18. NU'S FIRST VOYAGE
PRESENTLY all the boats were completed, and the men dragged them one by one down close to the water. In them they placed their paddles, their axes and their harpoons, just as Tur had before he departed. Nu watched them with feverish interest. At last all have been launched, and are being paddled vigorously beyond the surf. In the comparatively smoother water the boats turn toward the north and south, scattering. Evidently they are not bound for the distant islands. Nu sees a warrior rise suddenly in the bow of one of the boats and hurl his spear quickly into the water. Immediately there is a great commotion in the boat and in the water beside it. There are three men in each boat. Two in the boat Nu is watching, paddle frantically away from the thing that lashes the sea beside them. Nu guessed what had occurred. The spearman had buried his weapon in some huge creature of the deep, and the battle was on. They were too far out for Nu to see the details of the conflict, but he saw the boat towed swiftly by the wounded creature as it raced toward the open sea. He saw the boat pulled closer alongside and another spear hurled into the fleeing thing. He understood now why these men tied their spear-heads to long ropes. He saw the sudden commotion in the dug-out as the hunted turned upon the hunters. He saw the swift stroke of a mighty flipper as it rose from the water and fell with awful fury across the boat. He saw the other boats hurrying toward the scene of battle; but before they reached the spot all was quiet save for two pieces of bobbing tree trunk and the head and shoulders of a single man who clung to one of them. A few minutes later he was dragged into another boat and the fleet dispersed again to search out other prey.
Soon all were out of sight beyond a promontory except a single craft which fished before the village. These men evidently sought less formidable game, and Nu could see that from the teeming sea they were dragging in great fish almost as rapidly as they could hurl their weapons. Soon the boat was completely filled, and with their great load the men paddled slowly inshore.
As they came a sudden resolution formed in Nu's mind. The sight of the dangerous sport upon the waters had filled him with a strong desire to emulate these strangers, but greater than that was the power of another suggestion which the idea held forth.
As the men dragged the boat upon the beach the women came down to meet them, carrying great bags of bull hide sewn with bullock sinew. Into these they gathered the fish and dragged their loads over the ground toward their camp.
The men, their day's work evidently finished, stretched out beneath the shade of trees to sleep. This was the time! Nu moved stealthily to his hands and knees. He grasped his long spear and his stone ax tightly in his hands. The boat lay upon the open beach. There was no near point where he might reach it undetected by the women. The alternative rather appealed to Nu's warlike nature. It was nothing less than rushing directly through the village.
He came to his feet and advanced lightly among the shelters. No need to give the alarm before he was detected. He was directly behind the young woman who scraped the aurochs' skin. She did not hear his light footfall. The baby, now sitting by her side playing with the aurochs' tail, looked up to see the stranger close upon him. He lunged toward his mother with a lusty shriek. Instantly the camp was in commotion. No need now for stealth. With a war whoop that might have sprung from a score of lusty lungs Nu leaped through the village among the frightened women and the startled men, awakened rudely from their sleep.
Straight toward the boat ran Nu, and upon his heels raced the three warriors. One was coming toward him from the side. He was quite close, so close that he came upon Nu at the same instant that the latter reached the boat. The two fell upon one another with their great axes, but Nu, the son of Nu, was a mighty warrior. He dodged the blow of the other's ax, and before his adversary could recover himself to deliver a second Nu's weapon fell upon his skull, crushing it as if it had been an egg shell.
Now Nu seized the boat and dragged it toward the water as he had seen the strangers do. But he had taken but a half dozen steps when he was forced to turn and defend himself against the remaining warriors. With savage howls they were upon him, their women huddled upon the beach behind them shouting wild cries of encouragement to their men and defiance to the enemy. Nu abandoned the boat and rushed to meet his antagonists. His long spear, thrown with the power of the foremost Boat Builder, who was upon the point of hurling his stout harpoon at Nu. Down went the harpooner. Up rose a chorus of howls and lamentations from the women. Now the third warrior closed upon the troglodyte. It was too close for spear work, and so the fellow dropped his heavy weapon and leaped to close quarters with his knife. Down the two men went into the knee deep water, striking at one another with their knives as they sought death holds with their free hands. A great roller rumbled in upon them, turning them over and over as it carried them up the beach. Still they fought, sputtering and choking in the salty brine, but when the wave receded it left a corpse behind it upon the beach, stabbed through and through the great hairy chest by the long, keen knife of Nu, the son of Nu.
The cave man rose, dripping, to his feet and turned back toward the sea. The roller had carried the boat out with it. The women, furious now at the death of their three men, rushed forward to drag down the victor. Savage creatures they were, but little less sinister than their males. Their long hair streamed in the wind. Their faces were distorted by rage and hatred. They screamed aloud their taunts and insults and challenges; but Nu did not wait to battle with them. Instead he dove into the surf and struck out for the drifting boat. His spear was lost, but he clung to his ax. His knife he had returned to his gee-string.
They ran into the water to their waists, but Nu was beyond their reach. In a moment more he had come to the side of the boat. Tossing in his ax he clambered over the side, scarce escaping overturning the hollowed log. Once safely within he took up the paddle, an unaccustomed implement, and, fashioning his strokes after those of the men he had watched, he made headway from the shore.
The tide and the wind helped him, but he found, too, that he quickly mastered the art of paddling. First he discovered that when he paddled exclusively upon the side of his spear hand the boat turned in the opposite direction, and so he understood why the boatmen had paddled alternately upon one side and the other. When he did this the craft kept a straighter course in the direction he wished to go the distant land of mystery.
Half way across the water that spread between the main land and the nearest island a monstrous shape loomed suddenly close to the boat's side. A long neck surmounted by a huge reptilian head shot above the surface, and wide gaping jaws opened to seize the paddler. Protruding eyes glared down upon him, and then the thing struck. Nu dodged to one side and struck back with his knife. With a hiss and scream the creature dove beneath the surface only to reappear a moment later upon the opposite side of the boat. Blood flowed from the knife wound in its neck. Again it snapped at the man, again the knife found its neck as Nu crouched to one side to elude the gaping jaws. Once more the thing dove, and almost simultaneously a mighty tail rose high out of the water above the man's head. Nu seized the paddle and drove the boat forward just as that terrific engine of destruction fell with a mighty whack upon the very spot the boat had quit. The blow, had it touched the craft, would have splintered it into firewood. For a few minutes the sea was churned to white, crimson stained by the creature's blood, as it thrashed about in impotent fury. Then, as Nu paddled away, the raging ceased and the great carcass floated upon its side.
On went Nu, paddling with redoubled energy toward the distant goal. What he expected to find at his journey's end he could not believe, yet what else was drawing him through countless dangers across the face of the terrible waters? The man, Tur, had come hither. He it was who had pursued Nat-ul. Was he still pursuing her? That he was following some woman Nu was positive from the fragments of conversation he had overheard, and yet though try as he would to believe it he could not make his judgment accept as a possibility the chance that it was really Nat-ul whom the man expected to find upon this distant land.
The wind had risen considerably since Nu set out upon his perilous journey. Already the waves were running high, tipped with white. That the island lay straight before the wind was all that saved the rude craft from instant annihilation. All about him the sea was alive with preying monsters. Titanic duels were in progress upon every hand, as the ferocious reptilia battled over their kills, or, turning from the chase, fell upon one another in frenzied joy of battle while their fortunate quarry swam rapidly away.
Through innumerable dangers swept the little tree-trunk skiff to be deposited at last upon the surf beaten beach of the nearest island. Scarce had Nu landed and dragged his boat above the rollers when he descried another boat a short distance from his own. That this belonged to the man, Tur, he had no doubt, and seizing his ax he hastened to it to pick up and follow the other's spoor wherever it might lead.
Clean cut and distinct in the sand Nu found the impress of Tur's sandals, nor did it require a second glance at them to convince the troglodyte that they had been made by the same feet that had pursued Nat-ul upon the mainland beach.
The trail led around a rocky promontory into a deep and somber gorge. Up the center of this it followed the course of a rapid brook, leaping downward toward the sea. From time to time the man had evidently essayed to scale the cliffs, first upon one side and then upon the other, but each time he had abandoned the attempt before the difficulties and dangers of the precipitous crags.
To Nu the ascent would have proved a simple matter, and so he wondered why the man had turned back each time after clambering but a short distance from the base of the cliffs; but Tur was not a cliff dweller. His peoples had come from a great, level river valley beside the sea from a country where cliffs and natural caves were the exception rather than the rule, so he had had but little practice in climbing of that sort.
Finally, at the head of the ravine, he had been forced to climb or retrace his steps, and here, at last, he had managed to clamber out upon the table land that stretched beyond the summit. Across this the trail led, turning suddenly toward the west at the edge of another ravine. The abruptness with which the spoor wheeled to the right indicated to Nu that something had suddenly attracted the man's attention toward the new direction and that he had proceeded at a rapid run to investigate. Could he here have discovered the woman he sought? Was he already in pursuit of Nat-ul? if it was, indeed, she. Was he even now in possession of her?
