired the skill of Heigoun. The warriors crowded around the captives, who appeared pitiful, covered with bloody mud, their lean bellies heaving, pupils dilated by fever, quivering with dread. Not a few insulted them and threatened them with death.
"The Son of the Wolf wanted the Ougmars to see the faces of their foes," Heigoun stated. "Now they may be put to death."
"Why not?" the woman who had already spoken offered. "Did they not massacre the old men, the children of the Ougmars? Did they not beat their women?"
A warrior lifted his hatchet, wildly approved by vehement clamors, and already spears pierced the bellies of the unlucky fellows, who lifted pleading hands. Clubs fell, stakes were pushed forward. The Tzohs, prone on the ground, struggled hopelessly, with shrill yells.
Sickened, Akroun and a few of his men drew aside.
Heigoun, who had been peering about avidly for Glava, asked:
"Where is the foreign woman?"
"She fled," Akroun said nervously.
"The foreign woman has fled?" Heigoun said with rage. His huge shoulders swayed, his eyes menaced the chieftain. "Who let her go?"
"The chief shall say that later," Akroun said, shaking his head. He had straightened, hatred had given him back energy. Heigoun saw that he must not go too far.
"Let her be sought for!" he suggested.
"She has been sought for."
"Shtra did not come back as yet?" Heigoun asked. Already calm was returning to him, his voice was no longer gruff.
"Shtra did not come back."
Heavy laughter shook Heigoun's frame. He hoped that Helgvor had perished, and that hope made him joyous. Then fierce doubt assailed him; had the Tzoh left to seek the Son of Shtra?
THE sun had slid down the sky and Shtra had not appeared. Keen anguish bit at Akroun's heart. Without Shtra, lacking Helgvor, the struggle became harder, victory uncertain. Meanwhile, the women had told their story, and it was known that an important troop of Tzohs was fleeing southeast, while another had remained close to the river.
A choice must be made, for it would have been dangerous to split the forces of the Ougmars. Heigoun and his followers insisted that the party go southeast. Akroun protested.
"We must await the return of Shtra!"
"Shtra will not return," laughed the giant.
A remote shout rose on the southern hills and a watcher waved his arms.
"There!" Akroun said. "We must wait."
He did not know whether the sentries announced good or bad news, and watched a man corning with long strides. The watcher shouted as he came nearer: "Shtra is coming back!"
"Does he bring back prisoners?" Heigoun asked, sarcastically.
"He brings back women many women."
"Many women?" Heigoun repeated, his face paling.
"Twice as many as the fingers of one hand, at least."
The warriors, crowded to listen to the man, bellowed like a herd of aurochs. Some were saying: "Shtra is a great warrior!"
But Heigoun felt that Shtra was not the real victor, and murderous blood now pounded against his temples, while a quick joy animated Akroun.
Soon Shtra, Helgvor, Iouk, four other Ougmars, a score of women and the Gwahs appeared.
As when Heigoun had returned, all the warriors rushed to meet the scouts. Many, recognizing their wives, laughed with savage mirth as they ran. Shtra stepped before the chief.
"Here are those whom Helgvor, Shtra and the warriors bring back to the Ougmars."
"And what of the Tzohs:" the chieftain asked.
"Almost all are dead. Very few were saved. They were three times as many as the fingers of one hand."
As Heigoun laughed insultingly, Shtra, Iouk, Helgvor and the others silently threw at Akroun's feet the severed thumbs of the warriors. There were twenty-four!
"It is well," the chief said. "Shtra is indeed a great warrior."
"Shtra is not a great warrior," the old man answered. "It was Helgvor, clever as a lynx, strong as a tiger. He killed more than twelve Tzohs!"
"Shtra lies!" Heigoun yelled.
"Shtra tells the truth!" Iouk said.
And the warriors who had followed Shtra shouted:
"Shtra tells the truth!"
Then many other warriors hailed Helgvor, and Akroun felt his power returning.
"Helgvor is mightier than Heigoun!" a voice said in the crowd.
"Heigoun shall crush Helgvor as the leopard crushes the doe!" roared the Son of the Wolf.
"Helgvor does not fear Heigoun," the young man said. He faced the giant, spear and club ready, but warriors intervened while Akroun spoke.
"The Ougmars have not recaptured all their women! They need both Heigoun and Helgvor!"
"Heed Akroun, the chief!" twenty voices shouted.
The Son of the Wolf controlled his choler. "Helgvor shall perish when the women are retaken!"
"Helgvor shall beat down Heigoun!" Then Helgvor, astonished not to see Glava, asked: "Where is the Daughter of the Rocks?"
"The foreign woman fled!" the chief explained. "Rain drowned the camp, the fires were dead. It was so black that a herd of mammoths would have passed unseen. Even the dogs knew nothing."
Speaking thus, Akroun reassured and won to his side those who had watched Glava, for they knew that if Heigoun became chief, they would suffer. As had his rival, Helgvor said:
"She must be caught."
"The warriors sought her long."
The gloom which swept Helgvor was so intense that he forgot his recent victory. "Helgvor will go to seek Glava!" he stated.
Not until the Ougmars have retaken their women!" the chief replied.
A longing to rebel shook the young man, but the Law of the Race won out. "Helgvor shall wait until the women are retaken!"
BECAUSE the sun was low, Akroun put off the start until morning. Now, only one path appeared good, for Shtra, Iouk and Helgvor agreed with Heigoun, and all the women advised it.
