Last of their kind were
they, the remnants of a world gone mad, the lean-jawed
fighting men who followed a strange lost chieftain –
Cham of the Hills, who had sworn to set his people free!
CHAPTER ONE ~ Double Trouble
He sat on a big, moss-covered granite boulder, a
boulder that had once been the cornerstone of a huge
apartment building sheltering a hundred families. It
had been a splendid thing of wire cut brick and steel in
its day, but the steel had long since rusted and the
brick had returned to the mud from whence it had come.
Now all that was left of the building was this stone
block which served the youth as a table.
He was eating the
black bread and cheese which was a square meal to him,
the food to which he and his people had long been
accustomed, and he attacked it with zest.
He was rudely dressed, in the usual attire of a
Hillman. He was hatless, with a shaven chin and a mop
of long red hair, tied back with a fillet. The bright
red sash he wore separated the white shirt from worn
brown trousers that were tucked into his half-boots. At
his side, hanging from a leather belt that was strapped
on over the sash, hung a long sword in a worn and rusty
looking scabbard. The mud on his boots showed clearly
that he had been journeying, and it would not have taken
an especially clear mind to deduce that here was one of
the hillman of Dronadac, come to seek his fortune in the
city of Niarc.
His meal finished, he wiped his lips on the back
of a freckled hand; then, dusting off the crumbs of
bread and cheese from his trousers, he set off toward
the city to the south. He had spent the whole morning
wandering through the farmlands of Bronnis and he knew
that it would not he very long before he reached the
northern limits of the city.
Presently he topped a rise and strode down to
where a rude bridge crossed a shallow, sluggish river.
As he approached it, a man emerged from a little shanty
built by the bridge, a huge black man clad in the
tight-fitting, quilted, scarlet uniform of the Niarcan
The red-haired hillman eyed him curiously, for
though he had often heard of the Harlings, those black
dwellers in the northern part of the city, he had never
before seen one. The black-skinned Harling watched the
hillman’s approach truculently, and, as the latter
paused uncertainly, he raised a long staff he carried
and barred the way to the bridge.
Cham fumbled in his sash and brought out a big
copper daim, the coin usually given at toll bridges. He
tossed it to the Harling, who seized it and tucked it
away in the pocket of his shirt. But he still barred the
way to the bridge.
“They like to know who enters the city,” he said
gruffly. “They don’t like too many foreigners in the
city these days.”
The hillman grinned. “I’m not a foreigner,” he
announced. “I’m Cham, of Saroon. That’s a town up by
Lake Saroon, in the hills of Dronadac. We’re loyal to
Hendrik, up there, and I heard there was going to be a
war, so I’ve come down to join the army.”
A smile spread over the black man’s face at this
statement. He looked the red-topped hillman up and down,
and the smile spread and became a chuckle, then a laugh,
and at last a guffaw. He slapped his thigh and whooped
“You’re going to be a great help to King
Hendrik,” he cried, walking around to the hillman’s back
as if to view him from all angles. “Where’d you ever
learn to be a soldier, hillman?"
Cham scowled. “From better men than you will ever
be, Harling!” he snorted angrily. “My uncles were
ophzars in the guard of the King of Behostun.”
“They should have taught you something about
soldiers’ dress then,” the Harling sneered. “You’ll he a
sight for sore eyes in the city. But go ahead,” he went
on, dropping his staff. “I suppose before long they’ll
give you a captain’s uniform to take the place of those
clothes of yours.”
Cham might have answered hotly, but he reflected
that he was in the city now and had better not get into
trouble until he had learned a little more of the city
now and had better not get into trouble until he had
learned a little more of the city people and their ways.
So, paying no more attention to the dusky guardian of
the bridge, he passed across it and into that section of
the island which for hundreds of years had been the
domain of the Harlings.
He could have passed through this section in an hour or
so if he had wished, but the sights that now confronted
his eyes so amazed and interested him that the hours
passed unnoticed while he wandered from one spot to
Foremost among the wonders was his first distant
look at the High City, the great ruins towering up far
to the south. Like huge skeletons of long-dead
monsters, the rusting steel framework stood, their
outer covering of brick and stone in most cases long
since fallen away. Just to see those tremendous works on
the distant southern horizon gave Cham a feeling of awe,
a weird, uneasy feeling that he had not felt since the
days, long ago, when as a child his mother had
frightened him with stories of the wonderful doings of
the wizards of old who had builded them.
But the ruins were not the only things that
excited Cham’s interest. There were the markets, where
dark—haired white men with big noses and rings in their
ears bargained and quarreled with the Harlings as they
bartered the goods they had brought from afar for the
goods that were made in the homes of the Harlings.
Then there was a street preacher, exhorting a
crowd of shouting and singing listeners. And once he
stood for an hour and watched a group of dark-skinned
men and boys engaged in a complicated game played on the
ground with two small cubes of bone.
These sights so interested him that he soon
realized it would be useless to try to reach the High
City that night, so he looked about to find an inn. The
one he chose at last was a small unassuming place, and
Cham chose it largely because he felt that its very
smallness would make it safer and less likely to be
frequented by the thieves who made most of the inns
dangerous shelter indeed.
He entered this inn and after ordering the
Harling landlord to prepare him a room, he sat down at a
table and called for beer and tobacco. Even before it
was brought, he noted with some surprise that he was not
the only white man in the place. Across the room and
closer to the bar, two soldiers sat, one tall, dark and
eagle-beaked, the other shorter, with mild blue eyes and
a cherubic countenance, a man as fair as his companion
They were dressed in the usual quilted uniform;
they boasted each a brace of crude pistols which the
more affluent fighters could afford, and their shields,
hanging over their right shoulders, were without
insignia of any kind. This, and the fact that their
clothes were of a light blue shade, showed that they
were mercenaries, free men who had evidently not yet
been accepted into the army of King Hendrik.
They were in a jolly mood, chattering volubly and
now and then bursting into a bit of song when they
started a new mug of beer. Cham warmed to them as he
watched them over the rim of his own mug, and wondered,
a little enviously, if perhaps in a few years he too
might not be such as they.
But the Harlings gathered around the bar and
seated at the other tables did not seem to share Cham’s
opinion of the mercenaries. They had paid little enough
attention to them at first, but a little brown fellow
had entered shortly after Cham, and the hillman could
have sworn he saw recognition and then antagonism in his
eyes when he spied the mercenaries.
Thereafter, the little Harling had gone from
table to table, and to the bar; and though his
conversation had been seemingly light and
inconsequential, Cham saw sidelong glances cast in the
direction of the two mercenaries, glances that seemed to
bode little good for them. The hillman loosened his
sword in its scabbard for, come what may, it seemed a
good time to be ready for anything.
It was well that he had prepared himself, for
presently a big Harling detached himself from the group
by the bar. He strolled over and began a conversation
with the mercenaries. It was brief and pointed and
spoken too low for Cham to catch the words, but suddenly
the taller of the mercenaries spat out an oath and
sprung upon the Harling. The others in the room acted at
once, as though this was a signal they had long been
Those at the bar hurled themselves immediately at
the two mercenaries, but they were not to be caught
napping. They leaped to their feet instantly; their
swords were out almost before they were up, and in a
trice they were standing back to back, their swords
making a veritable wall of steel about them.
When Cham leaped to his feet, he was still
uncertain whether he should go to the aid of the others
or not, but as he rose, a burly Harling darted past him,
intent on joining the fray. Instantly the hillman made
his decision; almost instinctively his foot darted out
and the Harling, stumbling over it, sprawled to the
floor. He rolled over as he fell, cursing wildly, his
sword swinging up to a parry, but he was just a fraction
of a second too late to avoid a vicious downward cut
from Cham’s own weapon.
There was a cry of “Here’s another one. Get him
too !“ Out of the corner of his eye, Cham saw two of the
Harlings stop in their rush toward the mercenaries and
turn toward him. With his free hand he seized the stool
he had been sitting on and hurled it straight into the
face of the foremost of his opponents. then snatched up
another and, using it as a shield, rushed toward the
The fellow gave a cry and fled as if in panic.