Nu, too, wheeled to the west and raced rapidly along the well-marked trail. Since he had come upon the signs of Tur, Nu's speed had been infinitely greater than that of the Boat Builder. This his woodcraft told him, so he knew that he was constantly gaining upon the man who was still unconscious of the fact that he was being pursued.
Down the steep side of the ravine Tur must have slid and rolled in a most reckless fashion. At the bottom was a dense forest through which the trail led back toward the sea, after the man had made a series of frantic but futile attempts to scale the opposite heights.
What had he seen or heard or followed that had led him to make such desperate attempts to gain the opposite summit? Should Nu follow him down the ravine, or clamber to the vantage point the other had been unable to reach?
For an instant the troglodyte hesitated. Then he wheeled toward the cliff, and with the agility of long practice backed by ages of cliff dwelling forebears he clambered rapidly upward. At times he was forced to leap for a projecting rock above his head, dangling out over space as he drew himself, by mighty biceps and forearm, to the tiny foothold it afforded. Again, a gnarled root or a small crevice aided him in his ascent, until presently he crawled over the brow and stood erect once more on level ground.
Nu looked about, warily there was no sign of the man or the woman. Then he examined the ground in ever enlarging circles, but no spoor such as he sought rewarded his eager eyes.
He had about decided to return to the bottom of the ravine and follow Tur's spoor when, clear and shrill from the west, there came to his ears the scream of a woman in distress.
And scarce had its first note risen upon the air than Nu, the son of Nu, was dashing madly in the direction of the sound.
AS NAT-UL, surprised by Tur in her spying upon the village of the Boat Builders, fled north along the beach she had little hope of permanently distancing her pursuer. But she could do no less than flee, hoping against hope, that some chance accident might save her from capture.
It was in her mind to dodge into the jungle where it came down close to the water a quarter of a mile ahead of her. Here she might elude the man and reach the cliffs that lay a short distance inland. Once there, there was an excellent chance of hiding from him or holding him off with pieces of rock until nightfall. Then she would retrace her steps northward, for it was evident that her people had not traveled in this direction.
The jungle was already quite close, but, on the other hand, the man was gaining upon her. Could she reach the tangled screen in time to elude him before he should be upon her? At least she could do no less than try.
Suddenly from directly above her head came a loud flapping of great wings. A black shadow fell upon the sand about her. She glanced upward, and the sight that met her eyes froze her brave heart in terror. There, poised just above her ready to strike with its mighty talons, hovered one of those huge flying reptiles, that even in Nat-ul's day were practically extinct a gigantic pterodactyl.
The man behind her screamed a shout of warning. He launched his barbed spear for the great creature, catching it in the fatty portion of the long tail, near the body. With a whistling scream of pain and rage the hideous thing swooped down upon the girl beneath. Nat-ul felt the huge talons close upon her body. The heavy hide that covered her kept them from piercing through to her flesh as the pterodactyl rose swiftly, bearing her victim with her.
For a moment Nat-ul had battled and struggled for freedom, but almost at once she had realized the futility of her pitiful efforts. In that awful clutch even the cave-bear or the bull bos would have been helpless. Now she hung inert and limp, waiting for the end. She could not even draw her stone knife, for one of the great talons was closed tightly over it where it rested in the cord that supported her loin cloth.
Below her she could see the tossing waters. The thing was bearing her far out from shore. The great wings flapped noisily above her. The long neck and the hideous head were stretched far forward as the creature flew in a straight line, high in air.
Presently the girl saw land ahead. Terror filled her heart as she realized that the thing was bearing her to the mysterious country that lay far out upon the bosom of the Restless Sea. She had dreamed of this strange, unattainable country. There were stories among her people of the awful creatures that dwelt within it. She had sometimes longed to visit it, but always with the brave warriors of her tribe to protect her. To come thus alone to the terrifying shore, in the clutches of the most fearsome beast that terrified primeval man was beyond conception. Her mind was partially stupefied by the enormity of the fate that had overwhelmed her.
Now the great reptile was above the nearest island. A jagged, rocky hill raised its bare summit in a huge index finger that pointed straight into the air far above the surrounding hill tops and the dense vegetation of the encircling jungle. Toward this the creature bore its prey. As it hovered above the rocky pinnacle Nat-ul glanced fearfully downward. Directly below her her horrified sight fell upon the goal toward which her captor had been winging its rapid way upon the cruel and hideous fate that awaited her there.
Craning their long necks upward from a cup-like nest of mud matted grasses three young pterodactyls shrilled and hissed in anticipatory joy at their returning mother and the food she brought them.
Several times the adult circled above the young, dropping lower and lower toward the nest in a diminishing spiral. For a second she hovered almost at rest, a few feet above them. Then she loosed her hold upon Nat-ul, dropping her squarely amongst her wide-jawed progeny, and with a final wheel above them soared away in search of her own dinner.
As Nat-ul touched the nest three sets of sharp toothed jaws snapped at her simultaneously. The creatures were quite young, but for all of that they were formidable antagonists, with their many teeth, their sharp talons and their strong tails.
The girl dodged the first assault and drew her knife. Here was no time or place for hysteria or nerves. Death, unthinkably horrible, was upon her. Her chances of escape were practically non-existent, and yet, so strong is the instinct of self-preservation, Nat-ul battled as heroically as though safety depended upon a single lucky knife thrust.
And, though she knew it not, so it did. The three heads were close together as the three monsters sought greedily to devour the tender morsel brought to them by their parent. Nat-ul for a moment eluded the snapping jaws of the awkward young, and then as the three heads came together in a mad attempt to seize her she plunged her blade into two of the long, scraggy necks. Instantly the wounded creatures set up a chorus of whistling shrieks. Their minute brains told them only that they had been hurt, and with bestial fury they set upon one another, each attributing its pain to one of its fellows. Instantly the nest became a mad whirling of wings, tails and hideous jaws. The two that had been wounded set upon each other, and the third, ignoring Nat-ul, fell upon the two contestants with impartial fury.
Taking advantage of their distraction the girl clambered quickly over the side of the nest. Below her the sheer side of the lofty pinnacle dropped fearfully downward a hundred feet. Vertical crevices and slight protuberances of harder rocks that had withstood the ravages of time and the elements afforded the only means of descent. But death, certain and terrible, lay in the nest. Below, there was some hope, however slight.
Clinging to the outside of the nest Nat-ul lowered her body until her feet found a precarious foothold upon a slightly jutting surface of the spire-like needle. Slowly she lowered herself, clinging desperately to each crevice and outcropping. Time and time again it seemed that she must give up, and cling where she was until, exhausted, she toppled to the depth below. Twice she circled the rocky finger in search of a new foothold further down, and each time, when hope seemed hopeless, she had found some meager thing, once only a little rounded roughness, to which her hand or foot could cling a few inches further away from the awful nest above her.
And so at last she came to the base of the gigantic needle, but even here she could not rest. At any moment the mighty mother might return and snatch her back once more to the horrors of her slimy nest.
The descent of the lower summit was, in places, but little less hazardous than that of the surmounting spire; but finally it was accomplished and Nat-ul found herself in a broad ravine, densely wooded. Here she lay down upon the grass to rest, for her labors had exhausted her. She knew not what other dangers menaced her; but for the moment she was numb to further terror. Pillowing her head upon her arm she fell asleep.
About her were the million sounds of the jungle the lesser animals, the birds, the insects, the swaying branches. They but lulled her to deeper slumber. The winds blowing up the ravine from the sea, fanned her cheek. It moved the soft, luxuriant hair that fell about her shoulders. It soothed and comforted her, but it did not whisper to her of the close-set, wicked eyes that peered out of the trees upon her. It did not warn her of the drooling jaws, the pendulous lower lip, the hairy breast beneath which a savage heart beat faster as the little eyes feasted upon her form. It did not tell her that a huge body had slipped from a nearby tree and was slinking toward her. It did not tell her; but a broken twig, snapping beneath the wary foot of the stalker, did.
Among the primordial there was no easy transition from sleep to wakefulness. There could not be for those who would survive. As the twig snapped Nat-ul was upon her feet facing the new danger that menaced her. She saw a great man-like form slinking toward her. She saw the reddish hair that covered the giant body. She saw the pig eyes and the wolf fangs, the hulking slouch of the heavy torso upon the short, crooked legs. And seeing, all in one swift glance, she turned and fled up the face of the cliff down which she had so recently descended.
As she clambered swiftly aloft the creature behind her rushed forward in pursuit, and behind him came a half dozen others like him. Nat-ul knew them as the hairy, tree people. They differed from the greater ape-folk in that they went always upon two legs when on the ground, and when they were killed and cut up for food they yielded one less rib than their apish prototype. She knew how terrible it was to fall into their hands worse than the fate that had almost claimed her in the lofty nest, far above.