"To-morrow we leave for the southeast," the chief said.
During the night Helgvor awoke, thought of Glava. He knew she would undertake to find Amhao. If the coming expedition was quickly over, perhaps he would reach the Red Peninsula before her. That hope appeased him for a moment, then the fear of the perils she would run contracted his chest. He saw her being downed by a wild beast, drowning in the river, and infinite desolation seeped into him.
At dawn Akroun called the older warriors together.
"The women could not follow quickly enough. They must return with a few guards to the Red Peninsula."
Some of the Ougmars received this advice with regret.
"Won't the Tzohs come back to capture them again?"
"The Tzohs won't dare. They've lost too many warriors."
When those who were to escort the women were selected, Helgvor asked Shtra to propose him for the mission. Both Akroun and Heigoun refused.
Beyond the hills of the southeast, the plain spread endlessly, an ocean of grass on which existed the great grass-eaters, mammoths, horses, aurochs, antelopes, deer, galloping under the rough glare of the sun, under the drifting clouds, through storms and the white ferocity of the winters.
After a few hours of march the ponds were reached, around which the Tzohs had been found, and all sought for the tracks of the band which had started eastward. By evening a warrior named Akr discovered the ashes of an encampment and the stripped carcass of a stag.
The dogs sniffed about, the men bent low to scan spoors.
"The Tzohs camped here several days ago," Shtra stated.
A coppery twilight, fused with blues and greens, spread across the western clouds, on which the crescent moon etched its slender horns. A warm wind caressed the men's faces. The chief was uneasy. The tracks by the ponds announced a strong party of Tzohs, and the glance of Akroun wandered often to count the Ougmars and Gwahs.
Because they were kept supplied with roasted meat, a happy confidence reigned. But there was no joy for Helgvor; the world seemed lost, his happiness had gone with the Daughter of the Rocks, into the solitude.
"The eyes and ears of Helgvor must be keen," Shtra whispered. "Heigoun will make traps."
"The same soil can no longer bear us both!" Helgvor agreed.
"Shtra will fight for his son."
A brief tenderness shaped in those primitive souls, which mingled with dim shame within the rough instincts. Shtra had watched over the childhood of his companions. Irresolute man, mediocre warrior, he loved his own people and Akroun, of whom he felt the superiority with a vague pleasure at being dominated. Iouk was much like him, and both, effortlessly, centered their family pride upon Helgvor. Despite his quicker passions, his deeper hates and his fiercer anger, Helgvor shared with them the weakness of being affectionate, and at times even merciful.
"Akroun is also Helgvor's friend!" Shtra resumed after glancing about cautiously. "He desires the death of Heigoun because Heigoun wants to take command and kill Akroun!"
"We are the chief's allies!"
A lion appeared upon a hillock, shook his mane and his enormous voice roared a threat to space; wolves, dogs and a panther were seen. Yet the men dominated the land. Even the mammoth and the rhinoceros retreated before man, who ruled the Earth.
At times the glance of Helgvor turned toward the northern section of the camp, where rested Heigoun and his followers.
NIGHT followed day, day followed night, many times.
The men marched to their destiny. The plain was broken by clumps of trees, and sometimes by thick forests which warned of the proximity of the southeastern jungle.
Had it not been for the ashes of fires, the tracks might have been lost definitely. But the Tzohs lighted fires each night. It had been ascertained from these that the troop numbered sixty warriors and a score of women.
Their march had been much slower than the progress of the Ougmars, and the time came when but a half-day's march separated the two hordes. To cut down that distance the more, the Ougmars marched several hours by the light of the moon, which had become full.
Akroun then gathered the veteran warriors.
"To-morrow the Ougmars fight!" he said.
And all understood that the battle would be bitterly waged.
"The Ougmars must surprise the Tzohs!" the chief added.
"During the march or in camp?" asked the oldest fighter.
"At twilight," Shtra advised. "Thus did Helgvor vanquish."
"If they must be surprised on the march," Akroun wondered, "must we not head them off?"
"Heigoun will surprise them!" the giant declared.
"Heigoun is powerfu1 as the aurochs! But the aurochs is not as speedy as the stag or the wolf! Now, Helgvor is swift" Akroun allowed his words to sink in. "What Helgvor did was well done. The fleetest shall precede us, and because it will take one day to reach the Tzohs, it shall be toward night that we attack them. We shall have the light that lingers after the sun has sunk into the lakes, and then the full light of the moon. Therefore, Helgvor and the most agile Ougmars shall lure the Tzohs out of their camp, and we will surprise them. Heigoun will smash them up with his club."
The giant did not like the plan, but the others approved.
"Which of the warriors shall go with Helgvor?"
There were Akr, Houam and Pzahm, all three in their youth. Akr was the fleetest, Pzahm the slowest.
"Pzahm will fight with the clan," Helgvor decided. "There is no need of more than three men. Before daylight we shall leave, with my wolf and my dog; they know how to keep silent."
"So be it!" Akroun concluded.
But Heigoun turned a murderous stare upon the young man.
Helgvor rose an hour before dawn. The moon was huge on the western sky, the hue of molten copper. Akr and Houam were ready, both thin, with weak arms and long legs. Akr had raced against Helgvor in the past. For many seasons, their speeds had been equal, first one then the other won out. Then Helgvor had won all the time. It was not likely that among the short-legged Tzohs there would be any who could catch Akr, but Houam was not as fast, not as trustworthy.
TO BE CONCLUDED NEXT WEEK.