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2. Warrior Women

I came at that moment to being as nearly spiritually crushed as I ever had been before in my life. To have Duare and happiness snatched from me after a few brief hours, at the very threshold of comparative security, completely unnerved me for the moment. It was the more serious aspect of the situation that gave me control of myself once more--the fate of Duare.

I was pretty badly mussed up. My head and the upper part of my body were caked with dried blood from several nasty sword cuts. Why I had not been killed I shall never understand, and I am certain that my attackers had left me for dead. My wounds were quite severe, but none of them was lethal. My skull was intact; but my head ached frightfully, and I was weak from shock and loss of blood.

An examination of the ship showed that it had not been damaged or tampered with; and as I glanced around the plain I saw that which convinced me that its presence there had doubtless saved my life, for there were several savage- appearing beasts pacing to and fro some hundred yards away eyeing me hungrily. It must have been the, to them, strange monster standing guard over me that kept them at bay.

The brief glimpse I had had of the warrior women suggested that they were not mere savages but had attained at least some degree of civilization--their apparel and arms bespoke that. From this I assumed that they must live in a village; and as they were on foot, it was reasonable to suppose that their village was at no great distance. I was sure that they must have come out of the forest behind the ship and therefore that it was in this direction I must search for Duare first.

We had seen no village before landing, as it seemed almost certain that we should have had one of any size existed within a few miles of our position, for both of us had been constantly on the lookout for signs of the presence of human beings. To prosecute my search on foot, espeially in view of the presence of the savage carnivores hungrily anticipating me, would have been the height of foolishness; and if the village of the warrior women were in the open I could find it more quickly and more easily from the plane.

I was rather weak and dizzy as I took my place at the controls, and only such an emergency as now confronted me could have forced me into the air in the condition in which I was. However, I made a satisfactory take-off; and once in the air my mind was so occupied by my search that I almost forgot my hurts. I flew low over the forest and as silently as a bird on the wing. If there were a village and if it were built in the forest, it might be difficult or even impossible to locate it from the air, but because of the noiselessness of my ship it might be possible to locate a village by sound could I fly low enough.

The forest was not of great extent; and I soon spanned it, but I saw no village nor any sign of one. Beyond the forest was a range of hills, and through a pass in them I saw a well worn trail. This I followed; but I saw no village, though the landscape lay spread before me for miles around. The hills were cut with little canyons and valleys. It was rough country where one would least expect to find a village; and so I gave up the search in this direction and turned the nose of my ship back toward the plain where Duare had been captured, intending to start my search from there in another direction.

I was still flying very low, covering once more the ground I had just been over, when my attention was attracted by the figure of a human being walking rapidly across a level mesa. Dropping still lower, I saw that it was a man. He was walking very rapidly and constantly casting glances behind. He had not discovered the ship. Evidently he was too much concerned with whatever was behind him, and presently I saw what it was--one of those ferocious lion-like creatures of Amtor, a tharban. The beast was stalking him; but I knew that it would soon charge, and so I dropped quickly in a steep dive. Nor was I a moment too soon.

As the beast charged, the man turned to face it with his pitifully inadequate spear, for he must have known that flight was futile. I had drawn my Amtorian pistol, charged with its deadly r-ray; and as I flattened out just above the tharban, narrowly missing a crack-up, I let him have it. I think it was more luck than skill that permitted me to hit him at all; and as he rolled over and over on the ground, I banked, circled the man and made a landing behind him. He was the first human being I had seen since the capture of Duare, and I wanted to question him. He was alone, armed only with primitive weapons; and, so, absolutely in my power.

I don't know why he didn't run away; for that airship must have been an appalling thing to him; but he stood his ground even as I taxied up and stopped near him. It may have been that he was just paralyzed by fright. He was a small, rather insignificant looking fellow wearing a loincloth so voluminous as to appear almost a short skirt. About his throat were several necklaces of colored stones and beads, while armlets, bracelets, and anklets similarly fabricated adorned his limbs. His long black hair was coiled in two knots, one upon either temple; and these were ornamented with tiny, colored feathers stuck into them like arrows in a target. He carried a sword, a spear, and a hunting knife.