A hundred feet up the cliff side Nat-ul paused to look back. A dozen yards below her was the hairy one. The girl loosened a bit of rock and hurled it down upon him. He dodged it, and with a shrill scream continued the pursuit. Upward she fled for another hundred feet. Again she paused to look downward. The tree-man was gaining on her. She loosened a bit of quartz and dropped it upon him. Just below him were six others. The missile struck her foremost pursuer. He toppled for an instant, and then tumbled backward upon those behind him. He knocked one from a scant hand hold upon the precipitous cliff, and the two dashed violently downward toward the jagged rocks at the bottom.
With an exultant taunt upon her lips Nat-ul resumed her upward flight. Now she came to a point near the summit. The hillside was less steep. Here she could go with only occasional use of her hands. Half way up, her foot slipped upon a loose, round rock. She fell heavily to the ground, clutching for support as she did so. The few rocks that met her hands gave way beneath her weight. With sickening velocity she hurtled down toward the brink of the perpendicular cliff face toward mangled, tortured death beside the bodies of the two who had preceded her to the same destruction.
Above the brink of the chasm the first of the remaining pursuers was emerging. He was directly in the path of Nat-ul's swiftly rolling body. It struck him in his hairy breast, hurling him backward into the precipice, to his death. But his body had served a purpose. It had broken the velocity of the girl's fall, so that now she but rolled gently over the edge of the cliff, clutching at the top as she went, and thus further diminishing her speed.
Directly below the summit lay a narrow ledge. Upon this Nat-ul came almost to a full stop, but there was nothing there upon which she could gain a handhold, and so she toppled slowly over the edge into the arms of another of the man-apes.
Close beside him was one of his fellows, and a little way below the third who remained of the original six. The nearer clutched at Nat-ul to drag her from the arms of her captor, who drew back with bared fangs and menacing growl. But the other was insistent. Evidently he desired the prey fully as much as he who had obtained it. He came closer. The ledge upon which they stood was very narrow. A battle there would have meant death for all three.
With a cat-like leap the creature that held Nat-ul in his arms sprang to one side, turned, and with the strength and agility of a chamois leaped down the steep cliff-face. In his path was the remaining tree-man. To have met that charge would have meant being catapulted to the bottom of the ravine. Wisely, the man-ape sidestepped, but immediately the two had passed he fell into pursuit of them. Behind him came the other that Nat-ul's captor had eluded.
There ensued a mad chase that often blanched the cheek of the almost fearless cave girl. From the base of the cliffs the man-ape leaped across the intervening jungle toward the trees. To the lower branches of these he took without lessening his speed in the least. He almost flew, so swiftly he passed through the tangled mazes of the primeval forest.
Close behind him, screaming and roaring came his two fellows, intent upon robbing him of his prey. He carried Nat-ul across one shoulder, gripping her firmly with a gigantic hand. She could plainly see the pursuers behind them. They were gaining on their burdened fellow. Already the foremost was reaching out to clutch the girl. Her captor shooting a quick glance rearward discovered the imminence of his despoilment. Wheeling suddenly upon the precarious trail he snapped viciously at the nearer pursuer, who, with bared fangs and growling horribly, retreated out of reach. Then the creature recommenced his flight only to be at once pursued again by his two kinsmen.
Up and down the jungle the savage trio raced. Twice they crossed the heights separating one ravine from another. More and more insistent became the pursuers. Oftener the captor was forced to halt with his prize and fight off first one of them and then the other. At last, at the edge of the jungle close to the mouth of a narrow, rocky gorge the beast went mad with rage. He wheeled suddenly upon his pursuers, hurled Nat-ul heavily to the ground, and charged, roaring and foaming, upon them.
They were running side by side, and so quick was the offensive movement of their fellow that they had no time to dodge him. His great hands seized them and then all three went to the earth, tearing at one another, burying their formidable tusks in throat and breast, and all the while keeping up a terrific growling and roaring.
Warily Nat-ul raised herself upon all fours. Her eyes were fastened intently upon the three savage beasts. They paid no attention to her. It was evident that their every faculty was wholly engaged in the life and death struggle upon which they had entered. Nat-ul came to her feet and without another backward glance fled into the narrow gorge behind her. She ran as swiftly as she could that she might put as great a distance as possible between herself and the horrid beasts that battled for her. Where the gorge led she had no conception. What other horrors lay at its end she could not guess. She only knew that hope had almost left her, for that she ever could regain the mainland she had not the faintest belief. Nor could her people succor her even should they discover her whereabouts, which in itself was equally beyond the pale of probability. That she could long survive the dangers of the mysterious country she doubted. Even a mighty warrior, fully armed, would fare ill in this place of terror. What, indeed, was to become of a girl armed only with a knife!
That Nu already was searching for her she did not doubt; but long ere this the tide had washed the imprints of her sandals from the sandy beach. Where would he search? And even had he followed her spoor before the tide had erased it how could he guess what had befallen her, or interpret the sudden ending of her trail in the center of the beach?
The stranger had seen the winged reptile pounce upon her and bear her away; but even if Nu should come upon him how could he learn of the truth, since the moment that the two met they would fall upon one another in mortal combat, as was the way of strangers then.
Or if, by any chance, Nu discovered that she had been carried to the mysterious country how could he follow, even though he believed, against all reason, that she still lived?
No, there seemed no hope anywhere upon Nat-ul's horizon, or below it. There was nothing left for her but to battle for survival, pitting her wits and her agility against the brute force and cunning of the brutes that would menace her to the end of her days the end that could not be far distant.
The windings of the gorge as she traversed it downward had shut off the louder sounds of the combat raging behind her, though still she could hear an occasional roar, or shriller scream of pain. She hoped that they would fight until all were dead. Otherwise the survivor would continue the pursuit.
As she stopped once to listen that she might know the three were still engaged in battle she turned her eyes backward up the gorge, so that, for the moment, she failed to see that she had reached the end of the narrow canyon and that the beach and the sea lay before her. Nor did she see the figure of the man who came to a sudden stop at the gorge's mouth as his eyes fell upon her, nor the quick movement that took him behind a projecting boulder.
Satisfied that she was not as yet being pursued Nat-ul resumed her way down the rocky trail. As she turned she saw the sea, and, far away, the mainland across the water. She hurried onward toward the beach, that she might reach a point as close as possible to her beloved country.
As she passed the boulder behind which the man hid the scraping of a pebble beneath his sandal attracted her attention. She wheeled toward him and then turned to fly; but he was too close. Already he had leaped for her. One brawny hand closed in her flowing hair, the other grasped the wrist of the upraised hand in which the long knife of the girl had flashed above him with incredible swiftness.
He laughed in her face it was the stranger who had pursued her upon the mainland beach and then he drew her toward him. Nat-ul fought like a tigress, and once she screamed.
TUR CARRIED the girl, still struggling and fighting, toward his boat. For the first time he saw the boat that had brought Nu, and wondered at the presence of another craft. Who could it be? A closer inspection revealed that the boat was one that had just been fashioned by others of his own tribe. Some of the men must have followed him. Still clasping Nat-ul firmly as he stood ankle deep in the water beside his boat he raised his voice in a loud halloo.
Presently a clattering of falling stones from the cliff facing the beach attracted the attention of Tur and the girl. Already half way down, the figure of an agile giant was leaping toward them in descent. From his shoulders fluttered the skin of a cave-lion. From his shock of black hair a single long feather rose straight and defiantly aloft.
A single glance revealed to Tur the fact that this was no member of his tribe. It was a stranger, and so an enemy. Nat-ul recognized Nu at once. She gave a little cry of delight at sight of him, a cry that was answered by a shout of encouragement from Nu. Tur threw the girl roughly into the bottom of the boat, holding her there with one hand, though she fought bitterly to escape, while with his free hand he dragged first his boat and then Nu's out into deeper water.
Handicapped though he was, Tur worked rapidly, for he was at home in the surf and wonderfully proficient in the handling of the cumbersome craft of his tribe even under the most adverse conditions. At last he succeeded in shoving Nu's boat into the grip of a receding roller that carried it swiftly away from shore, and at the same time he shoved his own through, leaping into it with his captive.
Nat-ul fought her way to her knees, calling aloud to Nu, and striving desperately to throw herself overboard, but Tur held her fast, paddling with one hand, and when Nu reached the water's edge they were well beyond his reach. So, too, was his own tree-trunk. Between him and Nat-ul the sea swarmed with carnivorous reptiles. Every instant was carrying her away from him. The troglodyte scarce hesitated. With a swift movement he threw off his lion skin and discarded his stone ax, then, naked but for a loin cloth, and armed only with his knife he dove through the pounding surf into the frightful sea.
As Nat-ul witnessed his act she redoubled her efforts to retard Tur. Crawling to her knees she threw both arms about her captor's neck, dragging him down until he could no longer wield his paddle. Tur fought to disengage himself. He did not wish to kill or maim his captive she was far too beautiful to destroy or disfigure he wanted her in all her physical perfection, just as she was.