Cham would have pursued him had not the first fellow
been just a little too eager in his strategy. He was not
as badly hurt as he had pretended when he fell; he and
his friend intended to get on either side of Cham and
thus finish him off easily. But the hillman caught the
first man’s furtive move, and as he passed him he swung
out with a savage backhanded cut that rendered the
fellow hors de combat—permanently.
The flight of the other one was in earnest now.
He had seen Cham put two of his fellows out of the fight
in as many minutes, and he had no stomach to face him.
In his flight, he stumbled against one of the Harlings
who was engaging the tall mercenary. In the second that
the black one wavered off balance, the tall one’s sword
sped instantly true to the heart of his opponent.
For a moment the ring around the mercenaries was
broken. Cham rushed in and took his place by their side
and was rewarded by a grin from the tall one. He was
panting from exertion but he found time to say, “Your
help is welcome, hill-man. If three such fighters as we
are can’t fight our way out of this, we can at least
leave a mark that the Harlings will not soon forget.”
Another Harling fell as he spoke, this time to
the sword of the little blond fellow. The tall one,
schooled in the strategy of war, was quick to see the
“The way to the door is clear,” he cried.
“Outside, quick! We can’t expect to send this whole
group to whatever heaven they believe in. Outside, and
we’ll run for it !“ Suiting the action to the word he
dashed to the exit, followed immediately by his comrade
and by Cham.
It was dark without; apparently most of the
people who had crowded the streets earlier in the day
were now home to supper. This probably saved their
lives, for as they sped down the street, there came
shouts and cries from the Harlings who poured out of the
tavern; and had not the streets been fairly deserted,
the three might have been captured at once.
“To the river, Chimra,” shouted the tall
mercenary. “To the river, hillman. If we can reach the
river, we’ll get away from ‘em yet.”
Cham supposed he meant the Otsin River, the broad
stream that flowed to the west of the city, so at the
first opportunity he turned to the right and sped
westward. The others did likewise. As they sped along,
they could hear the hue and cry behind them. Two Harling
guards, scar let-clad and armed with sword and pistol,
swung suddenly out of an alley in front of them, and
from behind came a cry of some sort that roused the
guards to action. One whipped out his sword; the other
reached for his pistol.
But the fleeing white men were on them before the
pistol was out.
“Get him, quick!“ cried the smaller of the
mercenaries. “If he gets that pistol out—”
His sword swung up, a vicious, tinder-hand cut,
and at the same moment Cham’s sword came clown. The
Marling parried Cham’s cut by suddenly forgetting his
pistol and whipping out his sword, but it was beyond
human power to parry both blows at once, and he went
down with Chimra’s sword in his throat. It was foul
fighting, Cham thought regretfully, hut it was life or
death, and if they were held tip until that mob behind
caught up with them.
The dark mercenary had beaten his opponent
against the wall and had worked his way around him. “Go
for it, Chimra,’’ he called. “We can’t stop to play with
this boy now.” With a final vicious swipe, he was off,
Chimra and Cham following close behind. There was a
crash of sound a moment later; Cham felt a bullet
whistle past his ear, and sighed with relief as he
realized that the guard’s pistol had been emptied
without harming them.
The crowd pursuing them had grown larger now, and
for the first time it dawned upon Cham that all these
Harlings could hardly be expected to assist a pack of
thieves to rob a couple of mercenaries. Indeed, even the
guards had joined the opposition. Had he gotten himself
mixed up in some intrigue far deeper than mere robbery?
There was little time to think of that now,
though. They were approaching the banks of the river and
the Harlings were not far behind. Cham felt a moment of
doubt, and then, splash, he was in the waters of the
Otsin, and two more splashes indicated that his
companions had followed him.
“Downstream!” he heard the voice of the tall one
whisper. “Underwater and swim downstream. We’ll make it
faster that way. It’s dark and they won’t be able to see
us. And get farther out in the river.”
The advice was wise, and they heeded it at once.
When they were forced to come up for air, far out and
some distance down, they were quite invisible to their
pursuers. They swam and floated silently for some little
time, until Cham, chilled by the evening cool, suggested
returning to shore.
“Surely,” he said, “they have abandoned the
search or lost us by this time.”
But, strangely enough, the two mercenaries
insisted on continuing down the stream, and Cham’s
suspicions of them rose again. Had he done the right
thing, after all, in aiding them against the Harlings?
He grinned disengagingly at Cham as he spoke, but
Chimra nodded. In silence they floated on down the
waters of the Otsin.
By this time they had floated several miles and
were approaching the boundaries of the High City. Cham
had begun to realize when he first saw the ruins in the
distance why it was called the High City, but closer
proximity made him gasp at the towering immensity of
For stark and black against the velvety
background of the starry sky, the ancient towers rose to
the eyes of the hillman, it seemed that his very hills
would have been dwarfed into insignificance by them.
Here and there, their gaunt ribs of steel, of rust—
scaled, perishing steel, were covered by patches of
masonry that for some reason or another still citing to
the sides and managed to give the buildings a curious
look of leprous decay.
It was cold way up there, Cham thought, and let
his gaze wander down to the base of the buildings, where
the light of the modern city illuminated the ruins
dully. Some ten or twelve stories from the ground his
eye was attracted by a scattered group of twinkling and
flickering lights, and for a moment he was puzzled.
Then it dawned on him that these were the forges of the
steel-reclaimers, those metal workers who toiled
precariously in the tipper ruins, tearing down the last
remnants of what the wiser men of old had built.
CHAPTER TWO ~ Beneath the City
The log had grounded. Cham felt his feet touch
the mud-covered shore and lowered his gaze to look about
him. This spit of sand and mud, jutting out into the
river, had once been a pier, but the hillman knew
nothing of that. All he knew was that he was once more
on land. He struggled to the shore and set off toward
the higher land, followed by the two mercenaries.
He made no attempt to conceal himself, and so
found himself suddenly with one of his two friends
seizing an arm on either side while they hurried him to
the shelter of an ancient concrete wall that ran along,
some twenty feet from the shore, offering some
concealment. Buttresses jutted out at intervals, and in
the shelter of one of these the two mercenaries sat
down, pulling Cham down beside them. Hanok spoke at
“Now look here, my bold hillman, there’s got to
be an understanding between us before we part. If you
haven’t begun to get suspicious of us yet, you’re
simpler than I thought. And if your suspicions are all
they should be—why, it would be mighty dangerous to let
you go without coming to some sort of understanding.”
“I’m suspicious of you, certainly,” Cham
answered. “The whole town of Harlings didn’t attack you
just for fun, or to aid a band of Harling thieves. But
blast me if I know just what to suspect you of.”
Hanok scratched his head and looked quizzically
at the hillman "I'm cursed if I know why I should want
to confide in you,” he said. “Maybe it’s because of the
way you helped us out at the tavern, but, well— Look
here, suppose you start it off. Tell us what you can of
Nothing loath, indeed proud that these soldiers
were about to take him into their confidence, Cham
started off to give them an extended history of his
life. He told of his youth in the hills of Dronadac, of
his harsh, vixenish mother, his stern but just father,
and of those laughing, keen-eyed uncles who had trained
him in the ways of a soldier. He told of the sword play
they had taught him, of the marches and long trips
without food which they had taken to harden him, of
swimming in Lake Saroon and the climbing in the hills.
And he told of the day, not long ago, when they
had approved of Mm and advised him to go and take
service in the army of King Hendrik of Niarc.
“But why King Hendrik?” interposed Chimra. “I
thought you told us your uncles were soldiers of
“My uncles are mercenaries, though they have
fought for Behostun many years. But they suggested
Hendrik because Saroon is in Hendrik’s land, and Niarc
is nearest to there. Besides, if war comes between Niarc
and Fidefya, as many think, Hendrik will be needing
“You’ve never taken art oath of allegiance then?
You are a free man?”
The two mercenaries breathed sighs of relief and
looked at each other significantly.
“Look here. Chan,” Hanok said seriously. “Any
soldier who amounts to anything these days is a
mercenary—one who hires himself out to the highest
bidder. Your regular soldier works for a salary, but the
mercenary not only gets paid better but reserves the
right of pillage.”