As I descended from the ship and approached him, he backed away; and his spear arm started back menacingly. "Who are you?" he asked. "I don't want to kill you, but if you come any closer I'll have to. What do you want?"

"I don't want to harm you," I assured him; "I just want to talk to you." We spoke in the universal language of Amtor.

"What do you want to talk to me about?--but first tell me why you killed the tharban that was about to kill and eat me?"

"So that it wouldn't kill and eat you."

He shook his head. "That is strange. You do not know me; we are not friends; so why should you wish to save my life?"

"Because we are both men," I told him.

"That is a good idea," he admitted. "If all men felt that way we would be treated better than we are. But even then, many of us would be afraid. What is that thing you were riding in? I can see now that it is not alive. Why does it not fall to the ground and kill you?"

I had neither the time nor inclination to explain the science of aerodromics to him; so I told him it stayed up because I made it stay up.

"You must be a very wonderful man," he said admiringly. "What is your name?"

"Carson--and yours?"

"Lula," he replied, and then, "Carson is a strange name for a man. It sounds more like a woman's name."

"More so than Lula?" I asked, restraining a smile.

"Oh, my, yes; Lula is a very masculine name. I think it is a very sweet name, too; don't you?"

"Very," I assured him. "Where do you live, Lula?"

He pointed in the direction from which I had just come after abandoning hope of finding a village there. "I live in the village of Houtomai that is in The Narrow Canyon."

"How far is it?"

"About two klookob," he estimated.

"Two klookob! That would be five miles of our system of linear measurement, and I had flown back and forth over that area repeatedly and hadn't seen any sign of a village.

"A little while ago I saw a band of warrior women with swords and spears," I said. "Do you know where they live?"

"They might live in Houtomai," he said, "or in one of several other villages. Oh, we Samary have many villages; we are very powerful. Was one of the women large and powerful and with a deep scar on the left side of her face?"

"I really didn't have much opportunity to observe them closely," I told him.

"Well, perhaps not. If you'd gotten too close to them you'd be dead now, but I thought maybe Bund might have been with them; then I would have known that they were from Houtomai. Bund, you see, is my mate. She is very strong, and really should be chief." He said jong, which means king; but chief seems a better title for the leader of a savage tribe, and from my brief intercourse with the ladies of the Samary I could vouch for their savagery.

"Will you take me to Houtomai?" I asked.

"Oh, mercy, no," he cried. "They'd kill you, and after your having saved my life I couldn't think of exposing you to danger."

"Why would they want to kill me?" I demanded. "I never did anything to them and don't intend to."

"That doesn't mean anything to the women of the Samary," he assured me. "They don't like men very well, and they kill every strange man they find in our country. They'd kill us, too, if they weren't afraid the tribe would become extinct. They do kill some of us occasionally, if they get mad enough. Bund tried to kill me yesterday, but I could run too fast for her. I got away, and I've been hiding out since. I think perhaps she's gotten over her anger by now; so I'm going to sneak back and see."

"Suppose they captured a strange woman," I asked, "What would they do with her?"

"They'd make a slave of her and make her work for them."

"Would they treat her well?"

"They don't treat anyone well--except themselves; they live on the fat of the land," he said, resentfully.

"But they wouldn't kill her?" I asked. "You don't think they'd do that, do you?"

He shrugged. "They might. Their tempers are very short; and if a slave makes a mistake, she'd certainly be beaten. Often they beat them to death."

"Are you very fond of Bund?" I asked him.

"Fond of Bund! Who ever heard of a man being fond of a woman? I hate her. I hate them all. But what can I do about it? I must live. If I went to another country, I'd be killed. If I stay here and try to please Bund, I am fed and protected and have a place to sleep. And then, too, we men do have a little fun once in a while. We can sit around and talk while we're making sandals and loincloths, and sometimes we play games--that is, when the women are out hunting or raiding. Oh, it's better than being dead, anyhow."

"I'm in trouble, Lula; and I'm wondering if you won't help me. You know we men should stick together."

"What do you want me to do?" he demanded.

"I want you to lead me to the village of Houtomai.

He looked at me suspiciously, and hesitated.

"Don't forget that I saved your life," I reminded him.