Gradually Nu was overhauling them. Twice he was attacked by slimy monsters. Once he fought his way to victory, and again the two who menaced him fell to fighting between themselves and forgot their prey. At last he was within reach of Tur's boat. Nat-ul battling with desperation and every ounce of her strength to hamper Tur's movements was tugging at the man's arms. He could do nothing, and already Nu had seized the side of the craft and was raising one leg over it.
With a sudden wrench Tur freed his right hand. Nat-ul strove to regain it, but the great fist rose above her face. With terrific impact it fell upon her forehead. All went black before her as she released her hold upon Tur and sank to the bottom of the boat, unconscious.
Instantly Tur snatched up his paddle and leaping to his feet beat furiously at Nu's head and hands. Bravely the man strove to force his way into the boat in the face of this terrific punishment; but it was too severe, and at last, half stunned, he slipped back into the water, as Tur drove his paddle once again and the rude craft forged away toward the mainland.
When Nat-ul regained consciousness she found herself lying upon a shaggy aurochs skin beneath a rude shelter of thatch and hide. Her hands and feet were securely bound with tough bullock sinew. When she struggled to free herself they cut into her soft flesh, hurting cruelly. So she lay still looking straight up at the funnel-like peak of the shelter's interior.
She knew where she was. This was one of the strange caves of the people she had seen working upon the tree trunks, for what purpose she now knew. She turned her head toward the entrance. Beyond she saw men and women squatting about small fires, eating. It was already dark. Beyond them were other fires, larger fires that kept the savage carnivora at bay.
And beyond this outer circle of fires, from out of the outer darkness, came the roaring and the coughing, the grunting and the growling of scores of terrible beasts of prey, that slunk back and forth about the encampment thirsting for the blood of the men and women and children who huddled within the safety of the protecting fires.
Occasionally a little boy would snatch up a burning brand and hurl it among the night prowlers. There would be a chorus of angry screams and low toned, rumbling growls as the menacers retreated for an instant, then the ring of shadowy forms, and the glowing spots of burning flame that were their eyes, would reform out of the stygian blackness of the night.
Once a cave-lion, emboldened by familiarity with the camp fires of primitive people, leaped through the encircling ring of flame. Into the midst of a family party he sprang, seizing upon an old man. Instantly a half hundred warriors snatched up their spears, and as the lion turned with his prey and leaped back into the night fifty harpoons caught him in mid-air.
Down he came directly on top of a flaming pile of brush, and with him came the old man. The warriors leaped forward with whirling axes. What mattered it if the old man was pierced by a dozen of the spears that had been intended for the marauder? They leaped and shouted in savage glee, for the lion was dead even before a single ax had smitten him. The old man was dead, too. Him they hurled out to the beasts beyond the flames; the lion they first skinned.
It was an awful spectacle, that evening scene in the far antiquity of man, when the Boat Builders, come north in search of new fisheries, camped upon the shore of the Restless Sea in the edge of the jungle primeval; but to Nat-ul it presented nothing remarkable. To such scenes she had been accustomed since earliest childhood. Of course, with her people the danger of attack by wild beasts at night was minimized by the fact that her tribe dwelt in caves, the mouths of which could be easily blocked against fourfooted enemies; but she was familiar with the evening fires which burned at the cliff's base while the tribe was gathered to feast or council, and she was used, too, to the sudden charge of some bolder individual amongst the many that always foregathered about the haunts of man at night.
At last the people withdrew to their shelters. Only two girls were left, whose business it was to keep the fires burning brightly. Nat-ul was familiar with this custom and she knew the utilitarian origin of it. Women were the least valuable assets of a tribe. They could best be spared in case of a sudden onslaught by some fierce beast at night it was the young men, who soon were to become warriors, that must be preserved. The death of a single girl would count for little her purpose would have been served if the screams of herself and her companion aroused the warriors.
But why not old and useless women instead of young girls? Merely because the instinct of self-preservation is stronger in the young than in the very old. An old woman would have been much less careless of her life than would a young woman, and so might sleep and permit the fires to die out she would have but a few years or months to live anyway and little or nothing to live for in those primitive days.
The young woman, on the contrary, would watch the fires zealously for her own protection, and so insure the greater safety of the tribe. Thus, perhaps, was born the custom from which sprung the order of holy virgins who tended the eternal fires in the temples that were yet unbuilt in the still undreamed-of Rome.
Presently the entrance to the shelter in which Nat-ul was secured was darkened by the figure of a man it was Tur. Nat-ul recognized him at once. He came to her side and knelt.
"I have kept the women from you," he said. "Gron would have torn you to pieces, and the others would have helped her. But you need not fear them. Promise me that you will not resist, or attempt to escape, and you shall be freed from your bonds permanently. Otherwise I shall have to tie you up whenever I am away, and then there is no telling what Gron may do, since you will be defenseless and I not here to keep her from you. What do you say?"
"I say that the moment my hands are freed I shall fight until I kill or am killed," replied the girl; "and when my feet are loosed I shall run away as fast as I can."
Tur shrugged his shoulders.
"Very well," he said. "It will profit you nothing, unless you enjoy being always tied in this uncomfortable position."
He stooped and commenced to work upon the knots that held her feet and ankles. Outside the shelter something slunk stealthily in the shadows. Tur did not hear the faint scraping sound of the creature's wary advance. His back was toward the entrance of the shelter as he knelt low over the hard knots in the bullock sinews. Already he had released the cords that encircled Nat-ul's ankles, and now he was turning his attention to those at her knees. The girl lay quietly, her face toward the lesser darkness which showed through the entrance. She would wait patiently until he had freed her, and then she would fight until the man was forced to kill her.
Suddenly she became aware of the darker shadow of a form blotting a portion of the dark entrance way. The creature was not large enough to be of the more formidable carnivora, though it might have been a hyena or a wild dog. Nat-ul was on the point of warning the man, when it occurred to her that here might be not only the quick death she now craved, but at the same time a means of revenging herself upon her captor.
She lay very quiet while Tur labored over the last knot. Close behind the man crept the silent prowler of the night. Nat-ul could imagine the bared fangs and the slavering jowls. In another instant there would be a savage growl as the thing closed with a swift spring upon its prey.
Or would it leap past the man upon her unprotected throat? The girl's eyes were wide in fascinated horror. She shuddered once as in the close presence of death. The last knot loosened beneath Tur's fingers. He jerked the cord from about the girl's knees with a low exclamation of satisfaction.
And then Nat-ul saw the thing behind the man rear upon its hind legs and spring full upon his back. There was no savage growl no sound. The silence of the attack rendered it infinitely more horrible than would bestial roars and growls that might have proclaimed the nature of the animal.
Tur rolled over upon his side to grapple with his antagonist. In an instant they were locked in furious combat. Nat-ul staggered to her feet. Her arms still were pinioned, but her legs were free. Here was her opportunity! Leaping over the two blood mad beasts she darted from the shelter and plunged into the nearby jungle.
NU, THE son of Nu, half stunned by the paddle of Tur, still managed to keep afloat until he partially regained his senses. Then, seeing the futility of further attempt to overtake the boat in which Nat-ul was being borne toward the mainland, he struck out for the shore of the island. For a while he lay upon the hot sand, resting. Then he arose looking out across the water. Far in the distance he could see a tiny speck approaching the opposite shore. It must be the boat in which Nat-ul had been carried off. Nu marked the spot in the distance a lofty mountain peak reared its head far inland.
Nu bethought himself of the boat that had brought him to the island. He looked out to sea for it, but it was not in sight there. He walked along the beach. Beyond a heap of wave washed boulders he came upon the thing he sought. He could have shouted aloud, so elated was he. There before him lay the boat and in it was the paddle. He ran forward and pulled it up upon the beach, then he hurried back to the spot at which he had discarded his robe and ax, and after regaining them returned to the dug-out.
A moment more saw him floundering out through the surf. He leaped into the craft, seized the paddle and struck out for the far off shore line. With paddle and ax and stone knife he fought off the marauders of the sea. The journey was marked by a series of duels and battles that greatly impeded the man's progress. But he was not discouraged. He was accustomed to nothing else. It was his life, as it was the life of every creature that roamed the land or haunted the deeps in those stupendously savage days.
It was quite dark when the heavy booming of the surf before him warned Nu that he was close in-shore. For some time he had seen the fires of the Boat Builders ahead of him and toward these he had directed his way. Now his boat ran its blunt nose out upon the sand a hundred yards north of the camp. Nu leaped out, leaving the boat where it lay. He doubted that he should ever have further use for it, but should he live to return to his people he would lose no time in building a similar craft with which he should fill his father's people with awe and admiration.
