translated by George Surdez
from Helgvor du Fleuve bleu (1930)
Helgvor of the Blue River
By J. H. ROSNY AINÉwith GEORGES SURDEZ
1st installment (of 4)
Argosy, May 28, 1932 - pp 46-66The saber-toothed tiger, the mammoth, the gray cave bear were Helgvor's enemies but out of the mountain caves was to come a more terrible, two-legged menace
THE DEVOURING MOUNTAIN.
THE women at the entrance to the caverns contemplated the flames leaping toward the stars, and the sky lowered over the plain like a hollow rock.
"Our fathers have seen torrents of fire flowing," Old Man Urm said. "The fire melted the stone, and the men died like locusts."
He was the age of whitened crows: The Tzohs believed that he had been born with the stars, the river and the forest. The other old men stared at him with dull eyes. Because it was the time when the strong men of the tribe were away hunting for herbivorous, giant animals, the red flames seemed more frightening. The mountain growled within its ranks.
Urm spoke to the angry spirits which reside in the stone one never knows when they may escape: "The Tzohs shall pour warm blood upon the mountain," he clamored. "Living hearts shall he torn from chests and shall feed the Hidden Lives."
He lifted supplicating hands, ashen and quivering like reeds. The flames paled. The moaning of the women was heard from cave to cave, and the voice of the mountain towered.
"The Tzohs will sacrifice at sunrise!" the old man promised. And he added, in a murmur: "The Tzohs are sons of the Great Boar which issued from the Rock, on a day when fire flowed in torrents. The Tzohs are the sons of the Red Boar and of the Rock."
The tribe had come from the East. It knew how to forge bronze and till the soil, while the men of the West still chipped stone instruments. The caverns sheltered two hundred warriors, as many adult women, three hundred children, few old people, for the race practiced the Law, which is to kill off the weak, and lived without blemish.
"To-morrow," Urm went on softly, "three women and a warrior must perish! The Test of the Stones shall designate them."
This dictate, passing from the highest cave to the lowest, reassured the women. The mountain had understood. The far-away drone slackened, the flames of the crater became almost invisible. The women and the old people returned to the shadows of the rocks. Urm remained alone with Glava, daughter of Wokr, who belonged to warrior Wam the Lynx. For the children are the property of the mother's brother.
Glava was but a year beyond childhood. She did not have the cubical head of the Tzohs nor their slanting brows: She resembled a grandmother of another breed, because of her light colored face, of the tawny gleams in her eyes, of the long hair which grew constantly, while the hair of the true Tzohs remained short and snarled at the tips.
In her, Urm recognized the race of the Green Lakes, from which Tzoh warriors had stolen women, long ago. At that time, because of a prolonged period of starvation, the women had been decimated; for food must first be served to warriors. When they became too weak, a club felled them and their flesh fed the survivors.
Glava, thinking of the Test of the Stones, hated the Hidden Lives. Yet she was sure that she would not die, for, tall and lithe, with powerful muscles, stronger and more agile than any other woman in the three clans, she could lift the largest stones.
But Amhao, her sister, whom she preferred to the rest of the tribe, would be sacrificed. Terror and anger filled her breast. The chief, Kzahm, son of the Black Boar, was odious to her because of his roughness, his ferocity, and also because, when he returned from the great hunt, he would break off her canine teeth and make her his wife.
His head like that of an aurochs, his odor like that of a jackal, his frenzied eyes, disgusted her. And she did not want Amhao to perish; to save her, she would rebel against Kzahm, Urm and the Hidden Lives.
"The stars are cold!" Urm mumbled: "Why do you not go back into the cavern?"
Formerly, he had been the chief of the Men of the Rock: He was still heeded, because he alone knew all legends and all mysteries. Also, his strength surpassed that of aged men much younger than he; he scaled the crests; he could walk half a day: The belief was growing that he was immortal.
Glava did not like him. He constantly exacted human sacrifices and watched blood flow with grave joy.
I shall go back into the cavern," she assented.
"Go! It is best that Urm be alone to hear the Great Word."
She left and sought for Amhao. Although she knew the fate awaiting her, the young woman was asleep, with her child near by. If he had been younger, she would have been safe, but he had passed his sixth season. Amhao's sleep was troubled and light. When Glava took her hand, she sat up in the shadows.
"Rise," Glava whispered, "and come with your little one."
Although she was the older and had cared for Glava as a child, Amhao now submitted to the stronger will of her sister. She rose. The night was stirred with wind. Bodies sprawled in their path. At the extremity of the cave, they slipped through a narrow, rough gap, reached the torrent, almost dry, which poured between granite walls.
"Where are we going?" Amhao asked.
"Where you shall not die," replied the daughter of Wokr.
A deep rumble was heard in the flanks of the mountain; the red light again leaped toward the stars.
"The Hidden Lives will avenge themselves upon us!" moaned Amhao, who vacillated like a twig in the wind; terror choked her. Glava bent her head before the obscure horror of the legend, but her instincts impelled her to rebel, to be incredulous, almost.
"If Amhao remains in the cave, it is to die!" she said. "What more can the Hidden Lives do to her?"
Her small, powerful hands grasped Amhao's arm. The red fire wrapped the crest, water flowed like blood, and the mountain roared like a gigantic lion. Then impetuous anger swept the daughter of Wokr. She defied the elements, the Hidden Lives and the Clans.
"The Hidden Lives are blind," she said. "They strike like a falling stone."
And she led away Amhao, whose soul was as that of a child. The torrent became a river, and a distorted moon appeared beyond the Black River. Glava walked rapidly, without hesitation, having chosen her path. The growling of the mountain could no longer be heard, but the red glow added to the light of the moon.
Jackals, behind the women, yelped lugubriously, then a spotted beast emerged from a bush. Glava, recognizing a leopard, stopped to face it and uttered a strident yell. Stretched out like a reptile, eyes glowing in the darkness, it crept forward cautiously. Far away, between the tall, black poplar trees, the shimmering of the river could be discerned.
Warriors armed with a bow, with a club or a bronze knife, do not dread the leopard, and it never attacks them; but in the Tzoh country it could recognize women and children.
I shall break your bones and pierce your chest!" Glava cried, imitating the hunters. She saw a round stone. Picking it up, she lifted her arm high. This gesture stopped the beast.
"Walk toward the river, Amhao!" ordered the daughter of Wokr, "and take your child."
Amhao obeyed, and was followed by Glava, who walked backward, and each time the 1eopard drew nearer the young girl stopped threateningly. But the animal grew excited; hunger stirred its entrails. Glava, aware that all animals are afraid of the human glance, kept her eyes on it. Light-footed and furtive, the jackals followed the hunt.
