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Og — Son of Fire
Irving Crump
Dodd, Mead & Co.
1922

CHAPTER VIII

SCAR FACE THE TERRIBLE

 
ONLY vaguely was Og aware of anything that happened to him during the rest of the night. Now and then he gained a state of semi-consciousness and saw dimly that he was part of a weird tree-top procession formed by the huge band of apish tree people. Hundreds of them were swinging through the tops of the giant sequoias, and as they traveled their strange arboreal highway, this army of apish beings reminded Og of a band of conquerors, such was their demeanor. They swung through the branches, chanting weird songs, and now and then they uttered strange, deep-voiced, booming cries that Og guessed were their war cries and shouts of victory; cheers of conquerors, for this big tree-people band were proud of their achievement; proud that they had made war against a hairy man and, having captured him, were carrying him off a prisoner.

Never in the history of the race of tree men, at least not in the lives of any of his troupe — and that was as far back as the history of their race was known to them — had they had the courage to attack even one hairy man, let alone best him in conquest and carry him off. It was a triumph, an achievement, and to them, in their elation, it all appeared to be a great step forward for their kind.

To be sure this attitude was but a whim of the moment or the hour. Perhaps had the band suddenly come upon a grove of trees with edible fruit they would have straight way forgotten their captive and left him to his own devices while they ate. Indeed this was a rare exhibition of steadfastness of purpose for the apish folk of the band and doubtless if it had not been for Scar Face, their leader who really did have more purpose than the rest of the tribe, they would long ago have strangled Og or dropped him from a high tree and killed him that way.

But always had Scar Face been jealous of the prowess of the hairy folk. Always had he envied them their courage, and their advancement. He had striven to be like them, to make his people like them but always he had failed, for the ape men's brain had not yet developed to the point where they could think out even the simple problems that the limited intelligence of the hairy people could master. In truth, they were several steps below the hairy folk in the scale of intelligence, and their progress upward was very much slower than that of these men who had learned to live in caves.

The light of a new day was filling the eastern sky with its brilliance when Og gained full consciousness and was able to comprehend the situation. The army of tree folk was still swinging enthusiastically onward over its tree-top highway, and Og found that he was still a prisoner. The giant leader held him captive, and because of his great strength the ape man handled him as if he were a child. One of the tree men's great arms was thrown about Og's middle and with head and feet and arms dangling the great creature carried him as easily as Og would have carried the limp body of a young goat that he had slain.

Og was weak, and sore, and passive; passive because he had not the strength to make an effort to free himself from his captors. He simply remained inert and limp and permitted himself to be carried in this awkward fashion wherever the huge tree man chose to take him.

His captor led the horde; as they swung from branch to branch and from one tall tree to another. On and on they hurried through the tree tops, making remarkably swift progress despite the awkwardness of their going. That they were far from the point where he had camped the night before and had been captured, Og was certain. Then, too, the character of the country had changed a great deal. The sequoias were slowly giving way to trees of new and different type. They were giant trees, tremendously tall, and growing close together, but instead of branches they had spreading fronds that reached a great distance upward and outward and were very strong, despite their graceful appearance. Then there were other trees, lower and more massive in character, with short thick trunks and foliage that spread over acres of ground, sending down other stems that took root and spread onward again. A single tree was a veritable forest.

Og did not know that these were giant palms and banyan trees and that his night's journey had taken him farther south than any point to which the hairy folk had yet ventured. He did know that the climate was perceptibly warmer, and that vegetation familiar to him was fast disappearing. Several times, from this treetop highway, he had a clear vision of the forest floor, and he understood then why the ape people traveled in the treetops. The vegetation below him was so thick and so massed and intertwined that no earth could be seen at all, and Og knew that even the strongest hairy man could never force his way through it. Only heavy animals like the mammoth, or the hairy rhinoceros would have the strength to trample a pathway there.

Whither his captors were taking him Og had not the vaguest idea. For once these tree people seemed to have a single purpose; a single desire to get somewhere, for they never ceased going. Og felt sick and sore and uncomfortable. He made a movement once to change from this hanging position, but his great captor snarled at him and cuffed him with such terrible force that he became unconscious again, nor did he regain his senses until he felt himself being laid prone on the ground.

He discovered that he was lying on a gently sloping hill, and that he was surrounded by a circle of crouching, inquisitive tree people. Back of this first line of apish beings were massed thousands of others. There were so many that Og could scarcely believe his eyes. They covered the hillside, they filled the trees, and rocks, all about him, and all were staring at him as if waiting patiently for him to open his eyes.

Beyond the mass Og could get a partial view of the valley. It was surrounded on all sides by towering palm clad mountains, but there were few trees in the valley bottom. Instead, there was a pleasant meadow overgrown with lush grass through which a broad, lazy stream slipped slowly. To Og, used to the ruggedness of the country further north, it was beautiful and restful.

But he had little time to take in details, for so soon as he sat up a great chattering and squalling and taunting began. The tree folk became tremendously excited and danced up and down, and pointed their fingers at him, and chattered and grinned and snarled and made ugly faces. Some in the trees threw sticks at him and great round hard objects that Og had never seen before. Some stones and clods came from the tree folk on the ground, many of them hitting him resounding thumps.