About the camp of the Boat Builders, as Nu approached, he discovered the usual cordon of night prowlers that he had naturally expected. Circling until he was down wind from the shelters he was enabled to reach the jungle without being discovered by any of the more ferocious beasts. Once he had just eluded a ponderous cave-bear that was lumbering toward the encampment in search of prey, and again he almost stumbled against a huge rhinoceros as it lay in the long grasses upon the jungle's outer fringe. But once within the jungle he took to the trees, since among their branches there were few that he had reason to fear. The panther sometimes climbed to the lower branches, but, though he was a mighty beast by comparison with the panther of the twentieth century, Nu looked upon him with contempt, since he seldom deliberately hunted man and could be put to flight, if not killed, by a well hurled ax. Reptiles constituted the greatest menace to the jungle traveler who chose the branches of the trees, for here often lurked enormous snakes in whose giant coils the mightiest hunters were helpless as babes.
To the rear of the village Nu traveled through the trees, leaping in the dark from one huge frond to another. When the distance was too great to span in a single leap he came to the ground, springing across the intervening space with the speed and agility of a deer. At last he came to the edge of the jungle opposite the camp. The fires came close beneath the tree in which he hid. He could see the girls tending them, and further in, the balance of the tribe squatting about their smaller cooking fires, gnawing upon bones, or splitting them to extract the marrow.
He saw the rush of the lion upon the opposite side of the camp. He saw him seize the old man. He saw the warriors leap to their feet and run toward the beast. He saw the eyes and attention of every member of the tribe directed toward the spot which was farthest from Nu. Even the girls who were tending the fires below him ran quickly across the village to witness the killing of the marauder.
Taking advantage of this fortuitous good fortune Nu dropped quickly to the ground and ran for the shadows of the shelters which were placed in a rude circle facing outward toward the outer circle of fires with the result that the circular space they enclosed was in partial shadow. Here Nu threw himself upon his belly in the darkest spot he could find. For some time he lay motionless, listening and sniffing the air. As nothing rewarded his observations at this point he rose cautiously upon all fours and crept a few feet further on in the shadows of the shelters. Again he lay down to listen and sniff. For half an hour he pursued his slow way about the inner circle behind the dwellings. The inhabitants had retired all except the girls who tended the fires.
At last Nu heard low voices coming from the interior of a shelter behind which he had but just crawled. He lay very quiet with his nose a few inches from the bottom of the skin and thatch hut. Presently there came to his sensitive nostrils the evidence he had been seeking within was Nat-ul; but there was someone with her!
Cautiously Nu crept around to the front of the shelter. Even there it was very dark, for the girls had permitted the fires to die down to a few fitful flames. Opposite the entrance Nu heard Nat-ul's voice distinctly. He saw the form of a man leaning over her. He went hot with hate and rage. Like a beast of prey he slunk noiselessly upon all fours into the shelter directly behind the unsuspecting Tur. Then without a sound he rose to his feet and threw himself full upon the back of the stranger.
His knife was out and his fighting fangs were bared as the two rolled about the floor of the shelter striking, clawing and biting at one another. At last the man raised his voice in a call for help, for Nu was getting the better of him. The long knife had not found a vital spot as yet, for Tur was an experienced fighter and so far had been able to ward off the more dangerous blows; but nevertheless he was bleeding from several wounds and his throat and breast were lacerated by the other's teeth.
In reply to his shouts the village awoke with answering cries. Warriors, bearing their short spears, ran from every shelter. Women and children scampered at their heels. Gron, Tur's mate, was among the first to come. She had recognized the voice of her man and had guessed where he might be in trouble. Like an angry tigress she sprang for the shelter in which the beautiful stranger had been confined. Behind her came the warriors. One carried a burning brand from a nearby fire. He flung it into the interior, careless of where it might land. Fortunately for the inmates it fell beyond them, rolling against the further side of the hut. Instantly the dry fronds of the thatch that had been leaned against the bottom of the skins to fill in the gaps caught fire and the inside of the shelter was illumined by the sudden glare of flames.
When the rescuers saw that but a single man opposed their fellow they threw themselves upon the two, and though Nu battled bravely he was presently overcome. The entire hut was now aflame, so that his captors were forced to drag him outside. Here they bound his arms and legs, and then turned their attention to saving the balance of the village from destruction. This they accomplished by pulling down the blazing shelter with their spears and beating out the flames with fresh hides.
Even in the excitement of the fight Nu had not for a moment forgotten Nat-ul, and when the brand lighted up the interior he had sought for her with his eyes, unsuccessfully Nat-ul had disappeared.
He wondered what could have become of her. From her position upon the floor of the hut he had been sure that she was securely bound otherwise she would have been fighting tooth and nail against her captor. He looked about him from where he lay before the ruins of the burned shelter. He could see nothing of her; but he saw another woman a young woman with good features but with the expression of a wild beast. Hate, jealousy and rage were mirrored in every line of the passion distorted countenance. It was Gron. She came toward him.
"Who are you?" she cried.
"I am Nu, the son of Nu," replied the man.
"Are you of the same people as the woman in whose shelter you found my man?" she continued.
Nu nodded affirmatively.
"She was to have been my mate," he said. "Where is she?"
For the first time the woman seemed to realize the absence of the fair prisoner. She turned toward Tur.
"Where is the woman?" she shrieked. "Where have you hidden the woman? No longer shall you keep me from her. This time I shall tear out her heart and drink her blood."
Tur looked about in consternation.
"Where is the woman?" he called to the warriors; but none seemed to know.
Immediately a search of the village commenced. The warriors ran hither and thither through the huts, and into the enclosure behind them. Nu lay awaiting the outcome of the search. As it became evident that Nat-ul had escaped his heart leaped with joy. At last there was no other place to look and all the searchers had returned Nat-ul was not in the village.
Gron turned toward Nu.
"Your woman has escaped me," she shouted; "but you shall suffer for her," and she leaped upon him as he lay there bound and defenseless.
In her mad rage she would have torn his eyes out had not a tall warrior interfered. He seized the woman by her hair, jerking her roughly from her victim. Then he swung her, still by the hair, brutally to the ground.
"Take your woman away," he called to Tur. "Does a woman rule my people? Take her away and beat her, that she may learn that it is not a woman's place to interfere with the doings of men. Then take you another mate, that this woman may be taught her place."
Tur seized upon the unfortunate Gron and dragged her toward his own shelter, from which, later, could be heard the sound of a spear haft falling upon flesh, and the shrieks and moans of a woman.
Nu was disgusted. Among his people women were not treated thus. He looked up at the burly form of the chief who was standing over him. Well, why didn't they kill him? That was the proper thing to do with male prisoners. Among his own tribe a spear thrust through the heart would long since have settled the fate of one in Nu's position. He wondered where Nat-ul was. Could she find her way back to the tribe, safely? He wished that he might live but long enough to find her, and see her safe in her father's cave.
The chief was gazing intently upon him; but he had as yet made no move to finish him.
"Who are you?" he at length asked.
"I am Nu, the son of Nu," replied the prisoner.
"From where do you come?"
Nu nodded toward the north.
"From near the Barren Cliffs," he replied. "And should you go thither, beater of women, my father's tribe would fall upon you and kill you all."
"You talk big," said the chief.
"I talk truth," retorted Nu. "My father's people would laugh at such as you at men clothed in the skins of cows. It shows what manner of people you be. Now, my father's warriors wear the skins of Ur, and Zor and Oo, and upon their feet are sandals of the hides of Ta and Gluh. They are men. They would laugh as they sent their women and children out with sticks to drive you away."
This was a terrible insult. The chief of the Boat Builders trembled with rage.
"You shall see," he cried, "that we are men. And the manner of your death will prove if you be such a brave man as you say. Tomorrow you shall die after the day is done and the fires are lighted you shall begin to die; but it will be long before you are dead, and all the time you will be crying out against the woman who bore you, and begging us to put you out of your misery."
Nu laughed at him. He had heard of distant peoples who tortured their prisoners, and so he guessed what the chief meant to suggest. Well, he would show them how the son of Nu could die.
Presently at the chief's command a couple of warriors dragged Nu into a nearby shelter. A guard was placed before the door, for the escape of Nat-ul had warned them to greater watchfulness.
The long night dragged itself to a slow end. The sun rose out of the Restless Sea. The villagers bestirred themselves. Nu could smell the cooking food. He was very hungry, but they offered him not a single morsel. He was thirsty but none brought him water, and he was too proud to ask favors of his captors.
If the night had been long the day seemed an eternity, and though he knew that darkness was to be the signal for the commencement of the tortures that were to mark his passing he welcomed the first shadows of the declining sun.
Whatever cruelties they might perpetrate upon him could not last forever. Sooner or later he would die, and with this slim comfort Nu, the son of Nu, waited for the end.
The fishers had all returned. The outer ring of fires had been kindled, as well as the smaller cooking fires within. The people squatted about on their haunches gnawing upon their food like beasts. At last they had completed their evening meal. A couple of men brought a small post and after scooping a hole in the ground with their spears set it up half way between the shelters and the outer fires.
Then two warriors came to the hut where Nu lay. They seized him by the feet and dragged him, upon his back and shoulders through the village. The women and children poked him with sharp sticks, threw stones at him and spat upon him. Nu, the son of Nu, made no remonstrances. Not by so much as a line did the expression of utter indifference that sat his features like a mask alter in response to painful blows or foul indignities.