Suddenly the leopard changed tactics. In a few oblique bounds it circled the fugitives and crouched before Amhao. Gripped by icy discouragement, she thought that the Hidden Lives were guiding the wild beast and remained motionless. It scented this fear and came forward.
But Glava forestalled it. The stone shot out and struck the animal on the nose. With a howl of pain and fury the leopard retreated toward the river. The jackals yelped shrilly in astonishment. Everywhere appeared their coppery pelts, their pointed ears; they were weak, cowardly, yet dangerous.
"The leopard will come back!" Amhao said.
Glava, who had picked up the stone, dispersed three jackals with a menacing gesture. But Amhao was not reassured: the leopard, as the pain dwindled, returned toward the two women. Again it was near, with its cortège of parasites.
"Glava will break off the leopard's teeth!" the young girl shouted.
Then the voice of thunder growled in the ground; the river became scarlet in hue. The mountain could be seen to vacillate, the whole plain palpitated like a chest. Glava and Amhao rolled on the grass; a cleft in the ground swallowed the leopard; the jackals moaned; flights of birds flapped above the trees. In the double light of the moon and of the red flames, the eye of Glava, keen as an eagle's, saw the rocks crack and engulf the caverns.
"The Hidden Lives!" Amhao sighed.
"They have killed the tribe," Glava retorted, "and you are alive!"
The leopard had not reappeared but the jackals already scented the exciting odor of blood and were yelping on the lips of the cleft. In the ravaged plain and on the bank of the river, the trees were tilted, animals were fleeing, and hills were sinking gently.
Glava at last found what she sought: A canoe abandoned by the Tzohs.
"There!" she said, "we shall leave for unknown lands."
The caves, except one, had become the graves of the women, of the old people and the children. But Urm had survived. Standing on a bowlder, he recalled the time when fire had flowed like water, and mused: "When the warriors return they will go and take the women from the men of the Blue River and of the Green Lakes. The blood of the prisoners we take shall appease the Hidden Lives."
Because he had escaped death once more, he thought that his life would never end and scorned those who died.
HELGVOR, son of Shtra, walked up the bank of the river with two dogs, a wolf and a child. The skin of a bear covered the man's shoulders, the skin of a jackal those of the boy.
From Shtra and his ancestors, Helgvor had inherited height, tawny eyes and light hair. His agility was comparable to that of a deer. His strength was nearly that of Heigoun, the most powerful of the men gathered in the Red Peninsula.
For twenty generations, the clan had bred and trained dogs. Helgvor, on a day of hunting, had picked up a wolf cub; the animal with the oblique glance lived with the dogs whose glances were straight. Like them, obedient and faithful, it served man and helped him seek his prey.
It was autumn; the warriors of the Blue River were off in search of adventures; the clan was guarded by five warriors and twenty dogs; many old men still knew how to throw a spear. There were more than sixty women, young and middle-aged. Each day two warriors went scouting afar with their dogs, for remote danger is the more to be feared when men are concerned.
Helgvor explored the South. The Men of the Rocks, with cubical heads, lived two moons' march away. He had never seen them, but Gmar and Shtra related that formerly they had raided in the region of the Blue River and the Green Lakes. Their hatchets and knives, more to be dreaded than stone hatchets and oaken clubs, were made with fire.
Helgvor, followed by the dogs, the wolf and the boy, climbed a bowlder on the river bank. From there he glanced about. Each thing was as new as his youth; the world started afresh each morning; the grass, the tree, the flower, the weed; water and clouds were eternal. There would be horses and aurochs grazing on the plain always; hippopotami among the reeds, rhinoceroses in great numbers, and surly boars; deer with bleating voices; megaceros elks with gigantic antlers; and even mammoths with hides like the bark of old sycamore trees.
Never would the does depart from the brush, the crows cease to gather in black troops; the doves, the stork, the ducks, the cranes and the swallows would fly across the vast sky forever. A world in which there would not exist vultures, eagles, cave lions, tawny leopards, black 1eopards, herons propped on their stilts, numberless insects and water animals, could not be conceived by Helgvor.
His vigilant eyes followed everywhere those strange shapes moving among the motionless plants, armed with teeth, with talons, with hoofs, with horns, with venom, arms attached to their bodies, while he, Helgvor, carried spears, club, stone hatchet, bow and arrows which he could place aside on the rock.
Near him, their senses alert to all variations in the atmosphere, were the two dogs and the wolf, weapons themselves for the man, living weapons which increased his hold upon the world, weapons unknown to the Tzohs.
The boy, agile and tireless, small creature with a brave heart, hid in the grass, in the narrow crevices, behind swells of the ground, even in branches too weak to bear Helgvor's weight. He was already acquainted with human ruses.
The dogs growled, the wolf rose, bristling.
Mammoths were passing by. Their enormous bodies, the color of clay, seemed moving bowlders. With their snaky trunk, their curving tusks, they appeared to come from the depths of the ages. All in them was strange. Alone among living beings, they bore that nose which was a colossal arm, those teeth, each of which weighed as much as a hundred clubs.
During their thousands of years of peaceful reign, their race had witnessed the vanishing of the giant felines and of the great cave bears. They themselves were the last of their breed. Already, their kind had vanished from the land of the Men of the Rock; they rarely reached the Green Lakes. But the Blue River still watered a sufficient number of their herds for Helgvor to deem them eternal.
He loved them. They satisfied his essential craving for power. And standing upon the bowlder, he shouted: "The mammoth is mightier than the lion, the tiger and the rhinoceros!"
The wolf listened and sniffed; the dogs stopped growling. All three admitted they were unable to cope with those bowlders of flesh. Helgvor watched them drinking with a dull exaltation. He dreamed that they might have been trained like dogs, for in him the instinct to transform the free beast into a tame animal was more developed than in any other man of the Blue River. Guarded by the mammoths, the tribe would be invincible, and the Men of the Rock would never dare approach the Red Peninsula.
A LONG quiver rippled the flesh of the nomad. Far off, thin and ominous, a bluish streamer of smoke rose behind a hillock, spreading wide at the crest. On this calm morning, on the humid plain, that smoke had a single, formidable meaning: The presence of men.
Worry dropped on Helgvor like the blow of a club. Then he clung to a slim hope, that perhaps the hunters had returned. But was that possible? The warriors had been away ten days, and a great hunt usually lasted half a moon. Doubtless they had encountered large herds of horses. For a long time, in the vicinity of the Red Peninsula, horses had been found only in small numbers. For the winter, captured horses were guarded by the dogs.
These were fed with grass picked by the women at the end of summer. When the hunting was poor, they were killed to feed the clans. Helgvor had desired to tame them, but because of obscure traditions the old men had opposed him. The horses soon became accustomed to captivity, lived behind barriers erected by men, near the huts.