"That's right," he said. "I do owe you something--a debt of gratitude, at least. But why do you want to go to Houtomai?"

"I want to see if my mate is there. She was stolen by some warrior women this morning."

"Well, why do you want to get her back? I wish some one would steal Bund."

"You wouldn't understand, Lula," I told him; "but I certainly do want to get her back. Will you help me?"

"I could take you as far as the mouth of The Narrow Canyon," he said; "but I couldn't take you into the village. They'd kill us both. They'll kill you when you get there, anyway. If you had black hair you might escape notice, but that funny yellow hair of yours would give you away the very first thing. Now, if you had black hair, you could sneak in after dark and come into one of the men's caves. That way you might escape notice for a long time. Even if some of the women saw you, they wouldn't know the difference. They don't pay much attention to any but their own men."

"But wouldn't the men give me away?"

"No; they'd think it was a great joke--fooling the women. If you were found out, we'd just say you fooled us, too. My, I wish you had black hair."

I, too, wished then that I had black hair, if that would help me get into the village of Houtomai. Presently, a plan occurred to me.

"Lula," I asked, "did you ever see an anotar before?" nodding toward the ship.

He shook his head. "Never."

"Want to have a look at it?"

He said he'd like to; so I climbed into the cockpit, inviting him to follow me. When he had seated himself beside me, I buckled the safety belt across him to demonstrate it as I was explaining its purpose.

"Would you like to take a ride?" I asked.

"Up in the air?" he demanded. "Mercy, I should say not."

"Well, just along the ground, then."

"Just a little way along the ground?"

"Yes," I promised, "just a little way along the ground," and I wasn't lying to him. I taxied around until we were headed into the wind; then I gave her the gun. "Not so fast!" he screamed; and he tried to jump out, but he didn't know how to unfasten the safety belt. He was so busy with it that he didn't look up for several seconds. When he did, we were a humdred feet off the ground and climbing rapidly. He gave one look, screamed, and closed his eyes. "You lied to me," he cried. "You said we'd go just a little way along the ground."

"We ran only a little way along the ground," I insisted. "I didn't promise that I wouldn't go into the air." It was a cheap trick, I'll admit; but there was more than life at stake for me, and I knew that the fellow was perfectly safe. "You needn't be afraid," I reassured him. "It's perfectly safe. I've flown millions of klookob in perfect safety. Open your eyes and look around. You'll get used to it in a minute or two, and then you'll like it."

He did as I bid, and though he gasped a bit at first he soon became interested and was craning his neck in all directions looking for familiar landmarks.

"You're safer here than you would be on the ground," I told him; neither the women nor the tharbans can get you.

"That's right," he admitted.

"And you should be very proud, too, Lula"

"Why?" he demanded.

"As far as I know, you're the third human being ever to fly in the air in Amtor, excepting the klangan; and I don't count them as human, anyway."

"No," he said, "they're not--they're birds that can talk. Where are you taking me?"

"We're there. I'm coming down now." I was circling above the plain where I had made the kill before Duare was stolen. A couple of beasts were feeding on the carcass, but they took fright and ran away as the ship dropped near them for a landing. Jumping out, I cut strips of fat from the carcass, threw them into the cockpit, climbed in and took off. By this time, Lula was an enthusiastic aeronaut, and if it hadn't been for the safety belt he would have fallen out in one of his enthusiastic attempts to see everything in all directions at one and the same time. Suddenly, he realized that we were not flying in the direction of Houtomai.

"Hey!" he cried. "You're going in the wrong direction--Houtomai is over there. Where are you going?"

"I'm going to get black hair," I told him.

He gave me a frightened look. I guess he thought he was up in the air with a maniac; then he subsided, but he kept watching me out of the corner of an eye.

