RUG the short one, with Rab the hairy one and Ack the strong one were hunting on the very edge of the great swamp. It was a dangerous place for them to be, but since Og and Ru had ventured into the very heart of that great expanse of bog and gloomy forests and had killed the great snake the other hunters of the Hairy People felt braver about venturing in that direction. Rug and Rab and Ack had gone there in the hope of spearing one of the big bebristled and vicious hogs that roamed the swamp. They had been hunting since dawn and they had surprised an old pig with six young ones and had killed them all. Joyous now and laden down with meat, they started back out of the swamp toward the open meadow that reached away toward the river bank and the cliffs in the caves of which their people dwelt, when suddenly the gloom of the forest on the edge of the great swamp resounded with the most blood-chilling noise they had ever heard. It was a resonant booming sound, like the beating of many unearthly drums, and the three hunters went cold with fear as they sensed the menace in that horrible chorus.
In an instant the trees seemed to swarm with a horde of horrible creatures. Rug, and Rah and Ack saw them in every tree, huge monstrous gorillas that swung from branch to branch with the agility of the Tree People the apes. But they were all twice as large as the largest of the Tree People and many times more vicious both in demeanor and appearance. The three hunters had never seen or heard of these great beasts before and they were thoroughly frightened. They wondered what they were doing there on the edge of the great swamp. They did not know, of course, that Og and Ru by setting fire to one of the nests of these huge creatures had started a terrific forest fire that had swept the country beyond the swamp and driven these huge savages out, and that in their wandering to find a new home they had crossed the vast marsh, and stumbled upon the abode of the Hairy People. With wild yells of fear and consternation the hunters dropped their burdens of meat and ran madly toward the open meadow. But Ack did not run quite fast enough for three of the huge creatures swinging through the trees as swiftly as he could cover ground on foot, dropped upon him from a great height and bore him kicking and struggling to the ground. Although Ack was the strongest man of the tribe, big and powerful of shoulders, the great gorilla handled him as if he were a baby. Rug and Rab saw with horror how with savage snarls of anger they strangled him and broke his neck and back and finally tore him to pieces in their great rage. Rug and Rab with cries of consternation fled madly back toward the cliff with hundreds of the great creatures following them in the tree tops.
But it did not take them long to see that the gorillas could travel swifter through the trees than they could run on the ground and they realized that their only salvation was to gain the open meadow where there were no trees for the huge beasts to swing through. On foot Rug felt they would be able to outdistance them for he had noted how short and under developed their legs and feet were.
Madly they sped forward, running harder and swifter than they ever ran before and the huge giants in the trees realizing that they were going to escape them redoubled their efforts to overtake them and their booming noise and wild mad shouts echoed and reechoed through the trees.
Rug and Rab gained the meadow and sped out into the open just as two of the big creatures swung out of a tree and dropped so close behind them that their long arms and ugly hands scraped Rug's back. With a cry of terror they both leaped forward and because the meadow was free from undergrowth and because fear lent speed to their flying feet they moved across the open space with the swiftness of three-toed horses. On and on they rushed nor did they look behind them to see whether they were being pursued until they had gained the rock-strewn council grounds, below the cliff village, where a horde of Hairy People had gathered because lookouts on the cliff top had seen them in their mad flight and had warned the tribe of their coming.
Ric and Tug and Fu and all the strong warriors and great hunters had gathered at the council rock to await their coming for they knew by their mad flight that some terrible danger had threatened them, and when Rug and Rab came panting up they read the terror in their eyes and demanded to know what the danger was.
"A tribe of giants! They are coming! They have killed poor Ack! They are upon us! Look, look!"
Rug pointed off toward the edge of the forest of the great swamp and there they beheld in the trees and on the ground hundreds of the most hideous creatures they had ever seen.
It was evident to Rug and Rab and all the rest of the Hairy Men that they meant to attack the village for even as they watched they saw them gather in a dreadful company and start on their short legs across the wide meadow toward the village.
Calls of warning were shouted then, and the Hairy Men under the leadership of Rug and Rab and Ric and Tug and other brave warriors began to prepare the defense of the village. Women and children were sent scrambling up to the cliff top first and then the warriors followed, taking with them all the stones and stone hammers they could carry, while the women and children at the top busied themselves by gathering together a huge quantity of stones piling them up in mounds so that they would be convenient for the defenders.
On came the gorillas waddling and scrambling across the meadows on their short legs. They were beating their huge chests with their fists and sounding their hideous booming battle cry. They were gnashing their teeth and snarling and making hideous faces and as the Hairy Men looked down at them from their refuge on the cliff top they realized that they were beset by a ruthless, terrible enemy and that if any of their number fell into the hands of these giants they would suffer an awful death.