"Hiolg, hide yourself!" the warrior addressed his small companion, while he himself sprawled close to the ground. The boy concealed himself behind a rock. Helgvor watched the menacing smoke. He waited a long time. At first, the smoke grew thicker, then lighter. And on both sides of the hillock, bushes spread, which kept all presence secret.
Helgvor, after scanning the soil, knew that even Hiolg could not approach them without being seen. The plain spread everywhere. Only the river bank afforded shelter, but upstream and downstream the river flowed far from the hillock.
"Have the men seen Helgvor?" he wondered.
Perhaps they were watching from behind the bushes as he watched them from the top of his bowlder. Then they would not show themselves.
Suddenly he uttered an exclamation; an erect being had left the bushes to the left, and the keen eye of Helgvor saw at once that the cubical head, the squat body, were not those of a son of the Blue River. He breathed hard, for he felt that the clan and himself were running a fearful risk.
"Hiolg sees the man?" he asked.
"Hiolg sees him," the boy with the hawk's eyes answered.
Helgvor pulled up the bear skin over his skull, and Hiolg did the same with the jackal pelt wrapped about his shoulders.
"Helgvor and Hiolg must reach the river!" the man said.
They slid from the bowlder, opposite the hillock. Then they slipped through the grass, crawled. The dogs and the wolf followed silently.
THEY marched a third of a day, making sure that no one followed their tracks. The Red Peninsula was near. Helgvor planned means to defend it. With the three warriors, the women and the dogs, it would be possible to beat back a few enemies, and doubtless the invaders would not attack unless they felt themselves much the stronger.
The small hillock, the appearance of a single warrior, all indicated a small hunting party. And the entrance to the Peninsula, twenty paces wide, was defended by bowlders: Helgvor believed that it would take more than a score of men to pass.
Hiolg interrupted his thoughts. He came up, panting: "Men are walking toward the river."
Helgvor again ascended the bank. At a distance, a troop of men, spread out, advanced prudently. All had massive heads and squat bodies. The warrior thought he recognized the man he had seen near the hillock. He counted seven silhouettes. If a surprise was to be avoided, there must be haste; but the child, although agile, delayed progress.
"Helgvor will run!" the warrior said. "Hiolg knows how to make himself invisible as a mole. He shall follow."
The child was not afraid. If needed, he would enter the river, for he swam and dove like an otter. And on the opposite shore there were many hiding places among the rocks and in the forest.
"Hiolg will not be seen!" he answered briefly.
Helgvor ran. His speed was that of the roebuck. And he neared the spot where the Peninsula opened, at right angles with the shore. First, he heard a confused murmur, then shouts, fierce yells, long moans, cries of terror.
Helgvor stopped. The shiver of disaster shook him. The Red Peninsula was invaded. The Tzohs were cleaving skulls, piercing bellies, crushing limbs. The old men, the women and a surviving warrior were in flight before a howling horde. At every step a club fell, a spear sank into a chest, and once the victim was down, a Tzoh pounced upon the body, to smash the head or tear at the heart.
Weak from his wounds, the last warrior faced his foes. It was to die. Chest drenched with blood, eyes blinded and legs quivering, he muttered insults and predicted the vengeance of the Ougmars. He lifted his hatchet with an effort, struck out at random. Ten clubs fell; the warrior tumbled to the grass, where the spears dug into his palpitating flesh.
Then, gripped by holy fury, trembling with the courage of his breed, Helgvor cried: "The Ougmars will crush the Tzohs!"
Startled, the invaders turned. And they saw nothing. Helgvor, understanding the uselessness of a struggle and the need to survive, had concealed himself in the thick bushes covering the Peninsula. Several Tzohs explored the space in vain; Helgvor, the wolf and the dogs remained invisible.
HELGVOR already seemed out of reach. He was advancing under cover when the wolf bristled and the dogs growled. Two Tzoh warriors appeared from behind a bowlder, which, at the same time as the breeze, had attenuated their scent. It was a stark scene, shaded by tall rocks and thick with bushes. Helgvor and his enemies watched each other, motionless. It was a merciless minute: Life for the victor, death for the vanquished.
The Man of the Blue River gave the signal to the wolf and the dogs. Those cunning beasts slid through the vegetation and reappeared behind the Tzohs. Helgvor shot two arrows one after the other. The first creased the skull of a Tzoh, the second knocked out one eye, and as he uttered a howl of pain the wolf attacked him from the rear.
Hatchet brandished, Helgvor leaped forward.
The second Tzoh met his onslaught, while the first fought the wolf and the dogs. A spear gashed Helgvor's shoulder, then the two were face to face. The Tzoh was squat, with mighty shoulders and muscular hands. He cried: "The Tzohs have taken your women and killed your children! They shall massacre your warriors and there will be no more Ougmars on the earth."
Helgvor did not understand the words, but knew them to be insulting. He retorted: "The Ougmars will wipe out the filthy race of the Tzohs!"
His hatchet whirled; the other lifted his club. Because they were both agile and keen of eye, handled their weapons well, neither was struck at first. Leaping like leopards, they struck and dodged at the same time.
Helgvor, fearing the arrival of other enemies, resolved to end it quickly. He lowered his weapon, allowed the club to fall. The heavy mace almost hit him, but he avoided its sweep with a light leap, and split the skull of his opponent, who had been carried forward by his lunge. The beaten man dropped in a heap, and lay dying upon the grass.
Aside, the victorious wolf and dogs were devouring the other warrior. Hiolg, who had contributed to the victory by clutching the Tzoh warrior's legs, threw himself toward Helgvor, who shouted: "Thus will perish all the Tzohs, race of jackals and stinking hyenas."
But the Tzohs, who had not seen the combat, did not learn the fate of the two warriors until later. As they could not find Helgvor, they finished their task. They drove aside the adult women, methodically massacred the old people and the children. At times, when an old man or a woman knelt at their feet, the warriors would laugh and torture them longer. At last the killing ended. The chief, kneeling, with hands extended, called out:
"Hidden Lives, the Tzohs have spilled blood for your drinking. You will lead back to the land of the Rocks the warriors and the captive women."
For a while longer, the Tzohs explored the Red Peninsula. When they discovered a trembling old fellow or a frightened child, the clubs or the spears were used, and ended matters.
THE PURSUIT BEGINS.
THE sun blazed like a red furnace when Helgvor reached the Peninsula. The dogs and the wolf smelled the corpses, black birds swooped with hoarse cries; jackals were coming at their slinking gait, drawn by the odor of blood.
The Ougmars did not bury the dead, as did the Tzohs, and they had no definite rites. They knew, nevertheless, that the Ougmars were the children of the Giant Eagle and of the Blue River. The Giant Eagle came from an egg floating on the river. At that time, the water flowed over the forest and the rocks; the Eagle was larger than the tiger and the Ougmars respected the life of the Eagle.