At last his guard stopped before the post which was now set firmly upright in the ground. They jerked Nu to his feet, and bound him securely to the stake. In a circle about him was a ring of brush wood. He knew that he was to be slowly roasted, for the brush was nowhere quite close enough for the flames to reach him. It would be a slow death, very pleasant to the eyes of the audience especially if the victim gave evidence of his agonies. But it was far from the intention of Nu, the son of Nu, to afford the Boat Builders this satisfaction. He looked around upon the ring of eager, savage faces with bored contempt. Nu despised them, not because they would kill him, for that he might expect from any strangers, but because they wore the skins of "cows" and the men labored instead of devoting all their time and energies to the chase and to warfare.
Their boats were fine to have Nu had even thought of fashioning one upon his return to his people; but to make a business of such labor ugh! it was disgusting. Had he escaped he should have returned to the Boat Builders with his father's warriors and taken what boats he wished.
His meditations were cut short by the ceremonies which were going on about him. There had been dancing, and a certain primitive chanting, and now one of the warriors lighted the brush that surrounded the victim at the stake.
AFTER NU, the son of Nu, had left his father and his father's people to go in search of Nat-ul and Hud, the warrior chief had sat in silence for many minutes. Beside him sat Tha, father of Nat-ul, and round about squatted the other members of the tribe. All were silent in the face of the sorrow that had overtaken their chief and his principal lieutenant. Nu and Nat-ul were great favorites among their savage fellows, Not so, however, Hud, and the anger against him was bitter.
Presently Nu, the chief, spoke.
"We cannot go in search of a new home," he said, "leaving two of our children behind."
His listeners knew that he ignored Hud that Hud, in bringing this sorrow upon the tribe, had forfeited his rights among them. They were satisfied that it should be so. A young warrior stood up. With his spear he drew a line upon the ground from east to west and lying just north of him.
"Nu, the son of Nu, passed through the ordeals with me we became men and warriors upon the same day. Together we hunted our first lion." He paused, and then, pointing to the line he had drawn upon the ground, continued:
"Never shall I cross this line until I have found Nu, the son of Nu."
As he ceased speaking be drew himself to his full height and with arms folded across his broad chest turned to face his chief.
From the tribe came grunts of approval. All eyes turned toward Nu. What would he do? The young warrior's act was nothing short of rebellion. Suddenly Aht, brother of Nat-ul, sprang to his feet and stood beside the defiant warrior. He said nothing his act proclaimed his intention.
Nu, the chief, looked at the two young men from beneath his shaggy brows. The watchers were almost certain that a half smile played grimly about his grim countenance. He, too, arose. He walked to where the two stood and ranged himself beside them.
Tha was the first to guess the significance of the act, and the instant that he did so he leaped to Nu's side. Then the others understood, and a moment later the whole tribe was ranged with their backs to Dag's line, facing toward the south. They were dancing and shouting now. The men waved their stone axes or threw their long spears high in air. The women beat their palms together, and the little children ran skipping about, getting in everyone's way.
After a few minutes of this Nu started off toward the south, telling off a score of men to remain with the women and children who were to follow slowly back toward their former dwellings while the chief with the balance of the fighting men searched rapidly ahead for signs of Nu and Nat-ul.
First they came upon the dead body of Hud within the cave in the face of the Barren Cliffs. From there they discovered Nu's spoor and faint traces of the older spoor of the girl, showing that Nu had not overtaken her at this point.
On they went along the beach toward their old caves, and everywhere the signs of one or the other of those they followed were distinguishable. It was dark when they reached the caves, and the following morning they had difficulty in again picking up the spoor because of the fact that the tide had obliterated it where it had touched the sandy beach at low tide. Now Nu separated his warriors into three parties. One, with which he remained, was to keep south along the beach, the second was to work into the jungle for a mile and then turn south, while the third was to search straight inland toward the west. In this way one of them must come upon those they sought, or some sign of them.
Tha was in command of the central party, and Aht was with him. Dag was with Nu, the chief. They beat rapidly along the beach, and spread out across it from the water to the jungle, that nothing might escape their observation.
Several times they followed false leads into the jungle, so that they lost much time, with the result that darkness came upon them without their having discovered the two they sought.
They camped upon the sand just outside the jungle, building a ring of fires about them to keep off the wild beasts. Then they lay down to sleep all but two who kept watch and tended the fires.
Dag was one of the watchers. As the night grew darker he became aware of a glow in the south. He called his companion's attention to it.
"There are men there," he said. "That is the light from beast-fires. Listen!"
Savage yells rose faintly from the distance, and in the direction of the lights. Dag was on the point of arousing Nu when his keen eyes detected something moving warily between the jungle and the camp. Evidently it had but just crept out of the dense vegetation. Ordinarily Dag might have thought it a beast of prey; but with the discovery of the nearness of a camp of men, he was not so sure.
True, men seldom crept through the jungle after darkness had fallen; but there was something about the movements of this creature that suggested the crawling of a man on all fours.
Dag circled the camp, apparently oblivious of the presence of the intruder. He threw a stick upon a blaze here, and there he stamped out some smoking faggots that had fallen inside the ring. But all the while he watched the movements of the thing that crept through the outer darkness toward the camp.
He could see it more distinctly now, and was aware that from time to time it cast a backward glance over its shoulder.
"Had it a companion, or companions? Was something following it?" Dag scrutinized the black face of the jungle beyond the creeping thing.
"Ah! so that was it?"
A dark shadow had stepped from the somber wood upon the trail of the creature that was now half way across the open space between the jungle and the camp. Dag needed no second glance to attest the identity of the newcomer. The lithe body, the black mass that marked the bristling mane, the crouching pose, the two angry splotches of yellow-green fire no doubt here. It was Zor, the lion, stalking his prey.
Dag whispered a word to his companion who came to his side. The two stood looking straight toward the nearer creature, with no attempt to disguise the fact that they had discovered it.
"It is a man," whispered Dag's companion.
And then, with a frightful roar, Zor charged, and the creature before it rose upon two feet full in the light of the nearer blaze. With a cry that aroused the whole camp Dag leaped beyond the flaming circle, his spear hand back thrown, the stone head, laboriously chipped to a sharp point, directed at the charging Zor.
The weapon passed scarce a hand's breadth from the shoulder of Zor's prey and buried itself in the breast of the beast. At the same instant Dag leaped past the fugitive, placing himself directly in the path of the lion with only an ax and knife of stone to combat the fury of the raging, wounded demon of destruction.
Over his shoulder he threw a word to the one he had leaped forth to succor.
"Run within the beast-fires, Nat-ul," he cried; "Zor's mate is coming to his aid."
And sure enough, springing lightly across the sands came a fierce lioness, maned like her lord.
Now Dag's fellow warrior had sprung to his side, and from the camp were running the balance of the savage spearmen. Zor, rearing upon his hind feet, was striking at Dag who leaped nimbly from side to side, dodging the terrific blows of the mighty, taloned paws, and striking the beast's head repeatedly with his heavy ax.
The other warrior met the charge of the infuriated lioness with his spear. Straight into the broad breast ran the sharp point, the while the man clung tenaciously to the haft, whipped hither and thither as the beast reared and wheeled and struck at him with her claws.
Now Nu, the chief, and his fellows arrived upon the scene. A score of spears bristled from the bodies of Zor and his mate. Axes fell upon their heads, and Nu, the mighty, leaped upon Zor's back with only his stone knife. There he clung to the thick mane, driving the puny weapon time and again into back and side until at last the roaring, screaming beast rolled over upon its side to rise no more.
The lioness proved more tenacious of life than her lord, and though bristling with spears and cut to ribbons with the knives of her antagonists she charged into close quarters with a sudden rush that found one of the cave men a fraction of a second too slow. The strong claws raked him from neck to groin and as he fell the mighty jaws closed with a sickening crunch upon his skull.
At bay over her victim the lioness stood growling and threatening, while the wild warriors danced in a circle about her awaiting the chance to rush in and avenge their comrade.
Within the circle of fires Nat-ul replenished the blaze, keeping the whole scene brilliantly lighted for the warriors. That she had stumbled upon men of her own tribe so unexpectedly seemed little short of miraculous. She could scarce wait for the battle with the lions to be concluded, so urgent was the business that filled her thoughts.
But at last Zor's savage mate lay dead, and as Nu, the chief, returned to the camp Nat-ul leaped forward to meet him.
"Quick!" she cried. They are killing Nu, thy son," and she pointed toward the south in the direction of the glare that was now plainly visible through the darkness.
Nu did not wait to ask questions then. He called his warriors about him.
"Nat-ul says that they slay Nu, the son of Nu, there," he said, pointing toward the distant fire-glow. "Come!"