I flew back to The River of Death, where I recalled having seen a low, flat island; and, dropping my pontoons, landed on the water and taxied into a little cove that indented the island. I managed, after a little maneuvering, to get ashore with a rope and tie the ship to a small tree; then I got Lula to come ashore and build me a fire. I could have done it myself, but these primitive men accomplish it with far greater celerity than I ever could acquire. From a bush I gathered a number of large, waxlike leaves. When the fire was burning well, I took most of the fat and dropped it in piece by piece and very laboriously and slowly accumulated soot on the waxy faces of the leaves. It took much longer than I had hoped it would, but at last I had enough for my purpose. Mixmg the soot with a small quantity of the remaining fat I rubbed it thoroughly into my hair, while Lula watched me with a broadening grin. From time to time I used the still surface of the cove for a mirror, and when I had completed the transformation I washed the soot from my hands and face, using the ashes of the fire to furnish the necessary lye to cut the greasy mess At the same time, I washed the blood from my face and body. Now I not only looked, but felt, like a new man. I was rather amazed to realize that during all the excitement of the day I had almost forgotten my wounds.

"Now, Lula," I said, "climb aboard and we'll see if we can find Houtomai."

The take-off from the river was rather exciting for the Amtorian, as I had to make a very long run of it because of the smoothness of the water, throwing spray in all directions, but at last we were in the air and headed for Houtomai. We had a little difficulty in locating The Narrow Canyon because from this new vantage point the ordinarily familiar terrain took on a new aspect for Lula, but at last he gave a yell and pointed down. I looked and saw a narrow canyon with steep walls, but I saw no village.

Where's the village?" I asked.

"Right there," replied Lula, but still I could not see it, "but you can't see the caves very well from here."

Then I understood--Houtomai was a village of cave dwellers. No wonder I had flown over it many times without recognizing it. I circled several times studying the terrain carefully, and also watching the time. I knew that it must be quite close to sundown, and I had a plan. I wanted Lula to go into the canyon with me and show me the cave in which he dwelt. Alone, I could never have found it. I was afraid that if I brought him to the ground too soon he might take it into his head to leave for home at once; then there would have been trouble, and I might have lost his help and co-operation.

I had found what I considered a relatively safe place to leave the ship, and as night was falling I brought her into a beautiful landing. Taxiing to a group of trees, I tied her down as best I could; but I certainly hated to go off and leave that beautiful thing alone in this savage country. I was not much concerned for fear that any beast would damage it. I was sure they would be too much afraid of it to go near it for a long while, but I didn't know what some ignorant human savages might do to it if they found it there. However, there was nothing else to be done.

Lula and I reached The Narrow Canyon well after dark. It was not a very pleasant trip, what with savage hunting beasts roaring and growling in all directions and Lula trying to elude me. He was commencing to regret his rash promises of help and think of what would certainly happen to him if it were discovered that he had brought a strange man into the village. I had to keep constantly reassuring him that I would protect him and swear by all that an Amtorian holds holy that I had never seen him, in the event that I should be questioned by the women.

We reached the foot of the cliff, in which the caves of the Houtamaians were carved, without exciting incident. Some fires were burning on the ground--two fires, a large one and a small one. Around the large fire were grouped a number of strapping women, squatting, lying, standing. They shouted and laughed in loud tones as they tore at pieces of some animal that had been cooking over the fire. Around the smaller fire sat a few little men. They were very quiet; and when they spoke, it was in low tones. Occasionally, one of them would giggle; and then they would all look apprehensively in the direction of the women, but the latter paid no more attention to them than as though they had been so many guinea pigs.

To this group of men, Lula led me. "Say nothing," he warned his unwelcome guest, "and try not to call attention to yourself."

I kept to the rear of those gathered about the fire, seeking always to keep my face in shadow. I heard the men greet Lula, and from their manner I judged that a bond of friendship, welded from their common misery and degradation, united them. I looked about in search of Duare, but saw nothing of her.

"How is Bund's humor," I heard Lula inquire.

"As bad as ever," replied one of the men.

"Were the raids and the hunting good today? Did you hear any of the women say?" continued Lula.

"They were good," came the reply. there is plenty of meat now, and Bund brought in a woman slave that she captured. There was a man with her, whom they killed, and the strangest contraption that anyone ever beheld. I think even the women were a little afraid of it from what they said. At any rate, they evidently got away from it as quickly as they could."

"Oh, I know what that was," said Lula; "it was an anotar."

"How do you know what it was?" demanded one of the men.

"Why--er--can't you take a joke?" demanded Lula in a weak voice.