Their advance was slow at best and when they left the meadow and started across the rock-strewn council ground below the cliff, they became more cautious, and scattered instead of remaining in a compact mass. One big, powerful fellow, the largest among them and apparently their leader was the first to start across the council ground toward the base of the cliff. But he had scarcely reached the council rock in the center when at a grunt from Tug a half dozen warriors on the cliff edge let fly a volley of stones flung with stunning force. And most of them found their mark for with a scream of rage the huge gorilla staggered backward and went down under the shower of stones and the warriors shouted in triumph as they saw him scramble dizzily to his feet and stumble back to his comrades with blood flowing from a great wound in his head, and one of his long arms hanging limp because a stone had broken it at the elbow.
But this only served to infuriate the others and presently they began to rush forward in little groups to storm the cliff. Then the battle was on. With their shrill shouts mingling with the booming of the attackers the Hairy Men began to hurl stones and spears down upon the horde of repulsive creatures. The air was thick with flying missiles. Even the women and children took part in the encounter, throwing stones almost as accurately as the men.
But even the terrific avalanche of missiles that the Hairy People hurled did not serve entirely to stem the fury of their attack. There were hundreds of them and they swarmed about the base of the cliff and scrambled up its craggy surface with the same agility they climbed trees. They came so thick and fast that the Hairy Men could not beat them back. True, they did punish them severely, for under the direction of Rug and Rab the Hairy Men developed a certain strategy in their defense. They waited until little groups of invaders had climbed half way up the cliffs, then they shoved several big boulders over the edge and watched them go hurtling down the side sweeping the gorillas off the surface of the cliff like flies and crushing or mangling them at the bottom.
But the gorillas were not without some judgment in their attack and after a time they stopped advancing in groups. Instead, one at a time they scrambled up the steep stone surface of the cliff and darted into one of the scores of caves in which the Hairy People dwelt. Here they waited a little while then venturing out they darted a little higher on the cliff and dodged into other caves. In this way they escaped a great many of the terrible crushing stones hurled at them and gradually worked their way toward the top. The cliff swarmed with them. All the caves were crowded with them. They hid in every niche and crevice, and the Hairy People, seeing them come on relentless seeing their ugly faces, with their wicked inhuman eyes hearing their persistent booming war cry, and seeing them working their way gradually to the top; to their strong hold, their last defenses trembled and grew frightened. Already the women and children had been sent away, back deep into the forest to hide in a huge cave not far from the old volcano. The warriors now were massing for their last stand on the very cliff edge. With stone hammers held ready and spears leveled they crouched waiting. Great hairy hands and long powerful arms were reaching over the edge as the foremost of the climbing gorillas reached the top and with snarls of rage attempted to drag themselves over and onto the flat top, there to grapple with the smaller and weaker Hairy Men.
Rug and Ric crouching together at the very edge saw a long hairy arm and great clutching hand reach over and an instant later a great misshapen head and ugly face appeared before them. With a scream of rage both of them crashed their stone hammers down upon the gorilla's skull and had the satisfaction of seeing an expression of pain and horror overspread his countenance as his great hands convulsively loosed their clutches on the stone and his body fell backward and went hurtling down through space, down to crash at the foot of the cliff in a lifeless heap.
Further on another hairy arm reached over and groping about seized the ankle of Chuk, an old warrior. With a scream of terror the Hairy Man lifted a huge rock above his head and crashed it full into the face that followed the arm over the edge, but the strong hand did not lose its hold as the gorilla with a groan dropped backward and poor Chuk, screaming and clutching was dragged over the edge to go falling through space with him and crash to a horrible death at the bottom.
The defenders were fighting like fiends now with desperation borne of the certain knowledge that if they weakened they would all suffer horrible disaster. The colony would be wiped out. All along the edge of the cliff the struggle raged, the Hairy Men with their wicked stone hammers, crushing every head that appeared. They had ceased their yelling now, for they were all panting for breath with the exertion of the struggle. They were all worried too for despite their strong resistance, and the many gorillas they had. killed still the invaders came on. More and more swarmed up to the cliff-side like so many huge ants. There seemed to be no end to them. Beating them back was well nigh a hopeless task. Already, the Hairy Men were exhausted with their efforts but still the ugly invaders kept pressing upward. Rug and Ric and Tug and all the rest of them realized with a great fear clutching at their hearts what the end of it all would be. The gorillas would gain the cliff top and then all would be over for they were weaklings compared with these great animals who looked like men.