The old men knew, also, that when starting for the hunt, a spear should be thrown toward the clouds, accompanied by words passed down from their ancestors, to propitiate luck.
"The Sons of the Eagle and of the River will slay the Tzohs!" Helgvor growled.
He did not chase away the crows, the hyenas and the jackals, for it was their task to purify the forest and the plain of dead bodies. From time to time he glanced at the corpses sprawled on the ground. The blood of his own people had not been spilled, for his mother had died ten years before; he had no sisters, and his father and brothers were away with the warriors.
But Hiolg had returned quickly enough to witness the kidnaping of his mother and the slaying of a grandfather. Adult hatred swelled his puny breast.
For a while it appeared that the Tzohs had massacred all save those they had taken captive. Then an old man appeared, his chest bloody, followed by a grown woman who had sheltered herself in the thicket. Then came a few children, and as the moments passed, a few others, women or old men.
The warrior addressed them.
"Helgvor will follow the trail of the Tzohs. He will leave behind coals and smoke-blackened stones, sometimes he will stick twigs into the earth. Thus, when the warriors return here, they shall be able to follow him."
The old men had lost much blood; they listened as in a daze. But a woman understood and answered: "Malgwa will repeat Helgvor's words to the warriors."
Twilight spread upon the clouds a world of illusion, brighter, vaster than the real world. A depressing vapor steamed up from the river; the crows, the vultures, the jackals and hyenas enjoyed this hour.
Helgvor called the dogs and the wolf away from the human flesh. As he left the Peninsula, Hiolg came running after him. The boy had discovered the bodies of his little brothers among the dead, and moaned like a wolf cub. The son of Shtra said to him: "Hiolg is not swift enough. If the Tzohs find him, they will catch and kill him. Hiolg shall remain here to await the warriors."
Having spoken thus, Helgvor threw a spear toward the sky, uttered the words, and vanished, followed by the wolf and the dogs. Other dogs had reappeared, having escaped the general slaughter, and were joining the jackals and hyenas on the field of combat.
HELGVOR had no trouble following the trail of the kidnapers, for the wolf and the dogs had understood what he expected of them, and their sensitive nostrils could discern a scent far better than the keenest human eye could discern a silhouette.
Because the Tzohs were slowed down by their captives, the Ougmar warrior felt no great haste. He could count on the dogs not to lose the trail, and his own agility to catch up with his foes, and escape from them if they turned to pursue him.
The last ashen streak in the sky melted into the sunset, and nothing remained save the intense darkness of the night and the trembling glow of the stars.
Lights bloomed on the plain, indicating camp fires, the formidable, ominous signs of the erect beast, man. Helgvor had taken his station down wind, and lazy in a hollow of the soil. He counted five fires, saw the black silhouettes of warriors and women, at times their bodies glowing red in the flames' glare. Rage made his jaws lock savagely when he identified the youngest of the women. He was swept at once with anger at the outrage, and a glowing, primitive tenderness.
"The Tzohs are jackals," he muttered in a low, thick voice. "The Men of the River will break their bones and recapture their women!"
He tried to count his enemies. There were about twice as many as the Ougmars could gather. Despairing, dazed, the women seemed resigned, the majority already appeared on good terms with the victors. Helgvor felt an immense jealousy, a collective jealousy, but was not otherwise surprised. Women tremble like does, and do not wish to die!
He spied upon the camp a long time, growing used to the gestures, to the smells of the Tzohs. His attention was drawn to the leader, and all his hatred condensed upon that compact stature, on that enormous face, red as fresh blood. In the darkness, Helgvor lifted his club, aimed his spear; the madness of combat contracted his fists, dilated his heart.
At length he decided to rest. He found a safe haven in a depression of the plain, lit a small fire and roasted a piece of deer, which he shared with the animals. Then he slept, but his ears and his nose continued to perceive the subtle emanations, the rumors of the night. About him, the wolf and the dogs watched also, seeming part of his being.
He could not be surprised.
TEN days passed, and Helgvor still trailed the Tzohs.
Because of his skill, his scent, his prudence, perhaps also because his foes had no dogs, nothing had betrayed his presence. At night he kept even further away than during the day.
The march of the Tzohs was made very slow by the women, and by the need to carry the canoes, almost useless to them as they were progressing upstream. On occasions, when the river widened to form a sort of lake, the canoes were launched, and Helgvor feared he would be left behind. But soon the stream became narrow and rapid again, and the Tzohs resumed the march upon the plain.
On the morning of the eleventh day the Men of the Rocks divided into two smaller bands. While the bulk of the party went on, the others scattered as if to surround a herd of animals. Helgvor recognized their chief, the man seen near the hillock on the morning of the massacre.
Dogs and wolf, eyes glowing, panting and bristling, remained silent. They had followed the trail of the Tzohs so many days, without being sent in to attack, and knew them as enemies to be feared.
Undetected, Helgvor drew back, and as he no longer feared to lose the trail, retreated a considerable distance. He reached a line of rocks which formed a crenelated wall along the bank, and concealed himself. His line of retreat was secure; through the high grass, he could reach a clump of sycamore trees.
The halt lasted a long time. The river flowed by, very wide, and islands could be distinguished upstream. Between two of them emerged a canoe. Helgvor was startled to see that it was handled by women.
Nearer to the right bank than to the left, they paddled desperately. Soon, another canoe appeared, filled with warriors, gaining on the first one rapidly, obviously seeking to slide between the fugitives and the bank. The women swerved to the right at the precise moment that a third canoe appeared around the tip of an island.
Then Helgvor's flesh quivered with the hunting passion. And while he crawled, panting, a shadow appeared among the rocks. The warrior turned his head and recognized the boy, Hiolg.
GLAVA and Amhao had gone downstream constantly. Amhao, skilled in the finding of plants and fruits which feed human beings, lit and kept alive the fire with more ability than her sister.
Glava showed a surer skill of the hunt, a sharper knowledge of animals. During her childhood she had learned to throw the sharpened stones and the spear; her hand was deft, her glance quick and sure. Each day she brought back meat for the night's fire.
As they spent almost the entire day in the canoe, they thus avoided lions, leopards and bears. At night, they sought a tall bowlder or a cave, and their fire kept away the flesh-eaters. Often, also, they camped on an island in the river.
When there chanced to be game on the island, they remained two or three days, although they still had to beware of the large hydrosaurians. They had manufactured spears, two clubs, two darts, which although not as solid as those made by the warriors, were efficient nevertheless. Glava had roughed them out, and Amhao, more patient, had polished them with tireless persistence. And thus, day by day, they had become better adapted to combat. The energy and audacity of Glava bolstered the spirits of her elder, who practiced the throwing of stones and spears with docility.