Then suddenly they left off throwing and began a weird sort of dance that slowly developed into a dizzily whirling mass as the apish beings joined hands and began capering in a huge circle around him. Og knew from their manner, and from some of the squeals and calls, that the whole clan of the tree people were celebrating his capture, and as he sat there looking at them with senses still dulled from the terrific punishment he had received, and the hardships of the long journey, he wondered vaguely what was to be done with him. He knew that had he been one of the tree people, captured by the hairy men of his kind, he would have been put to death ere this. Would this be his end? This thought troubled him greatly.

It was while this strange dance was in progress that Og felt the presence of a warm body close to him and, looking down, he discovered with a feeling of gladness that beside him, torn and scratched, and as hopelessly dazed as he, were the two wolf cubs. They too had been made captives by the tree people. Og reached out and touched them and in that action he found as much comfort as they evinced by the feeble motion of their tails.

Og's recuperation was swift, and the wolf cubs seemed to regain their strength and alertness just as quickly. Indeed, by the time the tree people had danced themselves tired, and many of them had gone off to seek other diversion, the trio of captives were almost normal once more and Og's brain was working to puzzle out his strange situation and find, if possible, a way of escape.

The dancing ceased, the great mass of tree people dwindled, scattering among the trees on either side of the valley. All, save a group of formidable looking apish beings, disappeared. Og surveyed with suspicion those that remained. They were all bigger and stronger than he, and all bore innumerable scars. Doubtless, they were the warriors of the clan. And leading them was a huge scar-faced one, whom Og quickly realized was chief of them all. Spreading out in a semi-circle, with Scar Face in the lead, they began slowly to advance toward him, at the same time snarling and showing their teeth and making faces that were indeed hideous.

Og stood his ground and faced them, the wolf cubs flanking him on either side and snarling with as much vigor as their enemies. The hairy boy could not understand it all, but he longed mightily for his stone-headed hammer, or better still, his more recent weapons, a pair of fire brands. The fact that he had lost perhaps, forever, the valuable alliance of the Fire Demon, gave him a feeling almost of despair. The tree men would never dare venture upon him so boldly were he thus armed.

Despite the fact that he was unarmed, Og stood his ground, determined to fight with tooth and nail to his death. He had not the vaguest idea what was about to happen to him, but he determined to go down fighting.

His boldness seemed to disturb even these giant warriors of the tree folk. They did not advance with the courage that they first displayed, although they did continue to make hideous faces and horrifying noises. But old Scar Face was not the coward that the others were. When the rest stopped he came on alone, advancing with a heavy rolling stride, while his long arms dangled clear to the ground. Stooped as he was, Og could see that the big ape man was very much taller than he was, and broader of shoulders and deeper of chest — a formidable antagonist, indeed. Yet such was the courage of the hairy boy that instead of shrinking from him, he advanced a step or two toward him, crouching too, with his long arms and powerful hands spread ready to come to grips.

With a roar the great tree man charged, and Og leaped forward at the same instant. They met in mid air and crashed to the ground locked in a combat that was terrible to witness. What a clash that was. With all the fury of their primitive natures they fought, for to Og it was life or death. He felt certain that the scar-faced one meant to kill him, and Og's determination was to prevent it if he had in him the strength and courage to withstand the giant tree dweller.

Over and over they rolled on the ground, kicking, biting, clawing and thrashing with all their strength. Og had buried his powerful teeth into the corded neck of his antagonist, in an effort to reach his windpipe, while his strong hands tore at the tree man's stomach, trying to rip open the flesh and tear at his vitals. It was the primitive man's method of combat. He knew no other way to fight, and he pressed his attack with all the strength there was in his powerful body. The tree man, however, did not display the same viciousness. Rather he seemed to use his greater strength in protecting himself than in injuring the hairy boy. Og realized this and wondered. At first he attributed it to the tree man's lack of courage, but presently he knew that this was not so for in the mêlée the great ape man suddenly shifted his long arms in such a manner that with a single quick movement he could have broken Og's back and left him helpless, yet for some strange reason the tree man restrained himself. Og was more puzzled than ever.

Seeing their leader thus locked in combat with the captive seemed to instill more courage in the hearts of the other warriors of the tree clan, and suddenly they all closed in on the fighting pair, and Og again felt many hands gripping him, locking his legs and arms in helpless grips, and forcing his head and neck backward until he must needs let go his chewing at the throat of Scar Face, to protect his own neck from being broken.

Gradually they pinioned his arms and legs and head and trussed him about the body with their long strong arms, until he was utterly helpless. Then, as before, he felt himself being lifted off the ground and carried he knew not whither. For a long time they carried him and Og realized that they were taking him up to the upper end of the valley between the tall mountains. Soon the ground became rocky under foot, and seemed to slope slightly upward. Og wondered whether they meant to take him to the top of one of the mountains, and perhaps fling him from a precipice.

But they did not travel far up the slope before, one by one, they let loose their grip upon him until only Scar Face and another one of the ape men gripped him. Then, swinging him slowly back and forth between them several times, they hurled him from them. Og felt himself travel for a brief instant through space, then he landed with a dull and painful thud among a mass of jagged rocks, in the entrance to a dark cave. Half dazed he lay for a brief space where he had fallen and as he lay there he was conscious of two other forms hurtling through the air and falling beside him. They, too, lay still, where they were, and by their whimpering Og knew that he had the wolf cubs for his companions.


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