As Nat-ul led them along the beach and through the jungle she told Nu, the chief, all that had transpired since Hud had stolen her away. She told of her wanderings, and of the Boat Builders. Of how one had chased her, and of the terrible creature that had seized and carried her to its nest. She told of the strange creature that crawled into the shelter where she was confined, leaping upon the back of Tur. And of how she slipped out of the shelter as the two battled, and escaped into the jungle, wriggling her hands from their bonds as she ran. She shuddered as she told Nu of the gauntlet of savage beasts she had been forced to run between the beast-fires of the Boat Builders and the safety of the jungle trees.
"I rested for the balance of the night in a great tree close beside the village of the strangers," she said. "Early the next morning I set out in search of food, intending to travel northward until I came to our old dwellings where I could live in comparative safety.
"But all the time I kept wondering what it might have been that leaped upon Tur's back in the shelter the night before and the more I thought about it the more apparent it became that it might have been a man that it must have been a man, for what animal could pass through the beastfires unseen?
"And so, after filling my stomach, I crept back through the trees to the edge of the village, and there I watched. The sun then was straight above me half the day was gone. I could not reach the caves before darkness if anything occurred to delay me, and as I might at any moment stumble upon some of the strangers or be treed by Ur, or Zor, or Oo, I decided to wait until early tomorrow morning before setting out for the caves. There was something within me that urged me to remain. What it was I do not know; but it was as though there were two Nat-uls, one wishing to hurry away from the land of the strangers as rapidly as possible and the other insisting that it was her duty to remain. At last I could deny my other self no longer I must stay, and so I found a comfortable position in a great tree that grows close beside the clearing where the strangers' village stands, and there I remained until long after darkness came.
"It was then that I saw the thing within the village that sent me here. Before, I had seen your fires, and wondered who it might be that came from the north. I knew that all the strangers had returned in the afternoon, so it could be none of them, and the first tribe to the north I knew was my own, so I hoped, without believing, that it might indeed be some of thy warriors, Nu.
"And then I saw that something was going to occur in the village below me. Warriors approached a hut from which they dragged a captive. By the legs they dragged him, through the village and about it, and as they did so the women and children tortured and spat upon the prisoner.
"At first I could not see the victim plainly, but at last as they raised him to his feet and bound him to a stake where they are going to roast him alive among slow fires I saw his face.
"Oh, Nu, can you not guess who it was that had followed me so far, had overcome such dangers and fought his way through the awful waters to rescue me?"
"Nu, the son of Nu," said the old warrior, and his chest swelled with pride as he strode through the jungle in the rear of the village.
Angry beasts of prey menaced the rescuing party upon every hand. Twice were they attacked and compelled to battle with some fierce, primordial brute; but at last they won to the edge of the jungle behind the village they sought.
There the sight that met their eyes and ears was one of wild confusion. Men and women were running hither and thither uttering shouts of rage. Beyond them was a circle of flaming brush. In the center of this, Nat-ul told the rescuers, Nu, the son of Nu, was fast bound to a stake. Slowly he was roasting to death possibly he was already dead.
Nu gathered his warriors about him. Two he commanded to remain always beside Nat-ul. Then, with the others at his heels, his long, white feather nodding bravely above his noble head, and the shaggy pelt of Ur, the cave bear, falling from his shoulders, Nu, the chief, slunk silently out of the jungle toward the village of the excited Boat Builders.
There were forty of them, mighty men, mightily muscled. In their strong hands they grasped their formidable spears and heavy axes. In their loin cloths rested their stone knives for the moment when they closed in hand-to-hand combat with foes. In their savage brains was but a single idea to kill to kill to kill!
To the outer rim of fires they came and yet the excited populace within had not discovered them. Then a girl, remembering tardily her duties at the fires, turned to throw more brush upon the blaze and saw them saw a score of handsome, savage faces just beyond the flames.
With a scream of terror and warning she turned and scurried amongst the villagers. For an instant the hub-hub was stilled, only to break out anew at the girl's frightened cry of: "Warriors! Warriors!"
Then Nu and his men were among them. The warriors of the Boat Builders ran forward to meet the attackers. The women and children fled to the opposite side of the enclosure. Hoarse shouts and battle cries rang out as the Cliff Dwellers hurled themselves upon the Boat Builders. A shower of long slim spears volleyed from one side, to be answered by the short, stout harpoons of the villagers.
Then the warriors rushed to closer conflict with their axes. Never after the first assault was the outcome of the battle in question the fiercer tribe of Nu the hunters of beasts of prey the warrior people were the masters at every turn. Back, back they forced the wearers of "cow" skins, until the defenders had been driven across the enclosure upon their women and children.
And now the inner circle of fires was surrendered to the invaders, and as Nat-ul sprang between the warriors of her people to be first to the side of Nu and cut away his bonds, the last of the Boat Builders turned and fled into the outer darkness, along the beach to where their boats were drawn up beyond the tide.
Nu, the chief, leaped through the flames upon the heels of Nat-ul. In the terrible heat within the two came side by side before the stake. The girl gave a single glance at the bare and smoking pole and at the ground around it before she turned and threw herself into Nu's arms.
Nu, the son of Nu, was not there, nor was his body within the enclosure.
GRON, SUFFERING and exhausted from the effects of the cruel beating Tur had administered, lay all the following day in her shelter. Tur did not molest her further. Apparently he had forgotten her, a suggestion which aroused all her primitive savagery and jealousy as no amount of brutal punishment might have done.
All day she lay suffering, and hating Tur. All day she planned new and diabolical schemes for revenge. Close to her breast she hugged her stone knife. It was well for Tur that he did not chance to venture near her then. While he had beaten her the knife had remained in her loin cloth, nor had the thought to use it against her mate entered the head of Gron; but now, now that he had deserted her, now that he was doubtless thinking upon a new mate her thoughts constantly reverted to the weapon.
It was not until after nightfall that Gron crawled from beneath the hides and thatch of her shelter. She had not eaten for twenty-four hours, yet she felt no hunger every other sense and emotion was paralyzed by the poison of jealousy and hate. Gron slunk about the outskirts of the crowd that pressed around the figure at the stake.
Ah, they were about to torture the prisoner! What pleasure they would derive from that! Gron raised herself on tip-toe to look over the shoulder of a woman. The latter turned, and, recognizing her, grinned.
"Tur will enjoy the death agonies of the mate of the woman he is going to take in your stead, Gron," taunted her friend.
Gron made no reply. It was not the way of her period to betray the emotions of the heart. She would rather have died than let this woman know that she suffered.
"That is why he was so angry," continued the tormentor, "when you tried to rob him of this pleasure."
With the woman's words a sudden inspiration flashed into the mind of Gron. Yes, Tur would be made mad if the prisoner escaped. So would Scarb, the chief who had commanded Tur to beat her and to take another mate.
Gron raised herself again upon her toes and looked long and earnestly at the face of the man bound to the stake. Already the flames of the encircling fires illuminated his figure and his every feature they stood out as distinctly as by sunlight. The man was very handsome. There was no man among the tribe of Scarb who could compare with the stranger in physical perfection and beauty. A gleam of pleasure shot Gron's dark eyes. If she could only find such another man, and run off with him then, indeed, would she be revenged upon Tur. If it could be this very man! Ah, then, indeed, would Scarb and Tur both be punished. But that, of course, was impossible the man would be dead in a few hours.
Gron wandered about the village too filled with her hate to remain long in one place. Like an angry tigress she paced to and fro. Now and again some other woman of the tribe hurled a taunt or a reproach at her.
It would be ever thus. How she hated them every one of them. As she passed her shelter in her restless rounds she heard the plaintive wailing of her child. She had almost forgotten him. She hurried within, snatching up the infant from where it lay upon a pile of otter and fox skins.
This was Tur's child his man-child. Already it commenced to resemble the father. How proud Tur was of it. Gron gasped at the hideous thought that followed remorselessly upon the heels of this recollection. She held the child at arm's length and tried to scrutinize its features in the dim interior of the hut.
How Tur would suffer if harm befell his first man-child his only offspring! Gron almost threw the wee bundle of humanity back upon its pile of skins, and leaping to her feet ran from the shelter.
For half an hour she roamed restlessly about the camp. Her brain was a whirling chaos of conflicting emotions. A dozen times she approached the death fires that were slowly roasting alive the man bound to the stake they encircled. As yet they had not injured him but given him a taste of the suffering to come, that was all.
Suddenly she came face to face with Tur. Involuntarily her hands went out in a gesture of appeal and supplication. She was directly in Tur's path. The man stopped and looked at her for an instant, then with a sneer that was half snarl he raised his hand and struck her in the face.
"Get out of my way, woman!" he growled, and passed on.
A group of women, standing near, had seen. They laughed boisterously at the discomfiture of their sister. But let us not judge them too harshly it was to require countless ages of humanizing culture before their sisters yet unborn were to be able to hide the same emotions.
Gron went cold and hot and cold again. She burned with rage and humiliation. She froze with resolve a horrid resolve. And suddenly she went mad. Wheeling from where she stood she ran to the shelter that housed her babe. In the darkness she found the wee thing. It was Tur's. Tur loved it. For a moment she pressed the soft cheek to her own, she strained the warm body close to her breasts. Then May God forgive her, for she was only a wild thing goaded to desperation.