“And when the battle’s over,” Chimra put in, “who
gets the credit? The mercenaries, that’s who. Who
captured Tarentum for King Timatso of Fidefya? And who
overthrew the men of Kinettika in Hendrik’s father’s
day? For that matter, who put down the rebellion against
Hendrik, in Bru-Kaleen, a few years ago? The
mercenaries, of course. There’s no money in being a
homeguard, Cham, my boy. Be a mercenary and sell your
sword to the lord who wants it bad enough to pay for
Cham looked more than half convinced.
“It sounds likely enough,” he admitted. “But I’m
here in the city, and Hendrik of Niarc is here in the
city. To whom else could I offer my services?”
Hanok hesitated, and then seemed to make a sudden
“I’ll tell you, Cham. And I’m trusting you too
much in telling you. But, by the wizards of old, I
believe that help you gave us in the tavern was an omen;
and in a way, I believe you’ve been sent to help us.
Offer your services to our lord, Cham, to him who will
some day be master of Niarc as well as of his own city.
In short, to Timatso, King of Fidefya!”
Cham started in surprise, and then slapped his
“Blast me, I might have known you weren’t
Niarcans! That explains everything!"
Chimra leaped up and clapped a hand over Cham’s
mouth, looking about anxiously.
“Yes, we’re spies,” he agreed softly. “And you
see what a confidence we’ve placed in you. You might as
well know the whole story now. Perhaps then you’ll ally
yourself with our cause, as you’ve allied yourself with
“You see, for years Timatso has been preparing to
attack Niarc. The indolence and sheer indifference of
Hendrik to the good of his people has so disgusted
Timatso that I’ve actually seen him rage over each proof
“The attack would have been begun months ago, but
some Niarcan ophzars, while hunting in the marshes of
Sharsee, discovered young Kolap, Timatso’s son, engaged
in the same pursuit. Capturing him by a clever ruse,
they brought him here, where Hendrik has since held him
as a hostage.”
“And of course—” Chimra took up the story—”of
course, it was impossible to attempt an attack on Kolap
here. So Timatso sent us, two officers of his guard, to
rescue Kolap and bring him home again.”
“And we, seasoned strategists that we are,
proceed to let ourselves be discovered before we have
ever so much as seen our prince,” Hanok said
disgustedly. For a while they sat in silence, Cham
because he had nothing to say, the Fidefyans,
apparently, because they were too angry with themselves
“Well, no use throwing your dirk after a broken
sword,” said Cham. “Let’s find a place to sleep and
maybe we’ll think of something in the morning.”
“If we sleep, it’ll be in an alley or a hail
somewhere,” said Hanok grimly. “If Buka’s hue and cry
has carried, every streetguard and innkeeper in Niarc
will be looking for us.”
So they climbed the embankment and started
cautiously into the city. They walked up the first
street they came to, then darted down an alley. A little
way down the alley was a wooden fence, and beside it a
huge sycamore grew, casting a deep shadow that
effectively concealed the ground beneath it. They paused
here and removed their clothes, still dripping from the
river. They debated for a while the necessity of posting
one for a guard, but fatigue arguing heavily against it,
all three at last fell asleep in the shelter of the
Dawn had hardly broken when Cham was awakened by
a sharp, quickly stifled exclamation of surprise from
Hanok, followed by a round of muttered oaths. He saw the
hawk-nosed Fidefyan peering through a knothole in the
wooden fence beside which they had slept.
When Hanok saw that Cham had awakened he gestured
silently for the hillman to come and look through the
Cham looked and as he did so, Hanok whispered
angrily in his ear, “Look where we are! Of all the
places for a forlorn bunch of fools to sleep! It’s a
squad range, and we decide to sleep snuggled up against
it as calm as a babe in its mother’s arms. Good Lord, is
that an omen? Chimra! Wake up, you fool!“
Beyond the wall, Cham saw a yard of burnt brick
paving, a yard that stretched for ten yards or so to a
high wall of the same brick. In front of this wall the
brick paving was covered with sand to the depth of
several inches, yellow sand which was stained here and
there with odd dark stains. The brick wall above was
pitted with small holes. Suddenly Cham knew what a squad
range was. A firing squad range—the place where military
executions were carried out.
Hanok was shaking Chimra fiercely. The little
blond man opened his eyes at last. He would have closed
them again had not Hanok whispered something in his ear,
some explanation that set him upright, wide awake in an
They would probably have stolen away at once, but
just then a door opened in the building to the right,
beyond the fence. All three clapped their eyes to the
crack in the fence to see what was about to take place.
Their hands went instinctively to their belts, for they
were by no means certain that they had not been
It became obvious immediately, however, that it
was not their discovery that brought the group out of
the house, but the more usual event that took place
There were six men on the other side of the
fence, one of them certainly an ophzar, another just as
certainly a prisoner. The prisoner was not a large man,
but his immense breadth of shoulder and round pot belly
made him seem so, and the impression of huge size and
dignity were accentuated by great shaggy black brows and
a beard that, black as night, poured down upon his
chest. He was naked to the waist, exposing a chest so
hairy that it was almost impossible to tell where his
beard left off and the hair of his chest began; and his
only article of clothing was a pair of long loose
trousers gathered at the foot like the trousers worn by
the Turks of old.
The other four were common soldiers and their
purpose here was plain. This to be a military execution,
and they were not left long in doubt as to the reason
for it. The ophzar took a paper out of his pocket and
began to read:
“Order of execution for the self-confessed
wizard, known as Borduzai,” he began, apparently
addressing himself to the prisoner, and then, without
pausing again for breath, he gabbled through the entire
order. He finished, and shoved the paper into his belt.
Look here, Borduzai,” he said, “you admit you’re
a wizard, don’t you?”
The prisoner nodded a trifle wearily. “Then
what’s the idea of letting yourself die like this,” the
ophzar went on. "You’ve admitted to me that you know of
the secret underground ways of the ancients. And
everybody knows that the ancient ones buried their
treasures in those ancient ways. You must have access to
treasure worth millions. Just by giving me a little of
it, you might win your freedom. Why must you be so
The prisoner sighed deeply, then answered.
“If the time ever comes, Obreyan, when you acquire the
sense intended for a medium smart goose, you’ll know
that we wizards, as you call us, are not wielders of
magic and evil, but merely seekers after the lost wisdom
of our ancestors. I know of no such treasure as you
speak of, though I shall admit I know of the
underground ways. But many know of them.”
The ophzar gave a snort of anger. “I’ve given you
your chance, Borduzai. If you don’t want to give in, all
I can do is obey my orders.” He turned to the four and
called them to attention.
And then Hanok was whispering suddenly in Cham’s
ear. Chimra leaned forward to hear.
“Listen to that! This fellow knows the secret of
Niarc’s underground ways. What a spot for a hideout!
We’ve got to rescue him and persuade him to take us
there. Come on!”
Chimra protested wildly as Hanok leaped up to
climb the fence, but the prospect of adventure was too
much for Cham. So all three were over the fence and
rushing across the brick pavement before the soldiers by
the wall had finished loading the guns. It was fortunate
for the three adventurers that they were so speedy, for
if those guns had been loaded…
Hanok sped for Obreyan, the ophzar. Chimra and
Cham swept down on the four soldiers, shouting wildly to
startle them. The wizard, dazed at the turn of events,
backed away, apparently wondering what under the sun had
happened to delay his impending annihilation. But
Obreyan, strangely, seemed suddenly stricken with
“Into the barracks, men !“ he cried. “Don’t try
to fight. These are demons that he has called up! Shades
of our wizard ancestors. Get away, men, quick!“
Cham thought he caught a false note in the
panic-stricken cry, but the men dropped their guns and
bullets and fled wildly through the door, followed by
“Quick, wizard, it’s a rescue!" shouted Cham, and
seizing the big man by the left arm, he swept him toward
the wall. The spies followed, but Hanok paused long
enough to pick up the bullets lying on the ground.
“They’re silver,” he explained laughingly, as he
caught up with Cham and seized the wizard’s other arm.
“You can’t kill a wizard except with a silver bullet,
you know. And I’ve fought harder fights than this, many
a time, for less silver.”
They reached the fence, scrambled over it, and
sped down the alley. “To your underground ways, wizard,”
barked Hanok, “and as quickly as possible. We didn’t
rescue you for nothing. You’re a marked man now, and,
more than likely, we are too.”