Now, they scarcely feared the panther, the leopard or the hyena, but when they heard the thunderous roar, the menacing yelp of the tiger, or the growling of the gray bear, lords of the plain and the forest, they were aware of their weakness. At the time when the caves were their refuge, the strength of the warriors had protected them: the whole tribe could scorn the flesh-eaters.
Memories of the cave dwellings were strongest when the shadows flooded the world, when dimly distinguished shapes prowled around their fire, even when the stars seemed threatening. Then Amhao sighed, thinking of Tsaouhm, her master, the father of her child.
"Tsaouhm is strong!" she chanted.
At the sound of this complaint, which seeped into her self-confidence in a subtle manner, audacity and anger would stir in Glava's chest.
"Amhao forgets she was to die!" she would grumble. "Long since her blood would have dried upon the rocks! The Tzohs are worse than the tiger or the lion!"
ONE night a hungry gray bear stopped by the bank of the river. Since the preceding day, wary beasts had caught his heavy scent and had avoided him. In vain he had hidden among the bowlders, squatted in the brush, lurked in the high grasses: the saiga antelope, the elaph deer, the doe, the wild sheep, discerned his effluvia above that of the leaves, of the grass, of the smelly sod.
His fury grew, stirred by hunger, and his opaque, dull soul was filled with indignation against the ruses or the agility of his prey.
Before the flames of the women's fire he opened wide his growling jaws, and when he shook his paws enormous claws clattered. The eyes, ferocious and alert, gleamed covetously at the two human beings. He was swathed in his pelt, which hung in thick pleats on his chest; each of his movements revealed a supple strength; the habit of winning gave him an undefinable, formidable prestige.
At times he would prowl nervously before the flames, then stop short, oscillating, gaping, furious. A concave bowlder sheltered the women; the fire seemed to form the string of a stone bow. The wild beast could have cleared it at a single leap, but the mysterious palpitation of the flames filled him with distrust. When he crept nearer he was dazzled, and the heat hurt his nostrils.
Glava, having closed the gap with care, kept the fire high with branches. Each time the monster closed in she would wave a blazing torch. Then, astonished, he would growl deeply and show his teeth. New stars appeared, others waned. The stubborn brute was still near, and the woman saw the heap of twigs and branches dwindle. Although they had gathered much wood at twilight and fed the fire stingily, it was probable the flames would die out before the red star fell beneath the horizon.
Then, their flesh would bleed between the jaws of the bear.
At intervals Glava brandished her spear, but she knew that the weapon could not penetrate to the heart of the huge animal and that a wound would but stir him to savage fury, to blind rage. She did not launch the weapon.
Then there was no more wood; the last flames fluttered, the crimson coals darkened, and the teeth of Amhao clashed together with fear. Glava made ready for her last combat.
Colossal mass in the shadow, the bear came forward. For a few moments, to the right and behind the rocks, yelps and cries had been heard. The murmur swelled into a roar. A very tall animal appeared, trotting with a perceptible limp, and the bear, through wide-open nostrils, identified a horse. Wounds in the legs were slowing the fugitive, and he had not covered a hundred strides when five wolves appeared, then a horde of jackals.
With a joyous grunt the bear started forward. In the grip of immense terror, the horse halted, turned his head. He saw the five wolves across the path to the east, while the bear and the rocks barred the path to the west.
The horse spun on his hoofs and fled southward, pursued by the bear with oscillating, heavy leaps; by the wolves, now frightened by their new rival but kept in action by lingering hope. The hunted beast, reddening the trail with his blood, constantly lost ground. His wounded leg seemed dead, stiff, and hampered his strides. And all about, avid lives sought to swallow this terrified life.
Soon, with the bear so near that the wolves howled with disappointment, the grass-eater saw nothing but greedy maws. A few seconds before there had remained a lane of escape, the open plain upon which, for so long, through his scent and speed, he had fled from the meat-eaters. Now, space was filled with famished beasts, and the horse, heavy as a rock, still as a tree, waited for death with a sinister moan. The bear split his throat, blood drenched the red hair; a wolf, bolder than the others, attacked him from behind.
THAT terrible night made the women even more prudent. When the haven was not sure, they upset their canoe, and this shelter disconcerted the crude intelligence of the wild beasts. Between the ground and the rim of the craft there was space left through which to prick the nostrils that came scenting, or the groping paws. Mysteriously wounded by an invisible foe, the beasts beat a rapid retreat. Glava and Amhao took care not to wield their spears too violently, so as not to exasperate the larger meat-eaters.
Almost always the prowlers were only wolves, hyenas and jackals. Once a tiger came, and twice a lion. They did not linger, perhaps because they were puzzled, perhaps because they found easier game. Often, also, the fugitives avoided animals by taking shelter in the thickets. As they went further and further from the tribe they halted for longer periods. They made pointed stakes, as they had seen the Tzohs do, and used them to make a bristling barrier around their shelter.
On the river islands security was almost complete. Sometimes they would slide into crevices too narrow for the large meat-eaters, and when they chanced to discover an empty cave, easily defended, they would sojourn there for several days.
A moon after their flight, from the clan, the women decided that they had come far enough to settle for a long period. They needed a section filled with game; a haven safe from beasts and storms; the proximity of the river. This they sought for many days. One morning, in a granite bowlder, they saw a cleft wide enough to allow passage for a man, a large wolf or a leopard. This opening was four arms' lengths from the soil; the surface of the stone was smooth, slippery. It could not be reached by many animals lacking wings; even a panther would find the leap difficult to achieve.
Glava climbed on her sister's shoulders. Before sliding into the cleft, she looked in, sniffed, smelled nothing save the large bats. Then, crouching, she advanced. A dim light dropped from the vault, the cleft widened to form a cave in which several human beings could find shelter. The light penetrated through a vertical split that cleaved the rock from bottom to top.
Glava, supplied with a handful of dried twigs, lit a fire which rapidly flamed high. She then noted that the top was five or six arms' lengths above her head; the refuge was good. The Daughter of the Rocks turned to her companion.
"Amhao and Glava shall rest here!" she said. "The entrance to the cave is too high for wolves too narrow for the tiger, the lion or the gray bear. Stakes and stones shall defend it against the panther."
FOR the space of a half moon their life was as secure as if they had been living under the protection of the warriors, for they went forth only by day after inspecting the surroundings. The great felines were asleep. They found no tracks of the gray bear, no tracks of men.
There were beasts and plants in plenty. By lighting the fire beneath the opening of the roof, no smoke befouled the cave. The ruses and skill of the women grew day by day. Glava in particular could sense danger in advance, gifted as she was as with the slyness of the jackal. When she pressed her ear against the ground, she heard the slightest sound; her glance pierced very far to espy beings which she identified by their gait, their movements.