I smiled as I realized how nearly Lula's vanity had caused him to betray himself. It was evident that while he may have trusted his friends, he did not therefore trust them implicitly. And I smiled also from relief, for I knew now that I had come to the right village and that Duare was here--but where? I wanted to question these men, but if Lula could not trust them, how might I? I wanted to stand up and shout Duare's name. I wanted her to know that I was here, eager to serve her. She must think me dead; and, knowing Duare as I did, I knew that she might take her own life because of hopelessness and despair. I must get word to her somehow. I edged toward Lula, and when I was close to him whispered in his ear.

"Come away. I want to talk to you," I said.

"Go away. I don't know you," whispered Lula.

"You bet you know me; and if you don't come with me, I'll tell 'em all where you've been all afternoon and that you brought me here."

"Oh, you wouldn't do thatl" Lula was trembling.

"Then come with me."

"All right," said Lula, and rising walked off into the shadows beyond the fire.

I pointed toward the women. "Is Bund there?" I asked.

"Yes, the big brute with her back toward us," replied Lula.

"Would her new slave be in Bund's cave?"

"Probably."

"Alone?" I asked.

"No, another slave whom Bund could trust would be watching her, so that she couldn't escape."

"Where is Bund's cave?"

"High up, on the third terrace."

"Take me to it," I directed.

"Are you crazy, or do you think I am?" demanded Lula.

"You are allowed on the cliff, aren't you?"

"Yes, but I wouldn't go to Bund's cave unless she sent for me."

"You don't have to go there; just come with me far enough to point it out to me."

He hesitated, scratching his head. "Well," he said, finally, "that's as good a way as any to get rid of you; but don't forget that you promised not to tell them that it was I who brought you to the village."

I followed him up a rickety ladder to the first and then to the second level, but as we were about to ascend to the third two women started down from above. Lula became panicky.

"Come!" he whispered nervously and took me by the arm.

He led me along a precarious footwalk that ran in front of the caves and to the far end of it. Trembling, he halted here.

"That was a narrow escape," he whispered. "Even with your black hair you don't look much like a Samaryan man--you're as big and strong as a woman; and that thing hanging at your side--that would give you away. No one else has one. You'd better throw it away."

He referred to my pistol, the only weapon I had brought, with the exception of a good hunting knife. The suggestion was as bizarre as Lula was naive. He was right in saying that its possession might reveal my imposture, but on the other hand its absence might insure my early demise. I did manage to arrange it, however, so that it was pretty well covered by my loincloth.

As we were standing on the runway waiting for the two women to get safely out of the way, I looked down upon the scene below, my interest centering principally upon the group of women surrounding the larger fire. They were strapping specimens, broad shouldered, deep chested, with the sturdy limbs of gladiators. Their hoarse voices rose in laughter, profanity, and course jokes. The firelight played upon their almost naked bodies and their rugged, masculine faces, revealing them distinctly to me. They were not unhandsome, with their short hair and bronzed skins; but even though their figures were, in a modified way, those of women, there seemed not even a trace of feminity among them. One just could not think of them as women, and that was all there was to it. As I watched them, two of them got into an altercation. They started by calling each other vile names; then they went at it hammer and tongs, and they didn't fight like women. There was no hair pulling or scratching there. They fought like a couple of icemen.

How different the other group around the smaller fire. With mouse-like timidity they furtively watched the fight--from a distance. Compared with their women, their bodies were small and frail, their voices soft, their manner apologetic.

Lula and I didn't wait to ascertain the outcome of the fight. The two women who had interrupted our ascent passed down to a lower level leaving us free to climb to the next runway where Bund's cave was located. When we stood upon the catwalk of the third level, Lula told me that Bund's cave was the third to my left. That done, he was ready to leave me.

"Where are the men's caves?" I asked him before he could get away.

"On the highest level."

"And yours?"

"The last cave to the left of the ladder," he said. "I'm going there now. I hope I never see you again." His voice was shaking and he was trembling like a leaf. It didn't seem possible that a man could be reduced to such a pitiable state of abject terror, and by a woman. Yet he had faced the tharban with a real show of courage. With a shake of my head I turned toward the cave of Bund, the warrior woman of Houtomai.

Edgar Rice Burroughs