They reached the end of the alley, and. still
seeing no signs of pursuit, they stopped for a moment to
peer out into the street. The coast was clear. They
emerged into the street and at a gesture from Borduzai.
set off toward the center of town. Presently the wizard
turned a corner, started down another street. Like all
the streets which ran the length of the island, it wound
its way up and down over innumerable hillocks, which
were the piled blocks of stone once used in facing the
ancient buildings. The piles had filled with silt and
sand during the centuries and now presented the
appearance of small, rounded hills, covered with grass
and weeds, with only occasionally a bit of eroded stone
projecting from them.
At last Borduzai stopped, where two great stones
stood up out of a hillock far bigger than any of the
others they had seen.
“Now,” he said mysteriously. “If you do not fear
the spirits of our dead ancestors, enter here with
Cham shuddered and looked at his two companions
questioningly. But Hanok answered briskly, “We’re from
Fidefya, wizard. And in Fidefya, we neither slaughter
wizards nor worry too much about their claims of magic.
We know them for what they are.”
Borduzai made no answer as he worked his huge
form between the two stones, but there was a twinkle in
his eye, and m felt that, wizard or not, there was also
gratitude in his heart. So he followed the two Fidefyans
as they wended their way into the narrow cavern that
wound down from the crevice between the stones.
Borduzai stopped suddenly. Cham could barely see
him in the semi-dark. Then Borduzai picked something up
from it and turned about.
“It’s as black as a pirate’s heart down here,” he
announced. “Don’t be afraid of this light. It’s one of
the secrets of our ancestors that we wizards have
As he spoke. a beam of brilliant yellow light
burst from the object he held in his hand, casting a
sparkling spot on the wall and filling the cavern with a
harsh glow. Cham blinked and, in spite of the wizard’s
preliminary caution, he backed away. But the Fidefyans
were not impressed.
“We have some of those lights in Fidefya,”
Chimra told Cham. “The wizards there make ‘em arid sell
‘em to the wealthier lords. They’re called lekrik
The wizard was leading the way deeper into the
cavern now. ‘The narrow crack opened suddenly into a
great round tunnel, a tunnel obviously made by the hand
of man, for the upper half was perfectly circular and
the lower half was cut sharply level, while on each side
a ledge ran, wide enough to walk on with safety. It was
onto one of these ledges that the narrow crack through
which they had come emerged, and along this ledge, the
black-bearded wizard continued to lead them.
This is but one of the under ground ways,’’
Borduzai announced presently. “It is said that our
ancestors had cars driven by strange powers that carried
them instantly from place to place through these ways.
There are several that run up and down the length of the
city; there are some whose outlets have been found in
Bru-Kaleen ; one goes to Sharsee and one, the greatest
of all, even goes from Bru-Kaleen to Sharsee. There are
lesser ways, called seers, that were not used for
travel, and we modern wizards and our fathers have,
through prodigious labors connected many of them with
the great tunnels, and so can travel underground from
place to place throughout the island.’’
“It’ll he a safe enough place to hide,’’ said
Chimra, and then went on dubiously, But I’d hate to
spend much time here. Lord, it’s a dismal place.’’
‘‘You will not have to stay here if you do not
wish, Fidefyans. The great cavern of Ho-Lan emerges in
Sharsee, as I said, and if you wish, I can lead you to
it, and through it to the other side of the Otsin. It’s
a foul journey, but once in Sharsee we can soon
find our way to Timatso’s realm.”
Hanok overruled the idea at once.
“Nothing doing,” he harked emphatically. “Now
that we have a place of comparative safety, we’re going
to try to think tip some way of finishing the job we
were sent here to do. Chimra, could you go back to the
king with a message of failure?”
“Not I,” swore the smaller man, “If there’s a way
to rescue the prince, Kolap, I’ll be with you to the
death, Hanok.” Cham might have said something in this
vein too, but just then Borduzai gave a cry and pointed
up the corridor. Simultaneously a voice broke out from
the direction in which the wizard pointed.
“There they are! The magician and his companions
! Get them!”
Borduzai whirled around and flashed his light in
the direction from which the cry had come. Over a dozen
men were swarming clown the tunnel, armed with swords
and waving torches, Some were on the ledge, hut more had
leaped right down into the slippery mud of the lower
level. And in the lead was that ophzar, Obreyan, who had
fled when the three adventurers had rescued the wizard.
A thought came to Cham. “I knew he was faking
that fear,” he snapped. “He let Borduzai escape, so that
he could follow him down here. He still thinks there’s
treasure in these caverns.’’
“It’s a common enough superstition,’’ said
Borduzai. “But’ we must get away from them. Come on!
We’ll give them a merry chase through these passages and
Cham and Hanok might have lingered had there been
a few less of the enemy, but a dozen or more were just a
little too many for even these fearless ones, and so
they turned and followed Borduzai and the al— ready
Down through the huge tube they sped, the
bawling, cursing mob almost at their heels. I-lad
Borduzai not been thoroughly familiar with the way, they
might soon have been captured, but he ran along straight
into the dark, holding the flashlight back so that the
other three could see where they trod, and thus they
were able to make considerable time.
They had traversed almost half a mile without a
sign of any side passage, and Cham was beginning to
wonder just how far they would have to go, when Borduzai
stopped and motioned them into a crevice that opened in
the wall of the great tube.
“In here, quickly!” he exclaimed. “This is one of
the tunnels that we wizards have dug to connect the
great ways. It leads into the suers, and if we can once
find our way into that warren of caverns, no man on
earth can find us.”
Cham and the Fidefyans darted in, Borduzai behind them,
and at once the wizard extinguished his light.
“Let me take the lead,” he ordered. “And one of
you hold on to me and the others. We’ll soon lose them
They hurried on, but almost immediately they saw
the glare of the torches of their pursuers behind them,
and heard their shouts as they again sighted their
Borduzai swore. “The thought of treasure is a
strong incentive,” he panted. “Any other time, those
fools wouldn’t enter these caves to save their mothers’
He turned a corner, entered another. narrower
“Maybe we can elude them in here,” he snorted.
“It’s an old hole, very little used, and I don’t know it
any too well, but we’re safer here, for there are a
hundred different passages, all twisting and turning—”
They hurried on for a while and then, looking
back, they saw that the light from the torches was quite
invisible. They slackened their pace to a walk then,
and continued on at that speed for some time.
“I think we’ve gotten rid of them,” Borduzai
whispered finally. “I’m going to risk a light.”
He flashed on his light-making machine as he
spoke, and his three companions looked about them. The
tunnel which they were in was a low one, lined with
blocks of limestone. The moisture seeping through the
walls and gathering in puddles on the floor made Cham
think that the river was not far away, perhaps even
above them. Borduzai was looking worried.
“This is not just where I expected to be,” he
said hesitantly. “I must have taken a wrong turn. But
never mind. I’ll soon find a familiar spot. Come on !"
He started off again and Cham and his friends
followed him uncertainly. It was not in their plans that
the wizard lose his way in what might be called his very
own domain, and they were beginning to feel decidedly
uneasy. But now there was nothing else to do, and so
they followed him.
Oh they went until, far ahead in the tunnel, a
faint light was visible. Borduzai extinguished Ins own
light to study their glow more plainly and then turned
to them with a pleased ejaculation.
“That must be a light from above,’’ he chuckled.
“I knew I’d find a way out. Come along, boys, we’re safe
He started off, but Cham seized him suddenly, and
pointed behind him. Around the corner a torch-bearer had
appeared and, spying the group instantly, silhouetted
as they were against the light ahead. had let out a cry
and started toward them.
Borduzai looked and almost spat his anger.
“The mob!“ he snapped out. “Is there no losing
them? How in thunder could they have traced us through
that warren? Quick, let’s get out in the open.”
They sped toward the light, came to the entrance
of the tunnel, raced through— and stopped in amazement.
They were not in the open at all, but in a great
tunnel, bigger by far than any Cham had yet seen, and
gathered in that tunnel were a group of thirty or forty
men, clad in a more amazing fashion than any of which
the hillman had ever dreamed.
Each of the men had his head shaven and wore a
headdress of metal spikes that stood out like a crown.