Each day she made her traps more perfect, while Amhao shaped better and better weapons and tools. Provided with sharp spears, with a knotty club, with a harpoon, Glava lived with quiet audacity and her courage made Amhao feel secure.
Nevertheless, Amhao regretted Tsaouhm, her man, who had been rough but not ferocious. He had shown her unexpected tenderness at times.
She remembered scenes that added to her homesickness. Although the women fed badly on what the warriors left, Amhao thought with uneasy longing of the immense fires on which roasted antelopes, deer or wild oxen, sheep, bustards and teals; of the endless gossip of the women; even of the hard work which followed the great hunting trip.
Glava thought less of her former existence, for the future rose before her. The instinct of the race, still undetermined, she brought to the new soil, and the thrill of new discoveries extinguished memory of the Rocks. Yet, on certain days, she felt a retrospective gentleness, saw in her mind's eves the native caves. But it was brief; hatred against Old Urm, the horror of human sacrifices, the thought of having her canine teeth broken as a symbol of her union to Kzahm, who smelled like a jackal, filled her breast with anger.
ONE morning Glava was inspecting the canoe, concealed in the bushes one hundred arms' lengths from the river. With the help of Amhao she had repaired the cracks of the hull, had hewn new paddles. They used the craft to visit other islands or to reach the shores.
It was a long boat and split the stream easily. Glava granted it an undefined, unexplainable affection. Perhaps because the canoe bore the fugitives, skimmed over the river lightly; because it saved them much fatigue and many dangers; perhaps also because it had been often their sole refuge, she attributed life, understanding to it. So, almost every day, she came to see if the canoe was intact.
Before leaving the bushes, Glava paused, wishing to make sure that no prowler was near. She inhaled the scents, explored the surroundings with her keen glance, then pressed her ear against an ash tree.
Steps were quivering in the tree; at once she knew they were not those of four-footed animals or of birds.
The heavy, rhythm indicated a vertical being loaded with a burden, and Glava, thinking at first that it was Amhao and her child, was reassured. Then worry grew. Why was Amhao so near the river? Had she not agreed to await Glava's return from the hunt?
The woman slipped silently out of the bushes. The wood ended on her left, where the steps had been heard and Amhao was in sight. She walked a short distance from the fringe of the thicket, so as to survey the plain without being seen. She did not notice her sister until she was very near.
"Why did Amhao leave the cave?"
"Amhao sought Glava." The older woman was ashen, her lips were bloodless. "Amhao has seen Tzohs!"
"Tzohs!" Glava repeated, frightened.
Amhao lifted the five fingers of her right hand and one finger of her left.
"Amhao recognized them?"
"There were Kamr, Son of the Hyena, Ouaro, Tohr"
"Did they see Amhao?"
"They were far, walking toward the rock. The marsh halted them and they disappeared into the woods. Then I came down, circled the rock and came through the bushes."
"Amhao hid the fire?"
Glava shook her head, scanned the scene again.
"We must reach the island and hide."
She turned back to the canoe, followed by Amhao. They bore the craft to the bank. The grass was high, the shore deserted and the rock invisible. The two women could be seen only by men following the beach or standing across the stream from them. When they were in the canoe they drew some distance away from land. The current bore away the boat, slowly, then more rapidly.
Glava wondered if the Tzohs had stopped at the rock. Even then they were unlikely to suspect that the cleft admitted people into an inhabited cave, and, as it was morning, they were in no need of seeking shelter therein.
Seeking to guess the motive of their presence, she rejected the thought that they were pursuing them or that a hunting trip had taken them such a long distance from home. It could not be a migration of the whole tribe, either, for the Tzohs sought to live only on rocky soil.
Recollections leaped into her mind like locusts through grass: Glava and Amhao were the daughters of an alien woman. Finding the caves fallen in, the majority of their women killed, the Tzohs had gone to seek new mates near the Green Lakes or the Blue River.
THE canoe slid on the smooth surface of the stream, which was so wide that the far shore could not be discerned. Then the island appeared, narrow and long, thickly covered with vegetation. Centuries had reared there the trunks of the black poplar trees and sycamores. The willows were everywhere on the shore.
Before heading for the island Glava glanced long upon the plain. As no vertical shape appeared they plied the paddles and crossed the stream to a small cove sheltered by a barren jutting headland. They alighted quickly, hid in the bushes to wait.
Nothing revealed the presence of man. The hideous snout of a hippopotamus, the scales of a crocodile, the shell of a tortoise, the flight of a heron across the sky, then the appearance upon the beach of an elaph deer, of a rhinoceros, of an antelope, drew the women's attention momentarily.
Suddenly Glava started. Erect beings had appeared! Dim at first, they became more precise, and the fugitives recognized the men of their clan, among them Kazhm's well known bull-like head.
"Women!" Amhao exclaimed.
The women followed the first detachment of warriors. Of an alien breed, their faces lighter than those of the Tzohs, their hair in some cases the hue of leaves in the autumn, they resembled Glava.
"They come from the Green Lakes or the Blue River!" said the daughter of Wokr, "and are to replace those whom the Mountain has killed."
Obscure jealousy palpitated in Amhao's flesh while, because they looked like her, Glava felt pity for the captives, especially for those who belonged to the chief who smelled like a jackal. Amhao's face grew pale again, for she saw with the rear guard the warriors who had frightened her: Ouaro, Tohr and the others. They closed in on the main body.
The chief called a halt, questioned them. At intervals they scanned the river and their glances lingered on the island. At length Kzahm, Son of the Black Boar, gave orders, and those who bore the canoes went to the shore and launched them. Two craft came toward the island.
"The Tzohs are on our trail!" Amhao moaned.
"No! They want to explore the island perhaps camp."
"We must flee!"
The servile soul of the woman quivered within Amhao as she recalled convulsively the Law of the Rock and the vengeance of the Hidden Lives.
Glava hesitated. The island was vast, there were numerous hiding places, but the scent of the Tzohs was to be feared. The slightest indication would betray the fugitives. In particular, the canoe moored in the cove would at once reveal not only the presence of human beings but the identity of the two who had defied the might of the Hidden Lives.
"Amhao and Glava will flee!" she said.
The cove, behind the headland, was invisible to the new arrivals. Followed by her elder Glava crept to the canoe, cast off quickly and slid alongside the shore of the island, under the tall white willows. Had the Tzohs landed on the southern end they would have seen the fugitives. But they reached the central part where the island was considerably wider and where vision was screened by thick vegetation.
WHEN the two women reached the northern end the river spread before them, immense, swarming with voracious lives; it was the place where the canoe would be in sight, and the women stopped paddling, thinking of the ruthless tribe, of the mysterious tortures, of the flames into which their quivering bodies would he thrown.