Dropping the pitiful bundle to the floor of the shelter Gron ran back into the open. She was wild eyed and disheveled. Her long black hair streamed about her face and across her shoulders. She ran to the outskirts of the crowd that was watching the victim who obstinately refused to gratify their appetite for human suffering Nu would not wince. Already the heat of the flames must have caused him excruciating agony, yet not by the movement of a muscle did he admit knowledge of either the surrounding fires or the savage, eager spectators.
Gron watched him for a moment. His fate was to be hers when Tur and Scarb discovered the deed she had committed, for a man-child was a sacred thing.
And now there sprang to Gron's mind a recurrence of the thought that the taunting female's words had implanted there earlier in the evening. How could she compass this last stroke of revenge? It seemed practically impossible. The stake was hemmed in upon all sides by the clustering horde of eager tribesmen.
Gron turned and ran to the opposite side of the village, beyond the shelters. There was no one there. Even the girls tending the fires had deserted their posts to witness the last agonies of the prisoner. Gron seized a leafy branch that lay among the firewood that was to replenish the blaze. With it she beat out two of the fires, leaving an open avenue into the enclosure through which savage beasts might reasonably be expected to venture. Then she ran back to the crowding ring of watchers.
As she approached them she cried out in apparently incoherent terror. Those nearest her turned, startled by her shrieks.
"Zors!" she cried. "The fires have died and four of them have entered the shelters where they are devouring the babes. On that side," and she pointed to the opposite side of the enclosure.
Instantly the whole tribe rushed toward the ring of huts. First the warriors, then the women and children. The victim at the stake was deserted. Scarce was every back turned toward the prisoner than Gron leaped through the fiery girdle to his side.
Nu saw the woman and recognized her. He saw the knife in her hand. She had tried to kill him the previous night, and now she was going to have her way. Well, it was better than the slow death by fire.
But Gron's knife did not touch Nu. Instead it cut quickly through the bullock sinews that bound him to the stake. As the last strand parted the woman seized him by the hand.
"Come!" she cried. "Quick, before they return there are no Zors in the village."
Nu did not pause to question her, or her motives. For a few steps he staggered drunkenly, for the bonds had stopped the circulation in his arms and legs. But Gron, half supporting, half dragging him, pulled him across the fires about the stake, on past the outer circle of the beast-fires toward the Stygian blackness that enveloped the beach toward the sea.
As Nu advanced the blood commenced to circulate once more through the veins from which it had been choked, so that by the time they came to the water he was almost in perfect command of his muscles.
Here Gron led him to a dug-out.
"Quick!" she urged, as the two seized it to run it through the surf. "They will soon be upon us and then we shall both die."
Already angry shouts were plainly distinguishable from the village, and the firelight disclosed the tribe running hither and thither about the fires that encircled the stake to which Nu had been secured. The boat was through the surf and riding the waves beyond. Gron had clambered in and Nu was taking his place in the opposite end of the craft, when a new note arose from the village. The savage shouting carried a different tone. Now there were battle cries where before there had been but howls of rage. Even at the distance at which they were Gron and Nu could see that a battle was raging among the shelters of the Boat Builders. What could it mean?
"They have fallen upon one another," said Gron. "And while they fight let us hasten to put as great a distance between them and ourselves as we can before the day returns."
But Nu was not so anxious to leave. He wanted to know more of the cause of the battle. It was not within the bounds of reason that the villagers could have set upon one another with such apparent unanimity, and without any seeming provocation, and, too, it appeared to Nu that there were more people in the village now than there had been before he left it. What did all this mean? Why it meant to the troglodyte that the village had been attacked by enemies, and he wished to wait until he might discover the identity of the invaders.
But Gron did not wish to wait. She seized her paddle and commenced to ply it.
"Wait!" urged Nu, but the woman insisted that they must hasten or be lost.
Even as they argued Gron suddenly leaned forward pointing toward the beach.
"See!" she whispered. "They have discovered us. We are being pursued."
Nu looked in the direction that she pointed, and, sure enough, dimly through the night he descried two forms racing toward the beach. As he looked he saw them seize upon a boat and start launching it, and then he knew that only in immediate flight lay safety. He seized his paddle and in concert with Gron struck out for the open sea.
"We can turn to one side presently and elude them," whispered the woman.
"We will turn north toward my country," he said.
Gron did not demur. She might as well go north as south. Her life was spent. There was to be no more happiness for her. Her thoughts haunted the dim interior of a hide shelter where lay a pathetic bundle upon a pile of fox and otter skins.
For a while both were silent, paddling out away from shore. Behind them they now and then discerned the darker blotch of the pursuing canoe upon the dark waters of the sea.
"Why did you save me?" asked Nu, at length.
"Because I hated Tur," replied the woman.
Nu fell silent, thinking. But he was not thinking of Gron. His mind was filled with speculations as to the fate of Nat-ul. Whither had she fled when she had escaped from the clutches of the Boat Builders? Could she have reached the tribe in safety? Had she known that it was Nu who had entered the shelter where she lay and rescued her from Tur? He thought not, for had she known it he was sure that she would have remained and fought with him.
Presently Gron interrupted his reveries. She was pointing over the stern of the boat. There, not fifty yards away, Nu saw the outlines of another craft with two paddlers within.
"Hasten!" whispered Gron. "They are overtaking us, and but for my knife we are unarmed."
Nu bent to his paddle. On the boat wallowed toward the open sea. There was no chance to elude the pursuers and turn north. First they must put sufficient distance between them that the others might not see which way they turned. But there seemed little likelihood of their being able to accomplish this for, strive as they would, they could not shake off the silent twain.
The darkest hours of the night were upon them those that precede dawn. They struggled to outdistance their pursuers. That they were lengthening the distance between the two boats seemed certain. In another few minutes they might risk the stratagem. But they had scarcely more than turned when the surge of surf upon a beach rose directly before them. Both were nonplussed. What had happened? Where were they? They had been moving straight out to sea for some time, and yet there could be no mistaking that familiar sound land was directly ahead of them. To turn back now would mean to run straight into the arms of their pursuers which neither had the slightest desire to do. Had Nu been armed be would not have hesitated to grapple with the two occupants of the boat that had clung so tenaciously to their wake, but with only the woman's knife and a couple of wooden paddles it would have been a fruitless thing to do.
Exerting all their strength the two drove the dug-out through the surf until its nose ran upon the sand. Then they leaped out and dragged the boat still further up beyond the reach of the mightiest roller.
Where were they? Nu guessed a part of the truth. He reasoned that they had fallen upon the same island from which he had seen Nat-ul snatched by the Boat Builder, and from which he himself had escaped so recently.
But he was not quite right. Their strenuous paddling during the hours of darkness had carried them to the north of the nearer island and beyond it. As a matter of fact they had been deposited upon the southern coast of the largest island of the group which lay several miles northeast of the one with which Nu had had acquaintance.
But what mattered it? One was as bad as another. Both belonged to the Mysterious Country. They were inhabited by hideous flying reptiles, and legend held that frightful men dwelt upon them. And Nu was without weapons of defense!
Who of us has not dreamed of going abroad upon the public streets in scant attire or in no attire whatever? What painful emotions we have suffered! Yet how insignificant our plight by comparison with that of the primeval troglodyte thrown into a strange country without his weapons without even a knife!
Nu was lost, but far from hopeless. He did not turn to the woman with the question: "What shall we do now?" If primeval man was anything he was self-reliant. Heredity, environment and all of Nature's mightiest laws combined to make him so. Otherwise he would have perished off the face of the earth long before he had had an opportunity to transmit his image to posterity there would have been no posterity for him. Some other form than ours would have exhumed his bones from the drift of the ages and wondered upon the structure and habits of the extinct monstrosity whose hinder limbs were so much longer than his fore limbs that locomotion must have been a tiresome and painful process interrupted by many disastrous tumbles upon the prehistoric countenance.
But Nu, the son of Nu, was not of a race doomed to extinction. He knew when to fight and when to flee. At present there was nothing to flee from, but a place of safe hiding must be their first concern. He grasped Gron by the wrist.
"Come!" he said. "We must find a cave or a tree to preserve us until the day comes again."
The woman cast a backward glance over her shoulder a way with women.
"Look!" she whispered, and pointed toward the surf.
Nu looked, and there upon the crest of a great wave, outlined against the dark horizon, loomed a boat in which sat two figures, plying paddles. One glance was enough. The pursuers were close upon them. Nu, still holding Gron's wrist, started toward the black shadows above the beach. The woman ran swiftly by his side.
Nu wondered not a little that the woman should thus flee her own people to save him, a stranger and an enemy. Again he raised the question that Gron had so illy answered.
"Why do you seek to save me," he asked, "from your own people?"
"I do not seek to save you," replied the woman. "I wish to make Tur mad that is all. He will think I have run off to mate with you. When he thinks that, you may die, for all that I care. I hate you, but not quite so much as I hate Tur."