Their heads were painted a brilliant red, their bodies a
pure white, and their legs a blue. The kirtles they wore
were blue, too, and were sprinkled with stars, and each
had a golden-colored belt with a long sword hanging in a
They had been engaged in some mystic ritual,
apparently, for they were gathered in a ring when the
four burst in upon them, a ring around a big fire which
provided the light that had fooled the adventurers. But
no sooner had the four emerged from the tunnel than the
entire group whirled and, after standing transfixed for
the barest second, rushed toward them, their swords
flashing from the gilded scabbards as they came.
Cham felt certain, at once, that their case was
indeed hopeless now. With this mad group of fanatics in
front, and Obreyan’s men in the rear, they were opposed
by at least fifty enemies. But he gave not a thought to
surrender. Nor did the others. They whipped out their
swords and charged upon the strange crowd, hoping
against hope that they might fight their way through
them and perhaps find safety in flight in the darkness
of the huge tunnel beyond the fire.
Instantly the place was a bedlam, a pandemonium.
The weird ones hurled themselves upon the four with an
absolute disregard of life. Cham slashed at one who had
leaped upon him without even attempting to draw his
sword, jerked his weapon from the falling man’s body,
and in the very motion of jerking it upward, caught
another, a vicious blow in the bowels, as the second
leaped eagerly over his fallen companion! Even before he
had finished this second one, he was forced to pound
violently with his free left hand into the face of a
third, who had managed to get by Borduzai on the
Hanok had drawn his pistol, and the air of the
place was suddenly shattered as he fired it directly
into the face of one of the weird ones. The crash had
one effect, at least, beside that of ending the life of
Hanok’s opponent. Silence reigned for a moment after,
and in the silence, the voice of Borduzai roared out,
“Do not be taken alive! These be the infernal priests of
the Goddess Libidi! Better far we should be taken by
His voice was muffled as he went down under a
very avalanche of priests, and again the howling of the
priests shattered the air of the great tube. Cham soon
found, as did his friends, that to talk of dying rather
than he taken alive was one thing, but to do so was
another. For a sword can kill but one man at a time, and
a pistol can shoot but once, and when a dozen wiry,
demoniac creatures hurl them— selves suddenly at you,
utterly unmindful of death, there isn’t much chance of a
clean death on a sword’s edge.
And so, in a few minutes, Cham and his three
friends were flat on their backs, with the red, white
and blue demons holding them clown. Ropes which had been
procured from some mysterious place were being wrapped
around and around them until it was lucky they could
breathe, much less move.
Throughout the short fight, Cham had seen nothing
of Obreyan and his mob, but as soon as the fight was
over, and the four were lying, neatly trussed, on the
floor, he heard the voice of the ophzar bawling, “Hold!
Unhand me! In the name of King Hendrik’s law. I’m an
ophzar of Hendrik’s army, damn it ! Let me go, I say!”
Cham twisted his head around, and saw the
disgruntled ophzar raising himself from the midst of a
crowd of priests. Several of his companions had also
been beaten down by the strangely painted men, and these
were now allowed to rise, while several more, trying to
look as unconcerned as possible, stepped out from the
tunnel into which they had fled when the fighting
“This is a most high-handed attack,” began
Obreyan. “These four men are my prisoners. I thank you
for capturing them for me, but just what was your
intention in attacking my men too?”
One of the weird men stepped out from the group,
one who was evidently the man in authority among them.
“I am afraid, ophzar,” he said in a surprisingly
cultured voice, “that your prisoners, as you call them,
have left your jurisdiction. I am the prezdun of the
Sons of Libadi, and this cavern you arc in is sacred to
that goddess. We have a writ given us by Hendrik, giving
us jurisdiction over all found in these caverns.”
‘‘But these men are criminals.’’ pretest— ed
Obreyan. “One of them is already condemned as a wizard.
They must he returned—’’
‘‘They are mine!‘‘ snapped the head of the Sons
of Libadi. “If they are criminals, as you say, fear not
but that they shall be fittingly punished for their
crimes. But they are mine!”
Obreyan protested vehemently, argued volubly, but
the priest remained calm and refused to give in.
Obreyan went from demands to threats. At last the priest
suggested that they leave the decision to the King of
Niarc, himself. Obreyan was somewhat taken aback by the
idea of taking the question to so high a source, but,
being one of Hendrik’s men, he could hardly refuse. So
it was agreed that the high priest should lead them by a
short route to the surface, and that the prisoners
should he brought before Hendrik at the first
The wizard, Cham, and the two Fidefyans were
accordingly whipped to their feet and herded down the
great tunnel. In a surprisingly short time they found
themselves emerging onto the surface again, among a
moss-covered group of ruins such as were so common in
various parts of the city. Borduzai was surprised to
find the location of the place where they emerged, but
the others evidently considered the queer priests
capable of anything, and so showed no surprise, nor
indeed felt any.
On the surface Obreyan took charge of the
prisoners, apparently by tacit consent of the priests.
The group had dwindled now; many of the priests had
remained behind in the underground way; and, once in the
open air, Obreyan’s mob of treasure seekers dissolved
like mist on a summer morning.
By the time they reached the vicinity of
Hendrik’s palace, Obreyan, the high priest and four
other priests were all that remained of the fifty-odd
men who had captured the four in the tunnel.
But it still might have been the fifty, as far as
the adventurers were concerned, for the priests of
Libadi had not been sparing with their rope. Their arms
were bound tightly to their sides, and their legs were
hobbled so closely that they found it necessary to take
two short steps to every one of their captors’. There
were four simultaneous sighs of relief when at last they
stood before the entrance to King Hendrik’s palace.
CHAPTER THREE ~ The “Drinker”
The palace of the king of Niarc did not lie among the
great ruins as did the homes of so many of his
subjects. For some reason, unknown to the modern men,
the wizards of old had left a great open space in the
center of the island that was Niarc, a spot where their
great sky-piercing towers never raised their heads. Here
the modern, barbaric world had done its best to produce
a city worthy to succeed the mighty works of an older,
That the stones, the window glass and the metal
that went to make up the modern city were all filched
from the ruins meant little to the present-day builders;
they looked upon the ruins much as we look upon iron
mines and spruce forests—as things placed there for
But it would not be right to think of Hendrik’s
palace as a haphazard patchwork. The architects had
done their work well; and Cham, whose experience with
modern buildings was limited to the brick and wood
his home village in the hills, stared in amazement as he
was led through long halls and up wide stairways to the
court of the king.
They entered the court-room, a long,
high-ceilinged hall, and were immediately surrounded by
curious, questioning courtiers. Presently a scribe
approached, asked a number of questions and left them,
going in the direction of the other end of the hall.
Cham’s eyes followed him and saw a high desk with
a group of lower desks around it. The throne room had
been furnished to follow, as closely as possible, the
style of the courts of justice of the ancients.
Presently a great giant of a man, richly clad and
crowned with a gold-crusted cap, came out of a door
behind the high desk and took his seat at it. He was an
affected sort of a man, a man who shed a strange air of
effeminacy in spite of his bulk, and his crown was set
at a very precise angle on a mass of blond curls that
had very obviously been curled with extreme care and
taste. His robes were works of art, and as he seated
himself at the bench, he draped himself over it with an
air of studied carelessness and indolence.
At once silence fell upon the gabbling groups and
all eyes turned toward him. An officious-looking steward
came and led Cham’s group to the foot of the desk.
Obreyan saluted and stood at attention, eyes rigidly
“At ease !“ drawled the voice of the big king. He
glanced at a script before him and went on in the same
“This is a case of three men accused of
encompassing the escape of a condemned wizard. M-mm,
pretty serious. Also a matter of disputed jurisdiction.”
He glanced at the writ again.
“Let’s see. Ophzar Obreyan and a priest of the
goddess Libadi, named Alcarr, in dispute. Are you
Obreyan?” he asked,
turning to the ophzar.
“Yes, irronor.” Obreyan’s voice was
low; it was obvious
that he was stricken with awe at being in the presence
of such a mighty being as the lord of Niarc.
“And you,” Hendrik turned. “Are you Alcarr, the
“Aye.” No awe in that tone. The priest’s voice
was characteristically arrogant.