Glava slipped the canoe close to shore, within the veil of overhanging plants in which swarmed cold-blooded beasts: crocodiles, tortoises, snakes, gigantic spiders, enormous insects; a pink young hippopotamus dove, frightened; a crocodile lifted his long, scaly snout; a toad hopped away heavily while tiny birds with azure and coral wings fluttered in the leafage.
She listened, peered between the lianas at the canoes sliding toward the island, heard the voices of the men already ashore. But no Tzoh rearguard already on the plain. She decided that by striking off toward the far shore they would remain undiscovered some time longer.
"Amhao and Glava will continue to flee!" she addressed her companion.
They started out again on the vast river, toward the left bank, where the stream turned a bend, ten thousand arms' lengths away. Should they succeed in reaching that turn and remain unseen, they would be saved.
Digging the paddles deep at each stroke, they strove desperately, and when they turned they saw no one on the dangerous zone of the island they had left. The turn! Already the canoe skirted the left shore, and they were under the overhanging bushes.
Kamr, son of the Hyena, had reached the opposite shore of the island. As he scanned the surface of the water his keen eyes espied the monstrous head of a hippopotamus emerging among floating branches, and, far off, something elongated skirting the left bank. Soon, he made out a canoe and two human beings aboard, and he gave the alarm, although he did not suspect them to be women.
Several of his companions ran up to his side, among them Kzahm, the Black Boar, and they all saw the craft vanish at the turn of the stream. Because it was always preferable to investigate, Kzahm ordered a pursuit, forbidding, however, that it be kept up longer than a fourth of one day, ordering his men to retreat in case the strange canoe was joined by others.
Twelve strong and agile warriors, known to be excellent paddlers, leaped into two canoes. Kzahm counted that they would gain rapidly on the mysterious boat ahead, and suggested that its occupants should be brought back alive, if possible. After the craft had left, the chief became worried. Were the strangers warriors from the Green Lakes or the Blue River, or merely stragglers? A dim dread arose in his thick brain, but he put it aside with scorn. Did he not command one hundred fighting men, while the Blue River clan could not muster over sixty?
As for those of the Green Lakes, they were known to be hunting far away, in scattered groups. To have them mass their forces, they would need open warfare. And no war, for two generations, had clashed the Men of the Rocks with those of the Green Lakes. Nevertheless, because a leader must at one and the same time be very brave and very wise, the Black Boar sent out scouts on both shores of the stream.
GLAVA uttered a muffled cry; Amhao groaned. Hope shrunk, their distress increased like the shadows of the black poplar-trees, for a canoe had rounded the bend.
Then the women knew themselves to be as weak, as helpless, as the mosquitoes humming near the shore. And Amhao, discouraged, relaxed her grip on the paddle. Her spirit yielded to despair. She was ready to surrender to evil destiny, ready to acknowledge the might of the Tzohs and the power of the Hidden Lives.
"We cannot escape them," she moaned. "Amhao must die."
For a brief instant, bitter grief lowered Glava's head, but energy reawakened in her with the need to exhaust the resources of her being before surrendering to men and fate.
"Amhao and Glava will die if taken;" she said bitterly, "they are not yet caught."
"Behold!" cried Amhao.
The second canoe had come in sight.
"Did we not escape Urm, the leopard and the bear?" Glava spoke roughly. And she looked at Amhao with tender resolution, and the older woman, dominated by a stronger will, picked up the paddle.
It became a hard and miserable struggle; the canoes of the pursuers, better constructed, shot forward by the might of muscular arms, devoured space. Glava saw her chances dwindle at each sweep of the flashing paddles. Before very long the Tzohs saw the fugitives clearly and lifted a clamor, a raucous, furious, insulting, vindictive clamor.
"The Tzohs have recognized us!" Amhao said.
One of their canoes shot directly toward the women's craft; the other kept close to the left bank, as close as the vegetation permitted, to cut off possible retreat. That one was the swifter of the two, and her diagonal course would bring it in position to intercept the fleeing craft.
Glava headed for the right bank. But Amhao, already very tired, was almost fainting, no longer hoped. The tests and the perils had been useless, they would be taken back to their starting point, and their torture would be horrible.
Tzohs knew of suicide. Glava addressed her companion.
"Amhao and Glava can make the bank, and there, if Amhao wills it, they shall die." Amhao looked long toward the bank, then her sorrowing eyes rested on her child. Glava went on: "If we jump into the river, the Tzohs will rescue us. We have firm hands, we can stab ourselves with the spears."
This was reasonable. Moreover, a mighty instinct urged her to persist until the last chance was gone. The bank rose steeply, rocky and crested with tawny bushes. As she was about to land, Glava lowered her head and the tears flowed. Love of life sprang up in that young body; immense memories spread, of events lost in the night of her consciousness: the beauty of the dawn upon the plain, the marvel of the growing grass, the miracle of life. Even that morning, Glava and Amhao had been free to breathe, had been drunk with space and movement.
The craft struck land.
Three hundred arms' lengths behind appeared the leading Tzoh canoe, and the other came on obliquely. Amhao, uttering a weak moan, clasped her child passionately. She too loved life, in a slower, more inert fashion.
"Amhao must go first."
Obediently, her eyes streaming tears, Amhao landed, and as Glava grasped hatchet and spears, she felt within her the fear of death mingling with the elation of combat. She turned and cried:
"The Tzohs are filthy and cowardly victors!"
"The Hidden Lives await the daughters of Wokr to devour them!" A warrior replied amid a chorus of jeers and laughter.
Glava understood the last minute had come, and she said gently: "Amhao is ready?"
"Amhao is ready," the older woman agreed, weeping.
THE nearest canoe was not more than one hundred arms' lengths away. Suddenly a loud voice called out; an arrow flew over the water, struck a Tzoh in the throat. A wolf howled, dogs barked.
Bewildered, the men of the Rocks stopped paddling, but a second arrow pierced the shoulder of a warrior, and the voice rose again, loud as the bellowing of an aurochs. The Tzohs were brave, but the law of plain and forest ordained care; the two canoes retreated before the unseen foe.
Quivering with mingled hope and fear, the two women scanned the rocks. A head appeared, young and covered with tawny hair, a face which did not resemble that of the Tzoh. Then a child was seen sliding between the ridges of granite, climbing to the top of the cliff, speaking words which the two women did not understand, although they guessed the meaning of his gestures: the hidden men were friends.
With other gestures, he indicated that the canoe should proceed downstream. Despite many signs, he could not make clear the reason. At the sight of the child, the Tzohs seemed about to come back, but two shouts, one uttered in a deep voice, the other shrill, warned then off.
"The daughters of Wokr must obey!" Glava spoke. "The hidden men are friends."
She was not altogether sure of this but her fighter's soul comprehended the need of taking one side or the other. She picked up her paddle. And the canoe resumed its flight downstream, followed, within two arrow flights, by the Tzohs' craft.