“Well let’s hear the argument.” Hendrik nodded
to the priest, who began his tale of the capture of the
four. When it was finished, Hendrik turned to Obreyan,
and that worthy, hampered by the necessity of distorting
the facts to conceal his attempts to discover the
supposed treasure, stumbled through what was a miserable
fiasco, as far as stating his own case went.
The king, who had listened halfheartedly up to
now, gave an order to one of the scribes, who
disappeared. After a long wait he came back with—Buka,
Hanok let out a string of resounding oaths, and,
turning to Chimra, muttered, “I guess this is the end of
our journey, comrade,” he said. “Small chance of
getting out of this trap, eh?"
The little man nodded glumly. Then he nudged
Hanok ‘with his foot, and, with every sign of
excitement, attempted to point out something in the
crowd of courtiers gathered in the back of the room.
‘‘Look at him, Hanok,’’ he whispered, excitedly.
“The young one in the purple shirt. See, there! It’s
young Captain Kendi, who was with Prince Kolap when he
was captured. What in the world is a man of his low rank
doing among Hendrik’s courtiers?"
Hanok looked and saw the one referred to, and was
at once as excited and puzzled as Chimra. Cham, of
course, wondered at their excitement, but being at a
loss to account for it, allowed his attention to return
to the king. The king was speaking:
“These three who helped the wizard to escape are
now accused of being Fidefyan spies. I think it would be
most foolhardy of my good friend, Timatso of Fidefya, to
send spies into my domain while his son is here on a
visit. But perhaps Kolap himself will tell me if these
men are from his father.” He turned to the crowd of
courtiers and called, “Kolap, will you come forward?”
Hanok and Chimra looked eagerly into the group of
courtiers gathered around the bench, and Cham too turned
to see the famous hostage.
And there stepped forward the one whom Chimra had
named as Kendi!
King Hendrik apparently was quite unaware that
there was anything strange about this. Whether this man
was Kolap, prince of Fidefya, or Kendi, captain of the
Fidefyan army, Hendrik himself apparently had no doubts
that it was the prince.
“Lord Kolap,” he said smoothly, “These men have
been arrested attempting to rescue a condemned wizard.
It has been claimed that they are Fidefyans, and, worse
still, spies. Now, knowing your virtue and your love of
truth—” the king’s voice dripped with sarcasm—”knowing
that, I am going to ask you, have you ever seen these
men at your father’s court? If not, I may sentence them
with a free heart, knowing that the report that they are
your father’s men is false.”
Kendi’s eyes looked over the group without a sign
of recognition. “I never saw them before in my life,
irronor,” he stated. “They’re certainly not Fidefyans,
as far as I know.”
Hanok and Chimra winced as if from a shock that
was almost too much for them. Then Hanok leaned over and
whispered something to his smaller companion, and their
faces cleared. Hendrik cleared his throat.
“I cannot doubt that you have told the truth,” he
announced to the mysterious one, and in his tone there
was no doubt but that he did doubt him. Nevertheless, he
went on: “There being no further need to suspend
sentence, I assign these men to Alcarr, priest of
Libadi, under whose jurisdiction they were captured, to
dispose of them as he sees fit. Court’s adjourned.”
He raised himself out of his chair and clumped
down the several steps to the floor. As he joined the
courtiers and a buzz of conversation again filled the
room, Cham became aware that a group of priests, a
little more fully clad than those he had seen in the
tunnel, had entered the room and were preparing to lead
him and his friends away.
“What’ll they do to us, do you suppose?" he asked
Borduzai, as they wended their way out of the palace.
“That’s easy to answer,” grunted the wizard.
“These Libadi worshippers, it is pretty well known,
offer human sacrifices to their goddess. Hendrik
probably knows that, for he certainly wouldn’t have
turned a wizard and three spies over to Alcarr, had he
expected them to be allowed to live.
Cham turned to Hanok.
“Your prince denied knowing you,” he said. “What
was his reason? The way Hendrik talked, he might have
saved you if he had admitted you were Fidefyans.”
Hanok snorted scornfully.
“Don’t show your ignorance, hillman,” he said.
“Had the prince, as you call him, admitted that we were
Fidefyans, we would not have died until Hendrik had
extracted every bit of information his torturers could
squeeze out of us. As it is— well, sacrifice will
probably be a quick death, at least.”
“But what I can’t understand,” spoke up the
puzzled voice of Chimra, “is the fact that it wasn’t our
prince. I know Kendi, and Kendi knows me. And I know
Prince Kolap. Kolap was not among those present in the
While they talked and tried to solve this
mystery, they were being led through the winding streets
of the new city, through the ruins to the west, and at
last to the banks of the Otsin. Here they were driven
into a boat, a long, ten-oared cutter which was rowed
out into tile stream and down past the High City and
into the bay. And presently, looming up out of the mists
to the south, Cham saw the legendary and monstrous idol
that was the goddess, Libadi.
It was the great statue of a woman, mottled green
and black with age, and it leaned a little toward the
city over which it had watched for a thousand years. Its
head was crowned with a crown of spikes. Cham remembered
the crowns that the priests had worn and realized that
they had imitated this crown of tile goddess. In one arm
she held a tablet; the other was raised aloft, but some
accident in the past, some explosion or similar
disruption, had completely destroyed the hand and
whatever that hand had once held. Yet, in spite of this
mutilation, and the obvious dirt and filth, the statue
was so majestic and imposing that Cham felt a thrill of
awe surge through him, a vague wonder if this goddess
might not be, really, the deity that her votaries
The boat was rowed out into the bay, straight for
the island. Cham, whose spirits had been dropping slowly
to a new low ever since their sentence, had taken heart
once, when Hanok had leaned over and carried on a
whispered conversation with Chimra. But the conversation
had ended abruptly and apparently nothing had come of
it. Now, as the rusting towers of the High City began
to merge into the mists of the evening, Cham’s shoulders
drooped dejectedly and he almost gave way to despair.
Hanok sat up abruptly.
“You treat your captives with small
consideration, Alcarr,” he said to the priest. “Is there
no sense of honor among the Sons of Libadi?”
Alcarr looked at him in surprise.
“That is a strange way for a condemned prisoner
to talk. In what way have I treated you wrongfully?"
“We are as good as dead,” said Hanok. “We are out
on the sea, surrounded by guards. Our throats are
choking and we’re dying for what may be our last smoke.
Yet you keep our hands tied behind our hacks, and our
feet hobbled. Are you priests such cowards as that,
The priest looked at him shrewdly. “You spoke
overmuch to your companion a while ago, Fidefyan,” he
said. “I doubt not but that you have some sort of a plot
together. But I would not want to be considered a harsh
man. I will release the bonds on you and on the hillman
behind you. And after you have smoked and rested
yourselves, I’ll tie you up and let the other two
He gave orders to that effect, and in a moment or
two, Cham was stretching his arms and reaching in his
pouch for the tobacco which, after rolling a cigarette,
he handed to Hanok. The two oarsmen on either side of
him watched him closely, but he made no overt move of
any kind, nor did Hanok, and so after a while, the
vigilance of the priests slackened.
And then, suddenly, Hanok acted!
He snatched at the dirk in the belt of the priest
seated on his right, and with what seemed almost a
single sweep, sliced cleanly the bonds that bound
Chimra’s hands behind him and buried the knife in the
breast of the priest on his left. Chimra, who had
evidently been waiting for just such a move from his
companion, leaped to his feet. With a mighty shove he
sent the priest on his left into tile water. Then the
two Fidefyans, in perfect unison, leaped to the gunwales
of tile craft, poised the barest fraction of a second
and dived into the water. They sank at once, and Cham
knew beyond a doubt that they were swimming rapidly away
beneath the waves. Alcarr, stunned for a second by the
suddenness of the move, now began to bellow orders.
“After them, Kota,’’ he shrilled. “You too,
Filpot. Jaim, Roklan, Ardi—all five of you. After them
The five priests he had named went into the water
at once. Cham realized his chance and hurled himself on
the priest at his right. That priest’s hands were
hampered, due to the fact that he was in the act of
drawing his dirk. Cham seized his arm with both hands
and with a mighty heave sent him overboard to join his
companions. Then the hillman leaped forward, intent on
serving the high priest the same way.
Alcarr howled with terror and leaped to his feet,
with the idea of better protecting himself. He could not
have played into Cham’s hands better had he tried. Cham,
crawling over the seats to the bow of the boat, seized
the calf of Alcarr’s leg and jerked the priest’s feet
out from under him. Another Son of Libadi struck the
water with a splash.
He heard a cry behind him. He turned around. The
two remaining priests, who had been rowing behind him in
the boat, were coming after him, their dirks waving
above their heads. They were so near that it seemed only
a miracle could save him from their knives. And then the
huge form of Borduzai, still bound hand and foot, raised
up and hurled itself between the priests.
One huge shoulder struck the man on the right,
the other the man on the left. Their balance, precarious
enough in the boat, was destroyed entirely. One toppled
and fell, grasping wildly, into the water. The other
dropped into the boat and Cham hurled himself
immediately on top of him, his hand seeking the other’s
dirk. They scuffled for a moment for the weapon, but, as
all through the battle, the priest found himself no
match for the man trained in the arts of war.
It was the work of but a moment to cut Borduzai’s
bonds. Then they turned to see how the affair in the
water was progressing.
Over two dozen yards away, Hanok and Chimra had
appeared again. The priests of Libadi were swimming
rapidly toward them, two definitely in the lead of the
others. As Cham looked, the two Fidefyans sank again
beneath the waves and presently one of the priests
screamed and sank. The others thrashed vainly around in
the waters, apparently fearful of being dragged under.
And then, behind him, Cham heard the familiar voice of
Hanok. The spies hail swum under water to the boat and
come up on the other side of it!
“Help me up, hillman,“ cried the Fidefyan. “Once
in this boat, I defy ‘em to capture us again.”
Cham and Borduzai leaped to their assistance, and
in a moment the four were in command of the cutter. A
moment later, a priest’s hands appeared on the gunwale
and Hanok, seizing an oar, brought it down sharply on
his knuckles. As he did so, another form appeared on the
other side of the boat. Cham, following Hanok’s method,
rapped smartly on the clutching hands, and again heard a
howl as the priest’s grip on the boat relaxed.
For several minutes the four were busy keeping
the priests from boarding the boat.
Then Hanok bawled, “You’ll never get into this
boat again, fools. Why don’t you give up your attempts
and swim for your island while you still have the
strength to do it ?"
His advice was sound, but it was several moments
before the Sons of Libadi realized it. Then,
disgustedly, one by one, they abandoned their attacks on
the boat and struck out for the distant island. And
presently the four adventurers were alone.
“And now,” said Borduzai. “Let’s see if we can’t
make for Bru-Kaleen. I have friends there who will hide
us until we can make plans for our safety.”
Accordingly, they turned the boat and rowed for
some time to the east. But something seemed to be
swinging them toward the north, and presently they found
it necessary to pull strongly to the south, in order to
avoid moving back to the island of Niarc.
At last, they were forced to admit that four oars
were not enough to keep the heavy cutter from tending in
the direction in which the current was carrying it.
“It’s the tide,” said Chimra. “The tide is
sweeping in and carrying us with it. Row harder,
Row harder would have been good advice had they
all not been practically at their strength’s end
And then Borduzai swore in his beard and spat out
angrily, “Slay me for a fool, if I haven’t forgotten the
“The what?” Three voices barked at the same
“The Drinker. So do the men of Niarc name a
cavern on the lower end of the island. It lies exactly
at the level of the sea, and each time the tide comes
in, water pours in a great flood into that cavern, and
each time the tide goes out, it pours out again. It is
the one tunnel that even the wizards leave alone, for if
one should be caught in there when the flood pours
in—well, no one would ever know what became of you.”
“And we are drifting toward it?”
“Drifting? Nay, we are being sucked into it. See,
over there by the shore, that dark space? Aye, it’s the
Drinker, all right.”
Cham saw the place, and saw too that the boat was
moving toward it with appalling swiftness. He hauled
mightily on his oar, and the others did the same, but
all in vain. It was but a surprisingly few minutes
before they were swept along with the ever-increasing
current, into the very mouth of the cavern.
The great black hole yawned wide, the boat swept
in, and daylight became a dwindling half circle
shrinking into the distance. Hanok spoke, and his
disgusted voice echoed hollowly from the walls of the
“If ever four were pursued by an evil fate, they
sit here now, in this boat. First, the Harlings. Then
the priests of Libadi. And now—this. By the wizards of
old, we are doomed, as surely as ever a man was.”
Borduzai laughed shortly.
At intervals, projections not unlike buttresses
stood out from the side walls, projections that had
evidently been built to strengthen those walls. It
seemed to Cham that if one could get a firm grip on one
of those projections, it might be possible to hold the
boat and end its mad flight. And if that hold could last
long enough— What was it Borduzai had said about the
water being ejected when the tide went out?
He pondered the matter for some little time and
then decided to act. As the boat, pitched and tossed by
the tumbling waters, next approached near enough to one
of the buttresses, he seized the corner of it in a
But he reckoned without the force of the speed
which the boat had attained. His grip held, to be sure,
and the boat did stop momentarily; but then his foot
slipped and as Hanok gasped hoarsely in surprise and
Borduzai and Chimra cried out in alarm, his balance
failed him and the boat was jerked violently from under
him. His grip gave way, and he fell with a splash into
the tumbling waters. He sank, came up sputtering and
shaking his head, and instinctively began swimming with
the current. He glanced about and saw Borduzai’s light,
already yards away and dwindling rapidly. Before long he
was alone, and the darkness could almost be felt.
The constant excitement, the constant lifting and
dropping of his spirits since he had entered the city
had made a greater demand on Cham’s nerve system than he
would have guessed. And now this last disaster, which
had robbed him of the friends whose presence had buoyed
him up more than he knew, seemed to extract from him his
last ounce of courage. Instead of fighting, as was his
nature, he relaxed and began to simply tread water,
letting the rushing flood carry him where it would.
It carried him along, whirling and eddying,
sometimes on one side of the tunnel, sometimes, on the
other, and always in darkness that could be cut with a
knife. Cham had thought he knew the meaning of darkness
before, but this inky blackness could almost be felt; it
seemed, somehow, close; it hung before his face and
seemed to smother him— His body struck something. One of
the projecting buttresses, no doubt. His arms flew up,
instinctively, to push him away from the wall. And his
arm encountered emptiness! The other arm, which he
brought up immediately, touched the wall that should
have been there and thrust him back into the stream.
Cham was puzzled. For a moment he was at a loss
to explain why his left arm had encountered emptiness.
Then it dawned on him—there had been a ledge, and his
left arm, flung out and up so suddenly, had been higher
than his right and had touched only empty air above the
ledge, while his right arm had touched the wall below.
If there were a ledge, and if he could get up on
it—why there was a chance for him yet. He swam eagerly
to the right, his head struck another buttress, but
though a thousand stars flashed about him, and his head
rang, his arms flung out and in another minute of hard
work, he rose and sat upon the ledge.
sat and panted and dripped for a full five minutes.
Until this minute, he had not realized what a battle he
had been putting up. But now, in what might be called
comparative safety, he was forced to admit that he was
But, once his breath returned and his head
cleared, he rose up, resolutely determined to explore
the ledge and find, if possible, some way to the
surface. He remembered that Borduzai had led him and his
friends along just such a ledge as this when they had
entered the first tunnel, earlier in the day. This gave
him reason to believe that this ledge, like the other
one, might have some pathway to above.
So, for what must have been the better part of an
hour, he felt his way carefully along the ledge,
avoiding or carefully crawling over the occasional
broken places or spots that were wet and slippery. And
then there was an archway, and a hail that led away from
the tunnel, and a flight of steps!
Cham’s hopes were beating high now. He was
expecting, momentarily, to see light ahead. That he was
near the surface he did not doubt. Fortunately for him,
he had not Borduzai’s knowledge of the many, many exits
that had become clogged with the silt of ages and no
longer had any opening on the surface at all. So he felt
his way along, and presently he was amazed to hear, as
though coming from some distance, the faint sound of a
It was still too far away to make out the words,
but it had a scornful, imperious tone when he first
heard it, a tone that made him imagine the speaker was
haughtily refusing some plea or command. It continued
in this vein while Cham drew nearer, and then suddenly
changed to a hopeless, discouraged sob—then silence.
The silence persisted, and Cham might have passed
the speaker by had he not seen the light. It was a dim,
dim light, and it shone through the chinks in a wooden
door which, obviously built by moderns, walled an
ancient archway at Cham’s left. Cham stopped at once,
and peered through one of the cracks in the door. And as
he did so, a deep sigh welled from somewhere beyond that
“Who’s there?” Cham called sharply, and again:
“Hallo, there. Where are you?”
He heard the one within gasp suddenly, and then
the silence was deeper than ever, as though the other
was holding his breath. “Speak again,” the voice said
softly after a moment. “Who are you? And—where are
“I’m beyond this wooden door,” Cham said. “Never
mind who I am, for the present.”
There was another gasp from the one beyond the
This time it was almost certainly a gasp of
“If—if you are of our wizard ancestors—” the
“Nonsense!” Cham snapped, thoroughly convinced
now that there was no danger in the person to whom he
was talking. It deed, judging from the voice, its owner
must be younger than Cham, perhaps a mere boy.
The hillman went on, “I’m no more a spirit than
you are. I was caught in that tunnel that Niarcans call
the Drinker. I managed to get out of the water and onto
a ledge. I found a passage and it led to you. Now tell
me about yourself, and how we can get out of here.”
“Get out of here!” There was a bitter laugh. “I
can tell you many things, my unfortunate friend, but how
to get out of here is a problem that more minds than
mine have given up. This dungeon I am in is the torture
cell of King Hendrik of Niarc!”
“And my other question?” queried Cham. “What of
yourself and how you came to be here? It is not often
that anyone, save murderers and madmen are cast into
these dungeons; and though I seem to be doomed, I still
like to pick my company to some extent.”
Dignity filled the voice beyond the door.
“Neither murderer nor madman am I, my friend; though if
I revealed my identity, you might think me the latter.”
“I’m inclined to think it anyway,” said Cham
bluntly. “Whom were you talking to, as I approached?”
To his surprise, he heard a sob from beyond the
Perhaps I am mad,” came the voice after a moment.
“But I have been down here alone so long that anything
is understandable. Look! For some reason I trust you, my
unseen friend. And I am going to tell you something that
I have not spoken of since I came to Niarc. I am not a
Niarcan, as you must have already guessed from my
dialect. I am Kolap, the son of the King of Fidefya and—
Why, what’s the matter?”
For Cham had burst out with a cry of
astonishment, and followed it with a resounding oath.
“Look here,” he cried, excitedly. “I too ant a
stranger to Niarc. And in this city, I have but two
friends and they. Hanok and Chimra, who claim they are
spies from your father’s court, come to rescue you!”
“Hanok! Chimra! By the spirit of Penn! If they
are searching for me, I ant as good as rescued. They are
two of my father’s bravest and cleverest soldiers.
Surely, stranger, that is good news!"
Cham hated to lower the spirits that he had
raised so suddenly. “I’m sorry, irronor,” he
said. “But when last I saw those two fighters, they and
another were being swept to death down the mouth of the
“Then—then they’re dead?” The voice was
Cham shook his head, forgetful that darkness and
the door between made it impossible for Kolap to see
him. “I doubt their deaths,” he said. “It was a sturdy
boat, and a narrow one. And if ever three bore charmed
lives, it was they.”
“Aye, there was a wizard with them, another
encouraging fact. He knows the caverns and tunnels like
one of the spirits of the ancients. And he has many very
The conversation lagged. Cham could think of
nothing else to say to encourage the prince, and Kolap
was evidently so used to silence that it meant little to
“Why don’t you come in here?” he asked
Cham started. “What do you mean?” His hand was on
the door handle as he spoke. “Isn’t this door locked?”
“No.” The prince spoke sadly. “Hendrik never let
it be locked. He knew I would never leave the cell. I
might easily have become lost in the corridors down
here, and even if I found the way to the top, I could
never escape. I think he thought to frighten me more by
allowing the spirits of the ancients to haunt me.”
As he spoke, Cham had swung the door open and
stepped inside, and in the dim light which filtered in
from a grated opening above, he saw the form of the
young prince stretched out on a cot in the corner.
“I suppose I might as well tell you,” the prince
went on. “You see, when I was captured one of my
friends, the young Captain Kendi, was with me. Kendi
believed that he would be held for some small ransom and
soon returned to Fidefya. But we knew that I, because
of my rank, would be held as a hostage. So we changed
identities, and he became Kolap and I, Kendi.
supposed that thus I would soon be ransomed and returned
to Fidefya. But Hendrik, with a fool’s craftiness,
believed that the ophzar, Kendi, should have
information about the Fidefyan army that could be used
if ever war came. Therefore, instead of holding me for
ransom, he kept threatening me with death and torture if
I didn’t betray all that I knew.”
“He’ll never get the chance now,” he scoffed.
“You and I will not be here another day. Look! It was
told me by the wizard Borduzai that the Drinker sucks
water in while the tide rises, but that when the tide
falls, the Drinker spews it out again. And I think, when
the Drinker spews out its water this day, two men will
be washed out with it !”
Without saying more, the hillman took Kolap by
the hand and led him out into the passageway. Through
the long hail they felt their way, down the steps, and
came at last to the ledge and began to follow it to the
left. Cham had no idea how far it might go in that
direction, but he knew it was best to get as close to
the opening as possible before trusting to the wild
Occasionally he let a hand down into the stream
to see if the current still swept inward. Finally he
could no longer notice it, and he began to hope that the
inward sweep of the waters had ceased. And at last, sure
enough, he felt a slight pull in the opposite
Abruptly the ledge ended.
Then he turned to Kolap. “How well can you swim?”
“Like a Fidefyan,” was the proud answer. “Have
you never heard that saying, Cham?”
“No, but I hope it is a good one,” answered the
hillman. “For, if ever you swam, you must do it now.”
“Ready,” was Kolap’s brief answer, and they
plunged into the stream.
The water picked them up and carried them away.
For a time, nothing was heard or seen at the spot
where they had leaped in save the rushing and splashing
of the water. As the tide ebbed faster, the waters
poured out with greater and greater force, but it was
all in darkness until, suddenly, from far upstream, came
a glimmer of light.
It turned back for a moment and revealed its
source, a battered boat that held three battered men.
“It must have been about here that we lost him,”
croaked the holder of the light. “I fear that we must
give him up, Hanok. We surely would have seen some sign
of him, if there was any hope at all.”
Hanok sighed. “I suppose you’re right, wizard.
And I’m indeed sorry. I had high hopes for that lad.”
There was silence again in the boat, for the men
had obviously given up their search, although Borduzai
continued to scan the water. At last, far ahead, they
saw the faint semicircle of light that meant they were
coming to the entrance of the tunnel. It grew and grew,
and suddenly they were in the open sea, their eyes
blinded by the sudden light. While they blinked and
rubbed their eyes, they heard glad cries and felt hands
grasp the gunwale of the boat. When they could see
again, there were Cham and Kolap, climbing into the
boat and pouring out, in one chattering flood, the story
of their adventures.
Cham, Hanok and Chimra felt as if their arms
would break. After all that wild adventure in the dark,
it had been necessary to bring the boat all the way
around the island and across the bay to Sharsee.
Borduzai and Kolap had helped, but the main portion of
the rowing had fallen on the three soldiers and,
fatigued as they were, it had told on them seriously.
But at last the shore was drawing near, and Kolap
could not conceal his delight.
“Soon we’ll be in Sharsee!” he exclaimed. “I can
hardly wait to see the marshes again. And once beyond
the marshes, a day or two and we’ll be in my father’s
empire. Then we’ll see, Master Hendrik, what my
father’ll do to you!”
He watched the approaching shore a moment. “I
think my noble father will reward you richly, Hanok. And
you too, Cham, you shall be rewarded too, for it was
really you who saved me. You shall be—” He was
interrupted by an apologetic cough from Hanok.
“Your pardon, irronor,” said that worthy. “But I
think I had better take charge of Cham’s reward. He came
down from the hills of Dronadac to be a fighter. And by
the wizards of old, I am going to see that his ambition