The child had vanished and nothing revealed the presence of human beings other than fugitives and pursuers. The Tzohs hurled loud insults at the invisible enemy. The man struck in the throat lay at the bottom of the canoe; the one who had been hit in the shoulder could not stem the blood flowing from his wound.
The passion for life, fierce hope, animated Glava and Amhao. They paddled doggedly, keeping close to shore, beside the tall cliff pitted with caves in which lived eagles, vultures and bats. This cliff suddenly seemed to cave in, a dark defile gaped, into which the river poured with the velocity of a torrent. A strong voice hailed the two women.
They saw a man, two dogs, a wolf and a boy scrambling down toward them. Amhao dropped her paddle from fear, but Glava was not shaken. The stature of the man reared beyond the height of Kzahm the Black Boar, but he was not as massive, and seemed more supple. The face was young, the skull long, and the eyes matched the hue of the river, with jade-green reflections. He made a few hasty signs, indicated the Tzohs with a gesture.
Without hesitation Glava made for the shore. In a flash, man, boy and animals were in the canoe. The stranger spoke.
"The Tzohs took the women of the Ougmars! Helgvor will bring warriors to wipe theirs out."
He had already snatched Amhao's paddle, for his sure instinct had informed him that she was the weaker, less resolute than her companion. He directed the craft into the gully. All distrust had left Glava. That warrior's face was lighter than were the faces of the Tzohs, its hue resembled that of her own visage, and that clear complexion, the sinewy, long limbs, pleased her more than the massive structures of men of her tribe. She was ready to obey him, to help him.
The rushing waters hurled the canoe into the defile, and the speed was that of a galloping man. At first, the pursuers did not understand this move, and those in the leading craft saw the fugitives' boat flash in the semi-darkness. Then they guessed that the stranger fleeing with Glava and her sister had no companions save the boy and beasts.
"WE will pursue the canoe!" urged a warrior with enormous shoulders. The others hesitated, pointed at the two wounded men, and one of them voiced the general opinion.
"Are not other warriors hidden in those rocks?"
The crew of the second canoe, which had come near, overheard these words. One of them, Kamr, Son of the Hyena, snorted sarcastically: "Had there been more warriors, Glava and Amhao would not have fled! Shall twelve Tzohs run before a man and two women?"
"Two of our warriors are hit, and Kzahm ordered prudence."
The Son of the Hyena laughed ironically. His strength was great as that of Kzahm, the Black Boar, and in his heart he craved for leadership. "Did Kazhm order us to be cowards? Let two warriors follow Kamr on the bank. If it is deserted, the Tzohs will pursue the women."
He spoke like a chief, and was a chief. His canoe made for the shore, and he landed with two comrades. They discovered no men among the rocks, saw none on the plain and the majority of the Tzohs were thus convinced: ambushed warriors would have fired arrows and spears at them.
"The Tzohs will pursue the canoe!" Kamr said, returning.
"Kzahm shall be discontented and will punish Kamr," the chief of the first boat objected.
"Kzahm cannot punish six warriors for pursuing a lone man. And the men of the Red Clan are not his slaves!"
The crew of the second canoe belonged to that clan, feared for its courage and spirit of independence. Kzahm had to handle its members carefully.
"Women lose days speaking," Kamr resumed arrogantly. "Let tongues be still. Warriors wish to fight!"
With a violent gesture he picked up the paddle and launched his craft into the rapids. The onrush of the current was such that it grew dangerous to increase progress, and the six men were content to keep their boat away from the rocky walls. At times, strong whirlpools spun the canoe, but the Tzohs were accustomed to water and its traps and did not worry. Kamr sought in vain for the fugitives. Helgvor had too long a lead.
Stubbornly, the warrior refused to be discouraged, and as no attack came from the cliffs, close enough to be within arrow range, he grew certain that there was but one combatant ahead. The cliffs towered by degrees and soon were no more than a low line of rocks, and the immense surface of the river reappeared. The surface was smooth, slid silently. On the right shore was the plain across which the Tzohs had marched, on the left bank was a virgin forest.
In the middle of the stream the canoe was safe from surprise, and Kamr triumphantly glanced over the river and sought trace of the fugitives.
But nothing appeared on the broad river.
AS long as the canoe was between the cliffs, Helgvor and Glava thought only of avoiding a wreck. Although the women had repaired the boat, it was more fragile, not as well balanced as the craft of the pursuers. At times the waves threatened to overturn it. Then the man and the girl used all their skill to keep it afloat. Used to the river, both were capable.
They turned to look behind. No canoe appeared on the river, no silhouette rose ashore. And the banks parted widely, until the left strand was almost invisible. When it vanished, finally, the river resumed the aspect of a lake.
Helgvor now looked at the women. Amhao offered the swarthy face of the Tzohs, their bestial jaws, their small, beady eyes. Such appearance did not please men of the Blue River. But Glava was strangely like the women of the Ougmar clan, with her long oval face, her large clear eyes, her hair the color of gold and her flexible torso.
Looking at her, a sweet fervor flooded his chest, comparable to his elation when he roamed the plain in the early dawn. And Glava preferred, to the dark complexion and massive build of the Tzohs, this great body supple as that of a leopard, this face pink as that of a baby.
He tried to make her understand, mingling words and gestures, that the Tzohs had stolen the Ougmars' women. She caught a word here and there, a word which recalled words uttered by her grandmother from the Green Lake, for the tongue of the Lakes resembled that of the men of the Blue River. The two races came from a common origin, and primitive terms had remained similar. And in her turn, she undertook to relate her flight, the earthquake in the mountain, the threat of death, the escape in the night.
Although he understood her less than she understood him, he knew that they had formed an alliance. At least he knew their names, repeated with signs. And they knew his name.
"Glava and Amhao will be Ougmar women," he said. "Helgvor will save them."
They progressed on the river, and the enemy did not appear. Nevertheless, Helgvor decided to increase his lead, and Glava helped him with an energy which amazed him. He considered landing, striking out through the forest, but they could not leave the canoe. And the boat, precious help on the river, would be a burden ashore.
Helgvor decided therefore to keep on water as long as no new peril presented itself. He paddled in silence while dim plans for the future came to mind. Vigilant as a warrior, Hiolg continuously scanned the surroundings. As they rounded a headland, he uttered an exclamation, then, his piercing glance directed upstream, spoke.
"The Tzohs are back."
Helgvor and Glava, while steering the craft out of a whirlpool, gazed behind, and saw, very far away, a canoe. Had they not expected it, they might have mistaken it for a crocodile or a tree-trunk floating on the water. Then their sharp eyes discerned dim silhouettes which were those of men, and Helgvor repeated, looking at Glava: "The Tzohs!"
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK.