translated by George Surdez
from Helgvor du Fleuve bleu (1930)
Helgvor of the Blue River
By J. H. ROSNY AINÉwith GEORGES SURDEZ
2nd installment (of 4)
Argosy, June 4, 1932 - pp 57-78Upon Helgvor, proud young warrior, rested the burden of tracking down the ferocious cave men who had despoiled his clan...
THIS STORY HAS JUST BEGUN START IT NOW.
IT was in the days before civilization's dawn that Helgvor, tall young warrior of the Blue River clan, returned from sentry duty near the camp of his tribe to see the defenceless children and old men slaughtered by a party of raiding Tzohs, men from the East, who strike while Helgvor's fellow warriors are away hunting.
Taking the women of the tribe with them as captives, the Tzohs start back toward their own country. Helgvor trails them, leaving word with the few survivors that he will locate their lair, then return to lead the warriors of the Blue River against the marauders.
Accompanying Helgvor is the boy Hiolg, a stripling in size but stealthy as a leopard and with a heart that does not know fear. With their two dogs and the wolf that Helgvor has trained, they follow the slowly moving caravan as it winds along the river.
On that same river is a canoe bearing two women of the Tzoh clan, Glava and her elder sister Amhao, who has her child with her. They fled their tribe when Amhao was ordained a sacrifice to the god of the Mountain.
Two canoes filled with Tzoh warriors sight the women, start in pursuit. Helgvor, watching from the concealment of the river bank, wounds two of warriors with arrows. Recognizing him as a friend, the two women take him and Hiolg into their canoe and the chase begins anew. Kamr, leader of the pursuers, is determined to capture the women and slay Helgvor.
THE fugitives' canoe, close to a thickly bushed bank, must be difficult to discern. Helgvor steered still closer to land, so that the craft would be all the more difficult to espy from afar. Before rounding a bend, he cast a last glance behind.
There was still but one canoe in sight. Was the second one slower, or had it given up? He did not dwell long on the question, and came to a decision. Ten thousand arms' lengths away, the real bush started, where he could prepare an ambush. In the thicket, his wolf was capable of downing a warrior; his two dogs, less robust, could worry an enemy. Glava seemed ready to show fight, and he, Helgvor, was the best bowman among the Ougmars; and, with a single club blow, he dropped his man.
Although she still paddled vigorously, Glava was beginning to show fatigue. She had been struggling since morning. Helgvor took her paddle and gave it to Amhao, who had rested somewhat. The pursuers were not seen again until the bush was within five thousand arms' lengths.
From then on, they gained steadily. Not only was their craft better constructed, but what availed Helgvor, seconded by a woman, against six mighty paddlers? He thought only of reaching the bush. To get there in time, it was enough for the canoe to go half as fast as that of the Tzohs.
For two thousand arms' lengths, he contrived to keep his distance very well. His strength was intact, and his skill made up for the weakness and clumsiness of Amhao. But before long, the woman tired again, and the advantage of the foes became considerable. Had not Glava picked up the paddle again, it would have been impossible to reach shelter in time.
"Glava is as brave as a warrior!" shouted Helgvor, warm admiration in his eyes.
She did not understand the words, but smiled at the gesture, while her heart swelled with happiness. Already, her effort showed results: the distance separating the two canoes dwindled slowly, and Helgvor could hope to reach his goal before danger became pressing. At the same time, he was elated because the second Tzoh boat had not come in sight. The last minutes were arduous; despite her courage, Glava faltered, but he, stiffening his muscles, fought against fate with frantic ardor.
"Oah!" he shouted triumphantly.
They had reached the bush and the Tzohs were three hundred arms' lengths late, could not see the canoe bearing Helgvor and his companions skimming under the bending branches of the weeping willows, up a narrow tributary of the main river. This stream had two outlets. Helgvor paddled up one of them slowly. Before attaining the tip of the island formed by the delta, a marshy stretch appeared on the left bank, thick with reeds.
"If Glava has no strength left," he said, "Glava need not paddle longer."
The canoe reached a haven in the marsh, a cove sheltered by enormous willows and gigantic poplar trees. Helgvor pushed the canoe into a tangle of reeds, picked up his weapons.
All was quiet. The Tzohs must have gone by the river's mouth. But their return must be feared, for they would soon discover that the fugitives had vanished. Doubtless, they would hesitate a while before the two outlets, then before the marsh. Only luck would bring them upon the canoe hidden in the reeds!
GLAVA had watched Helgvor's stratagem with admiration, and with the eagerness of youth she wished to laugh despite the peril. But Helgvor already was dragging his companions through the bush. When it grew too thickly he sought an easier path; often he opened the way with his hatchet. Soon tall trees appeared, with parasitic plants swirling in their shade. Then the fugitives came to a clearing, in the center of which were several great bowlders.
"Helgvor, Hiolg, Glava and Amhao shall stop here."
The Son of Shtra chose a space surrounded with stones, in which one found shelter from projectiles. He then spoke to the wolf and the dogs. They knew the words that ordered silence, watchfulness or fight: on this occasion he told them to remain quiet and alert. Their admirable senses caught all variations in the atmosphere; the scent of the dogs surpassed that of the wolf, but the wolf heard better.
Helgvor stationed them in the three inlets into the circle of stones, then examined his weapons. He had his club, the hatchet, a bow, two spears and five arrows. The weapons of the women consisted of a club, four spears, two hatchets and a sharpened stake. Hiolg had a child's bow and one spear. The wolf was to be counted upon; and the dogs, although small, might be of help in a hand to hand combat.
The fugitives ate dried meat hastily, then Helgvor and Hiolg sought to make their inclosure more secure. They barred the outlets with spiny branches, leaving only narrow lanes for the animals; if any Tzoh sought to crawl in, he could be stunned with ease. Meanwhile, the women watched between the bowlders.
Several times Helgvor felt a desire to increase the distance between them and the pursuers, but Amhao was too tired to carry on. Even Glava was struggling against utter fatigue. If the Tzohs found their tracks, they would soon make up for lost time, and the fight would be forced upon the ill-assorted group in the open. Here, the rocks afforded protection, and the women were recuperating enough to be of use.
In the depth of the forest the branches cast thicker shadow, and the sun appeared to swell as it neared the tree-tops. Because their souls and their races were young, the thought of perils dwindled in Helgvor, Glava and Amhao: they grew certain that the Tzohs had lost the tracks.
Before a man could walk ten thousand paces, twilight kneaded the clouds into obscurity. Their shelter seemed sure. They would pass the night there. At times, Helgvor and Glava exchanged gestures or words. Already repetition had started a common speech. Glava grasped language quicker than the Ougmar, for the memory of her grandmother's muttered words, in the tongue of the Green Lakes, was growing clearer and she was thus better able to comprehend Helgvor's articulations.
Amhao took small part in those efforts at conversation. Passive, nonchalant in spirit, tired, occupied by her child, she yielded to the energy of her companions. The little one fascinated Hiolg, who brought laughter upon the flabby, round face of the baby. Habit was being formed among those people, and the sensation of strangeness and contrast was dwindling, even for Anhao, who, more than Glava, was aware that she was an alien to the tall nomad.
SHORTLY before nightfall the dogs stirred uneasily, and the wolf prowled outside the inclosure. Although Helgvor and his people listened tensely, they heard nothing save the murmur of the wind through the branches and the sounds of insects. But the dogs and the wolf could be depended upon; they scented a foe, man or beast, within the atmosphere. The eyes of the wolf glowered, and the dogs turned often to look at their master inquiringly.
Helgvor whistled gently. It was an order for silence. In any case, unless the man permitted, the dogs and the wolf never barked or howled before a prey or before danger. However, their agitation increased; the wolf slunk about softly, the dogs slid in and out of the openings left for them, returned with their teeth showing in a mute snarl.
"It is a tiger, a lion, a gray bear or the Tzohs!" Helgvor stated, adjusting his bow. Glava clutched her club, preferring to leave her spear to the warrior.
Then Helgvor and Hiolg, with their ears pressed against the soil, heard distinct soft steps which were unmistakable to them.
"The Tzohs are coming!"
Even Amhao understood the gesture, and Hiolg started to laugh at her fears, for he believed Helgvor invincible. Although less confident than the boy, Glava was elated at the thought of fighting at the warrior's side. The steps halted, and the nomad guessed that the enemy had paused on the fringe of the clearing and that the inclosure was being examined with great care. On both sides was the same silence, the same prudence, as of felines in ambush.
The nearest tree was within arrow-shot, and all about the inclosure there was nothing but grass and a few bushes too thin and scattered to protect a man. For a while, the stillness was so complete that Helgvor might have believed he had been mistaken, had the attitude of his beasts allowed uncertainty. Identical rage stiffened their muscles and dilated their pupils.
Since he had identified human steps, the Ougmar did not permit them to roam outside, and, accustomed to ambush, they waited, at once patient and eager. The four fugitives were watching, each one at a loophole, and Amhao showed herself as alert as the others. At length Hiolg, who faced west, came to touch Helgvor's shoulder.
"A Tzoh in trees!"
Helgvor turned gently, reaching out for his bow. A Tzoh was climbing an ash tree, screened by the branches of a large sycamore. The fellow, having risen half-way up the trunk, could see into the inclosure. At that distance, no Tzoh bow could have reached him with an arrow, but the tall Ougmars had weapons that carried very far, and Helgvor had the mightiest one in the clan.
His eyes fastened on the climber, the nomad waited until the left shoulder and part of the torso showed; he tightened the string, released a missile. He meant to hit the chest, but the distance was too great; despite his calculations, the arrow only pierced the hand of the climbing man.
With a cry of rage, the Tzoh slid down along the bole, struck the ground heavily, while his comrades, knowing they had been discovered, roared frantically. The resounding voice of the Ougmar launched the war cry, and because silence had become useless, Hiolg and Glava also shouted, while the dogs barked furiously and the wolf howled as on hunger nights.
"The Tzohs are vultures lacking courage! They shall perish under the hatchet, the spear and the arrow!"
"The Tzohs took the women from the Men of the Blue River," the chief of the enemy jeered. "The Men of the Blue River are stupid as sheep and slugs."
THE clamors died out after leaving the mouths of the criers, and silence settled down again, weighted with anxiety. Helgvor was wondering if the warriors of the second canoe had joined those of the first. The voices he had heard revealed five or six men, but that might have been prearranged, some of the new arrivals might have purposely remained quiet.
The red furnace of the sun seemed to devour the western forest, then the clouds, the hue of flowers and fire, created a universe wider than that of the forests, the lakes, the plains and the rivers. That limitless life was dying out with every quiver of the leaves; the strange ashes of darkness were spreading the murderous night.
It was the hour when weak animals know that meat-eaters are leaving their dens.
Formidable voices exchanged menaces. The lion roared, wolves howled, and the jackals added their sharp yelps to the sinister laughter of the hyena. When there remained no light save the weak glow of the stars, the aspect of the clearing became awe-inspiring.
In the granite inclosure, human beings and animals found their night senses growing keener, while the Tzohs discerned the shelter of the Ougmars and the women only as a shadowy mass. All was still, the quiet of ambush.
The wild beasts were prowling. The Tzohs wished to surprise the tall nomad. They had scouted the obstacle, and knew where the spears and stones would come from, but an attack might be made in vain against those sheltered behind the protecting bowlders.
Kamr with the bull's chest said: "If the Tzohs are to attack, why wait? Will not the man of the Blue River and his animals be ready for combat all night long? And Kzahm, our chief, is waiting for us on the island."
"How attack?" a warrior, whose face was seamed with deep scars, asked.
"Night is dark. The Tzohs shall crawl through the grass, and when Kamr titters the war yell, we shall leap in all together."
"That's well." the other admitted. "But the bow of the River Man must be dreaded."
"The River Man cannot aim on a moonless night! Are five Tzohs afraid of a lone Ougmar?"
"Woum is not scared," proudly replied the one with the scars.
And the five men started the crawl. Half of the space which they must cross was thick with high grass and ferns, which concealed them from human eyes. But the nostrils of the wolf and dogs did not fail. From them, Helgvor knew that the Tzohs were approaching. But when he pressed his ear against the sod, the sounds made by roaming animals outside prevented discerning the progress of the enemy.
With a flint stone he lit an armful of dried grass in a hollow of the soil, made torches from two branches. A strong glow lighted the inclosure, and cast some light into the clearing.
"When the Tzohs rise in the short grass," he addressed the boy, "Hiolg shall raise the torches so that Helgvor can see the enemy."
IN their intense excitement, the dogs were pushing their pointed muzzles through the gaps; the wolf growled deeply. Almost simultaneously, Hiolg, Helgvor and Glava perceived movements in the shorter grass. The boy picked up the torches and, standing on a bowlder, illuminated the clearing. The quivering rays revealed the presence of the Tzohs. Helgvor bent his bow, discharged two arrows swiftly. One scratched a foe's shoulder, the second sank beneath the collar-bone. The man dropped the club grasped in his right fist, uttered a great cry. Helgvor now had but two arrows left.
Startled by the torchlight and the skill of the tall nomad, the Tzohs hugged the ground, became invisible. The torches cast an oscillating radiance which made surprise out of the question. The inclosure must be besieged or stormed. Having engaged himself in the venture, already responsible for the wounding of two men, in the grip of mad fury and intense hatred against Kzahm, whose scorn he feared, Kamr resolved to risk everything.
"The Tzohs will leap ahead," he ordered, "and kill the River Man."
"Two Tzohs have been wounded here, two were wounded in Houa's canoe," retorted the scarred man.
"Have the Tzohs forgotten vengeance?" Kamr snarled. "Do Tzohs tremble like storks before an eagle? If the River Man does not perish with the two women who have betrayed the clans, the Tzohs must go home trembling, and the Ougmars' women will laugh in their faces! The River Man is alone. I shall slay him with blows of my club!"
This was not too boastful. All knew that Kamr had attacked leopards with his hatchet, and on a day of great hunting he had slain a lion.
"While Kamr attacks the River Man, the warriors shall beat down the women and the beasts."
Kamr uttered the war cry, and the four men bounded forward through the grass. An arrow hummed, struck the ground, then a second scratched the arm of a warrior without weakening him. Tzohs reached the enclosure and scaled it rapidly, with the vigor of strong young men.
Helgvor held his spears, and Glava made ready to help him. Almost at the same moment, the warriors appeared on the crest of the rocks. Hiolg had quickly put out the fire, extinguished the torches. There remained only the light of the stars, and in the violet night silhouettes were indistinct as vapors.
Plans were forgotten. Helgvor swung a club, Glava used a spear, and Hiolg threw stones. An assailant collapsed under the rain of blows, another was pierced through the shoulder by Glava's weapon, but despite his injury, he leaped down into the inclosure followed by Kamr and the remaining warrior. The dogs leaped; Glava fought desperately.
Hiolg was helping the wolf, which had caught a warrior at the neck, from behind. Frightened at first, Amhao darted forward to take her share of the struggle.
Kamr and Helgvor were face to face.
THEY were powerful fighting machines, equal in bulk, energy and courage, unlike in build. With his cubical head, his chest rounded as the chests of animals, Kamr represented the race of the Tzohs, sprung from volcanic soil, while Helgvor, with his long skull, his broad, flat chest, his long limbs, was the perfect descendant of the people who lived by the Green Lakes and the Blue River. The hatred of their ancestors flamed in them, they were animated by obscure legends, ancestral memories and incompatible instincts.
The clubs whirled. In that corner of the enclosure, where they had much space to move in, Kamr insulted Helgvor and his ancestors, while the Ougmar predicted the vengeance of his tribe. Each held a spear in the left hand. In the semi-darkness, Helgvor was lighter than Kamr, whose head melted into the night.
Kamr thrust with his spear, but Helgvor broke the weapon with a swing of his club. But the club of Kamr fell like a stone. The heavy weapons clashed together, and Helgvor staggered. With a long howl, the Tzoh tried to complete his victory, but the tip of Helgvor's spear menaced his breast, and Kamr prudently leaped to safety.
The spear, barely visible in the darkness, struck his shoulder, but did not sink beneath the skin. For a very brief moment they took breath, face to face, waited for an opportunity. Near them, in the obscurity, wolf, dogs, the women and the boy were fighting the other Tzohs.
Then Kamr resumed the attack, and again the clubs clashed with such mighty impact that they whirled from the men's fists.
"The River Man shall die!" Kamr growled.
He leaped forward, clasped Helgvor in his arms. Among the Tzohs, Kamr was admitted to be the strongest in a fight without weapons, where body and limbs clash. Even Kzahm, the Black Boar, so formidable with hatchet and club, would have been beaten. So Kamr was confident, and when he had grasped the Ougmar around the body, he panted with joy and lifted his foe off the ground.
Helgvor gripped Kamr by the throat. As they fell, then rolled over and over on the ground, Kamr had the advantage at first, having secured the better hold. But his breath grew short, his mouth gaped to inhale. His nerves weakened so that the Ougmar was able to throw aside the heavy body, and Kamr gurgled, flat on his back, the cartilage of his neck broken, smashed by the nomad's powerful fingers.
After a few quivers, the enormous body became motionless in a last spasm.
"Thus shall die the Tzohs, ravishers of women!" Helgvor cried.
Picking up the club, he ran to assist the women.
Amhao was down, struck by a bronze hatchet and a spear. Glava and the wolf had slain a man, but the girl, bloody and battered, was about to give way before the onslaught of the remaining Tzoh, who had just stunned Hiolg.
The Ougmar leaped like a leopard.
It was not a fight. Twice the heavy weapon fell, and the last Tzoh dropped. The tall nomad shouted his victory to the gleaming stars.
PAIN AND DEATH.
HELGVOR relit the fire.
In the glare of the purple flames, he saw the blood flow on the face, the arms and the chest of Glava. Amhao seemed dead, pierced by deep wounds. Hiolg, stunned with a club, was beginning to regain consciousness. One of the dogs was dying. The other licked his wounds, while the wolf shook himself in an attempt to rid his flank of a protruding spear.
A grim sadness overcame Helgvor. He alone was strong, for without him, women, children and animals would have died. Yet he himself had been saved by their courage. The nomad left the inclosure to pluck the leaves and the bitter-tasting plants which Ougmars crushed to cover wounds. When he returned, he noticed that Hiolg's head, although swollen near the temple, was not bleeding. Life was coming back into the boy's eyes.
Having crushed the leaves and grasses, Helgvor applied them as he had seen done by those who knew ancestral secrets. Then he carried the bodies of the Tzohs and the carcass of the dog outside the inclosure, to avoid the annoyance of wild beasts attracted by freshly spilled blood. He saw the dead man left in the clearing, but he saw no trace of the man whose hand he had pierced with an arrow.
His fatigue was extreme. He looked at Amhao, who was motionless, at Glava, not much better off, at Hiolg, who stirred. Only the wolf and the dog could have resumed the fight.
"Helgvor shall watch until midnight," he murmured. "Then it will be Hiolg's turn."
Squatted near the fire, he listened to the sounds of the forest, haunted by furtive lives. At intervals could be heard call and menace, cries of alliance, cries of murder, the voices of victory and despair, agonized plaints. Already the prowlers were crawling toward the fresh prey, still bleeding, which even the large beasts would not scorn.
The rising moon, half-disk of burnished copper, which paled as it rose, covered the clearing with uncertain light. The peaceful smells of vegetables passed in the light night wind. A bat hovered on its membraned wings, fell to the ferns, then two hyenas appeared, their dirty gray pelts streaked with brown. Odd beasts, with blazing eyes, with backs sloping sharply from head to tail, luck had served them well, for their sense of smell was poor.
With sinister chuckles, they smelled the too fresh corpses, and their formidable jaws, powerful as those of lions or tigers, ripped bellies open. Rovers with subtle scent, eyes aglow, slinking forth lightly, the jackals came, light as cats, ears pointed. Here was prey in abundance, eternal hunger increased their avidity, but already five wolves emerged from the night, rough guests which growled threateningly. Then came a wildcat, sliding through the grass, and a screech-owl swooped silently.
When the wolves growled, the hyenas started. Bitter and mournful, the jackals yelped. Hatred and hunger stiffened their spines. Eyes gleamed, teeth glittered in the red maws, an identical instinct for life and death stirred in the timid jackals, in the cowardly hyenas, in the wise wolves.
The jackals were aware of their weakness, and even in numbers did not dare fight. The hyenas knew their jaws could crunch the wolves' bones. The wolves, alert and angry, estimated the prey; when they saw that there was a share for them, they howled louder to indicate their determination, and took two of the corpses. The jackals surrounded the body farthest from the rest. The hyenas, possessing Kamr, another warrior and the dead dog, understood that a truce had come about, and resumed eating.
SUDDENLY twigs crackled, and a rough, thick body crushed small trees. The animal coming forward, supple and heavy at the same time in his gray fur, with his flat skull and enormous claws, disturbed the meal. All knew his might and his brutal temper.
At the sight of the gathering he halted, swayed on his massive paws, his tiny eyes gleaming through coarse hair. Then he stated his will with an imperious grunt. All stopped eating and stared at the intruder. Even those who had never encountered him before understood the menace. He was larger than a tiger, and yielded to none save the mammoth and the rhinoceros.
The wolves being nearer than the hyenas, he drove them away. With long howls, quivering with rage, indignation and hatred, they left. The bear laid one paw on a corpse. The wolves, slinking back, dragged the other away. Bending over his prey, the huge beast paid no attention to them; a cheek and a shoulder had been devoured, but the meat was fresh, oozing blood, and it would not have been otherwise had the bear made the kill himself. Satisfied, he set to work. His fangs sank into a thigh. He felt a sweet pleasure in sating a violent hunger.
While he was tearing strips of flesh, the forest sent forth a new prowler, the formidable odor of which had been scented by wolves and jackals for some time.
The head appeared first, compact, with two streaks of orange hair and great yellowish eyes which palpitated like enormous stars. The feline yawned, and revealed a crimson cavern in which the fangs stood out like long, white daggers. He roared and swelled his broad chest, his flanks streaked with somber marking, worked his sharp claws on the grounds. All knew him at once, save the gray bear, who came from the mountain, and all were in the grip of terror.
If the gray bear did not know him, he did not know the gray bear. He knew only a brown bear which never dared face him. He was startled to see this one, with the ease of a victor, continue to eat his prey. It happened that if beasts, with the exception of mammoth and rhinoceros, avoided the tiger, in his home mountain, the gray bear acknowledged no rival.
The tiger roared a second time. As the bear was nearest to him, the bear must give up his place. Fury had come, the insane rage that distends the breast.
The bear understood that he was being threatened. He stopped feeding, turned his snout slowly toward the tiger. Before the immense, fiery eyes, his little bloodshot pupils seemed weak, lost in thick hair, pale as glow-worms. But the size of the bear was greater than that of the tiger.
Gathered on his broad paws, swinging his colossal body, the great bear answered the roar with a lordly grunt. He was the descendant of hot-tempered ancestors, and his rage was so swift, so intense, that his breath rustled the grass. Yet the effluvia met before the bodies came into contact, and each one knew dimly that the other was a worthy foe.
BECAUSE his breed is prudent, the tiger stalked aside to launch a flank attack. The bear waited no longer, and as the tiger came on he clawed out, yet he did not stop that hairy mass hurtling like a bolt. Then teeth, claws, muscles met, blood dripped through the fur, over the short hair. The bear had downed the tiger, but the feline rolled aside, put the larger beast off balance, and they formed a confused whirl of bodies from which rose raucous clamors.
The tiger leaped aside, and the bear sought to clutch him again. They were face to face, red with the blood of ten wounds, each now fully aware of the power of his opponent. Perhaps there was some hesitation. But pain, hatred, the lust for revenge, shot their quivering bulks to the fight.
The tiger fell, the bear sank his fangs in the depth of the flesh, but one of his paws became useless, crushed. The huge chests creaked with the efforts. The tiger groped for another paw. But the jaws of the bear slashed into his enemy's throat, wrenched at it, pierced it, dug into it.
The bear rose, staggering, then dropped back upon the saber-toothed tiger.
When the feline succumbed, the bear rose, staggering, uttered a grunt of pain, then, weakened by loss of blood, dropped back to the ground. Then a dim joy stirred the jackals, the wolves and the hyenas, and from everywhere frailer beasts who had witnessed the combat emerged from the grasses, the bushes, the forest.
It was a subtle swarming of pupils, of paws, of muzzles, the secret life, the unquenchable life, and already the devouring tiger, whose scent alone caused the multitude to flee, was sniffed by voracious nostrils, felt by small teeth.
Helgvor had indistinctly seen, through the brush and the tall ferns, the coming of hyenas, wolves and jackals, then the fierce battle. The wind brought together the sweet odors of the vegetation and the stench of the animals. He heard the gray bear growling, the tiger roar. Then had come a prolonged silence, broken by pants, weak cries and muffled moans.
Which had won? Or had they both been wounded, and given up the struggle? He thought that one or the other might remain near the inclosure, and then danger would be feared, night or day. His tribe at times hunted the huge cats. Helgvor, with arrows, hatchet and club, had killed a lion. But he had been badly wounded himself, had remained unconscious for hours. Had he been alone, the prowling beasts would have devoured him.
He remembered that, knew he was tired. He feared that he would not fight well, due to fatigue. For a space the wolf growled, the dog smelled the air. Then they sank to the ground, and slept.
TO THE VICTOR
HELGVOR was still asleep when day came. Squatted near the ashes of the fire, Hiolg was dozing. There was joy in the trees and upon the earth. The night seemed eternal each time, because death roamed and all the weak feared they might fill the bellies of the strong. But when darkness was vanquished, hope was boundless; the birds sang, facing the rising sun. Hiolg touched Helgvor gently, and the warrior rose instantly. Like a wild animal, he was always on the alert, and rose club in hand.
"The eyes of Hiolg no longer see, his ears no longer hear!" the child said. "Hiolg can sleep," the man said.
The sun shed an amber light through the branches of the trees, dispelling the mists of the morning. Only the bones of the Tzohs were left, and the tiger was a skeleton also. The bear, still alive, kept the greedy jaws at bay.
Helgvor inhaled the fresh air, the creating air, and his youth swelled in a flooding of happiness, his victory filled him with limitless strength. Turning his eyes toward the two women and the child, he believed Amhao dead until he saw her chest rise and fall perceptibly. Glava, weak from bleeding, slumbered.
The wolf and the dog, awakened by hunger, turned trusting eyes toward their master. They were granted their share of the dry meat. Then, stirring up the fire, the Ougmar cooked his meal. The mysterious force of the food increased his joy of living, his tenderness; these women, these children, even the wolf and the dog, saved by his courage and his muscles, seemed part of his own being.
When the sun had dissipated the fog, Helgvor left the inclosure and found the skeletons of the Tzohs, near the fleshless bones of the tiger. As the warrior drew near, the gray bear lifted his head, which was swarming with insects, and a veil appeared to screen his pupils. His gaping wounds festered, his death was certain. As Helgvor halted to stare at him, a painful snarl of menace lifted the hairy lips.
"The great bear shall not hunt any more!" the nomad said. "Long he has caused the horse, the stag, even the aurochs, to tremble. He has killed the tiger. The great bear is almost as mighty as the mammoth and the great bear is about to die!"
The erect beasts loved to utter words to fit circumstances, and the Ougmar loved speech.
"The great bear is about to die," the hunter repeated. "He will be torn to pieces by the jackal, the wolf and the hyena. But his flesh is good for man also, and the Ougmar has not enough to feed his women and children. The great bear must give of his flesh."
A doe raced by, within arrow range. Helgvor felt that it was better to allow her to pass, for she was fitted to reproduce life. The doomed beast would supply meat without waste of life. He picked up his spear, selected a spot through which to reach the heart. The blade sank in, moved about. The bear uttered a groan of agony, but his weakness was so great, so like death, that he scarcely quivered.
"The great bear would have suffered until night," resumed the Son of Shtra, "and perhaps the wolf and the hyena would have devoured him alive."
He picked up the scattered arrows, a few tools left by the Tzohs, spears, three bronze hatchets, then went back to the bear; he cut off both hams and some slices of tender meat. The pelt was very handsome. He would skin the animal later, if he had time. Thirst was searing his mouth, and he sought for water, found a source where he drank deeply.
GOING back to the inclosure, he found all quiet. The dog and the wolf were again asleep, but Glava was awakening. The flow of blood had stopped, her wounds were not deep, and she was moaning, bending over Amhao.
"Amhao shall not die!" the nomad assured her.
Glava understood his gestures, and a smile spread on her blood-stained face. Then, seeing her arms blackened and reddened, she desired to wash them. He guessed that she must be thirsty as well, and pointed to the forest.
"Helgvor found a spring."
There were three water-skins, roughly made. One belonged to Helgvor, the others he had found on the Tzohs. The warrior indicated that he was going to fill them, and Glava wished to go with him. But her legs still quivered under her weight.
"Helgvor shall go with Hiolg."
He also took the animals along.
When Glava had drunk, she hid behind a bowlder to wash her body. Meanwhile, Helgvor cooked some meat for her, and as she ate, he found pleasure in watching that light-colored face in which gleamed eyes the hue of the river.
"Why doesn't she resemble the Tzohs?" he wondered.
Glancing at Amhao, he compared the cubical head, the wide face, the heavy jaws of the elder with the delicate features of the girl. Their complexions differed oddly, too. That of Amhao was the color of oak bark, with coppery glints; that of Glava almost white, like the petals of a flower. Amhao's torso was bulky as that of a sow, Glava's flexible like that of a doe. Glava was tall and lithe.
"Amhao is a daughter of the rocks. But Glava is like the daughters of the Green Lakes and the Blue River."
Proud to have saved her, he admired her because she had fought with the courage and skill of a warrior. Amhao awoke when her child cried. Although dazed and dull, she recognized her sister.
"Amhao is saved," Glava informed her. "The tall warrior of the River has killed off those who attacked us!"
The young woman listened vaguely. She could neither see nor hear clearly. She repeated: "Amhao is saved."
She drank water greedily, but could eat nothing. She fell asleep as Glava washed her face.
Helgvor thought as a warrior thinks. Of the danger, of the human foes, of animals. He did not plan to pick up the trail of the Tzohs, for he counted upon Glava to guide the Ougmars to their homes. But what had become of the sixth enemy, of which the wolf and the dog found no trace?
He could not go away by canoe. Often the river was too rapid for the strength of several men; in a large craft, a single paddler would be helpless. Would the man join his clan on foot? The road was long, particularly for a wounded man. The Ougmar called the child.
"Hear me, Hiolg: Helgvor and the dog, Hiolg and the wolf, will seek the tracks of the wounded Man of the Rocks. Helgvor will not go far, for he must watch the inclosure. Hiolg must not fight. When he has seen the Tzoh, he comes back."
"The Man of the Rocks is wounded," the boy replied. "Perhaps the wolf can finish him."
"Hiolg shall not fight!" Helgvor ordered. "Hiolg shall remain unseen. And he shall return here when the sun starts to set."
No warrior could conceal himself better than the boy in ferns and grass, in rocks or bushes.
"Hiolg will hide like a fox!" he stated.
THEY sought for tracks. Helgvor returned to the inclosure often, while Hiolg carried on into the forest. His memory for sites and trails was extraordinary, his mind retained the image of every step taken. Many heavy beasts had walked about, the tracks of the Tzoh could not be picked up. Hiolg walked toward the marsh and the river, but scouted to one side or the other often. The wolf helped him, but, being less docile when with the child than with the man, he roamed more or less as he liked.
The child and the animal found the tracks almost at the same time. It was on moist soil in which the man's feet had left deep imprints. Because there were many, perhaps also because he deemed his lead too great for pursuit, the Tzoh had made no effort to conceal them.
Hiolg allowed the wolf to scent them a long while, then resumed the hunt, increasing his wariness, dilating his sharp pupils. A great pride distended his puny chest, the soul of a warrior welled within him.
At length he espied the man. Stretched on the ground, weakened, tired and fierce, feverish from his wound, the warrior thought gloomily of the defeat inflicted on Kamr and his companions. Lurking in the darkness, he had witnessed the struggle, and when all the Tzohs had fallen, he had gone into the forest. He had not slept much, constantly awakened by inner tremors of fear, gripped by panic, his right hand useless. Despite his bronze hatchet, he had become a weak animal.
This morning his head was not clear and he heard humming in his ears the threat of secret dangers; it was a bad omen, which often announced the death of wounded warriors. The hum increased as the sun rose higher. Tzoum, son of the Stag, had applied grass to the wound, but the compress did not ease his pain: the hole was black and burning; he felt the pulse beat in the raw flesh.
Prone at the foot of a sycamore tree, he felt the terror of being alone, far from friends, far from home caves. The defeat of Kamr depressed him as much as the wound; his race had proved the weaker, and that weakness he felt in his bowels.
"The Tzohs are mightiest," he muttered, to give himself cheer, and because he had a strong love for his breed.
HIDDEN in the bushes, Hiolg trembled as he identified him.
The wounded warrior was the very man who had captured the boy's mother and slain his grandfather. Because he was young, Hiolg was forgetting, had consoled himself already, but the sight of the Tzoh made his memory flare up blindingly, and aroused the child to fury.
"The Tzoh has no spear," he mused. "His hand is sick. Hiolg and the wolf are stronger."
The warrior, a man of thick torso, short of legs, long of arms, had an enormous face and thick hair which fell down over his sloping forehead almost to the eyes, which, like those of the bison, were set high up toward the temples. His strength must be that of the great boar. And the child held the wolf and said ardently:
"Hiolg must not fight. But the Tzoh took away Hiolg's mother."
The wolf sniffed the warrior's scent, stronger because of the man's illness. He recalled the Tzoh he had strangled on the preceding evening. Suddenly he broke free, and slid to the tree under which the warrior lay. His walk was as silent as the flight of a night bird, but he frightened a rabbit, which fled madly.
The Tzoh turned, saw the wolf, and rose proudly, hatchet in his left hand. "Tzoum has slain ten wolves. A wolf is no stronger than a deer before a Tzoh's hatchet. Tzoum laughs at the wolf!"
The eyes of the wolf glowered; those of Tzoum glittered with fever, and the man lied: he was afraid. He was afraid because he was on alien soil, because the unknown voices whistled shrilly in his ears, because Kamr had died despite his strength, and because the wolf's ways were not those of wild wolves.
"Tzoum shall offer a sacrifice to the Hidden Lives!" Tzoum promised.
The wolf circled the man. His neck was powerful, his teeth fine and pointed: he showed them, parting his jaws in a snarl of threat and defiance. Tzoum whirled the hatchet about his head. It was of the finest bronze, very sharp.
"Tzoum has slain larger wolves than the black wolf."
Backed against the tree, he did not see Hiolg, creeping near like a snake. The wolf scented the man's weakness, and seeing Hiolg coming, he did not move, held his ground, eying the warrior sideways. The Son of the Stag, sure that he had frightened the beast, cried out louder:
"With a single stroke, Tzoum can cleave the skull of the wolf."
A sharp sting in his thigh made him quiver, his knee gave beneath his weight. Hiolg's spear had struck him. Startled, the warrior turned, and while he turned, with a single leap, the wolf was at his throat. Then the child drew out the spear, struck again. The big man crumpled like an uprooted tree, while the beast clung, strangling him. In a flash, Tzoum saw the caves, the warriors, the women, then he slipped into the shadows. The wolf lapped his hot blood.
Hiolg, recalling the words and gestures of warriors, clamored stridently: "Hiolg and the black wolf have slain the big warrior. Hiolg and the wolf are the stronger!"
When he reached the inclosure, with the bronze hatchet and the fur garment of the Tzoh, the child said: "Hiolg did not wish to fight. But he could not hold back the wolf. And the Tzoh had taken the mother of Hiolg. Hiolg stabbed his thigh twice, and the wolf strangled the warrior."
"That is well," Helgvor said, his hand on the little fellow's head.
"Hiolg shall be a warrior, and even a chief, when the time comes."
Boundless happiness flooded Hiolg.
AT the end of two days, Glava's wounds were healing. The blood had ceased flowing, the flesh was dry, and the ache was scarcely noticeable, save during the night, and the girl could walk easily. Amhao healed more slowly. Nevertheless, rich in youth, her life was resuming. Already, habit united the man and the two women. They admired his strength, his size and his courage.
According to ancestral instinct, Amhao was willing to obey the orders of Helgvor, who now seemed her master. Glava differed from her as a she wolf differs from a doe: A will for freedom flamed in her, the same urge that had taken her away from the caves, the same which had brought her into the solitude of the forest and caused her to fight like a male warrior.
Unimpressed, she was near Helgvor as an equal. He, by instinct and in gratitude for her courage, understood and accepted her pride. In any case, she intimidated him somewhat, and this unusual timidity thrilled him so that he did not wish to react against it,
They combined their skill and knowledge. Glava knew how to handle a needle and could weave cloth. Helgvor made stout weapons and delicate tools with stone, with horn, with bones. But they had weapons aplenty: the spears, hatchets, bows and arrows of the Tzohs had been collected. Helgvor honed the edges and the points.
The words and gestures they exchanged so often became less obscure. Glava was learning Ougmar. Her memories, formerly forgotten, welled to the surface of her mind The words spoken by her grandmother made other words easy to understand. Helgvor made little effort to speak Tzoh, for he hated the language of his foes.
He learned that Amhao had been fated for sacrifice when Glava had forced her to flee. He knew also, now, that the Tzohs lived upstream, more than two moons' march from the Ougmar camp. Since her mother's death, Glava had only bad memories, save those of Amhao; she hated the Tzohs more than before the fight, aware that if the fugitives were recaptured, they would be put to death. Thus her fate was linked to that of the Son of Shtra.
IN the presence of Glava, the nomad experienced unknown sensations. Growing more slowly than the Tzohs, the young Ougmars, until at an age decided by the old men, had no right to take a woman.
Glava knew more, for the Tzohs obeyed brutal and sensual instinct. But what she had seen filled her with horrified disgust. The chief, Urm, or another old man broke with a stone the canine teeth of the girl, indicating that the woman was thereby submitted without defense to the will of her mate. Then the warrior came forward and smote the woman over the head, and when their union had thus been announced, she became his slave.
She worked for her man and her children. He could beat her and even kill her without punishment. For the one who could have avenged her, usually the brother of the mother, had to accept blood-price if offered.
These traditions horrified Glava. She feared as a day of torture the time when she would be given to Kzahm, the Black Boar, whose odor was fetid. She knew also how harshly Amhao had been treated. She feared that the usages of the Ougmars were similar.
In reality, they were not as rough. Canine teeth were not broken off. Those who wished to be engaged to a maid or a widow had to obtain the mother's consent, or the permission of the mother's brother or his successor.
Glava did not know these things. She liked to be with Helgvor, she admired his stature and even his face, but she could not imagine that this man of an alien breed could be her companion for life. And she wished for no closer tie than that which, vague yet tender, now linked them.
He did not think clearly. He trembled when her eyes, the mingling hues of the river and of dead leaves, rested on him. He quivered when the long hair, which she washed in the stream so often, touched his arm or his shoulder. He appreciated the teeth, as white and strong as those of a wolf-cub, the supple stride, the round neck, but he did not think of the future. Perhaps he was thus calm because there was no other man about, and the madness which blinds stags, felines and birds could not be aroused.
There were hours so sweet that the nomad forgot the menace of the outside world. In the morning, when the waves of light had driven away the fog, an immense dream, formless, grew with the patience of ferns, trees, flowing steadily as the stream. Then Glava became the life of life, a fearsome mystery which astonished and worried the young man. At times, when he thought that she was of an alien race, he would think that she might be his slave, but when he saw the tawny glow of her eyes, there remained in his flesh but a dazzled humility.
The canoe of the women, that of the Tzohs, larger and faster, had been found. On the sixth day, when Amhao was strong enough, they left the granite inclosure.
THE VENGEANCE TRAIL.
HELGVOR found on the Peninsula a few old men, old women, children, who had escaped the massacre, and also a number of adult women who had fled in time to avoid capture. He waited two days. He had given his hut to the fugitives while a new one was being constructed for him.
Then the warriors returned. They were bringing back many horses for the winter, the hunt had been successful, but their grief was deep and touching.
Akroun, chief of chiefs, still was as strong as a leopard, but years weighed heavily on his shoulders, sprinkled salt in his hair. Craft showed on his rough face, shone in his yellow eyes. Not as tall as Heigoun, the giant of the clan, or even as Helgvor, his shoulders spread like rocks and his torso was hooped with solid ribs.
He called for Helgvor, and spoke in a gruff voice.
"Akroun had left the huts filled with women and children. Five warriors watched over the Red Peninsula. What became of the women; where did the warriors go?"
He knew, for he had met Old Man Hagm far from the camp.
Helgvor replied without visible agitation: "The women were kidnapped, the warriors have died!"
"They fought?" the chief of chiefs swept the young man with a ferocious glance.
"What did Helgvor do? Did he not dare look the foes in the face?"
"It was on the day that Helgvor went scouting, with his dog, his wolf and Hiolg. Helgvor saw the Men of the Rocks and came back. The Tzohs were on the Peninsula: Helgvor was alone."
"Helgvor alone did not fight."
"Helgvor fought. He killed two Tzohs. Later, he killed four others. He wounded two."
The warriors surrounded the young man. Heigoun laughed in derision. The chief's face darkened.
"No warrior witnessed Helgvor's deeds!"
"Hiolg saw all."
"Helgvor killed six Men of the Rocks," a shrill voice piped up," and Hiolg, with the wolf, killed one." Boldly, the boy came to stand beside the tall warrior.
Then Iouk, brother of Helgvor, and Shtra his father, shouted:
"Helgvor is a warrior!"
"The word of a child weighs no more than a leaf," grumbled Heigoun.
The Ougmars believed Heigoun to be the strongest of men, and when Akroun was not present, he was chief.
"Here are my witnesses," Helgvor said.
From an otter skin he drew seven mummified hands, and Hiolg produced an eighth.
Then Akroun declared: "Helgvor fought."
"Where did that seventh hand come from?" Heigoun asked.
"It is the hand of a Tzoh slain by a fugitive woman from the Rocks, and by the wolf," Helgvor said reluctantly.
Heigoun shouted, shaking a spear aloft: "Helgvor thus has made alliance with a stranger?"
There was hatred between the two men. Heigoun detested the strength of Helgvor, which increased moon by moon. Learning that the younger man had killed six foes, murderous fury whirled in his skull. All stepped aside as the heavy weapon swung high; the red hair of the warrior blazed like a torch; his chest was large as that of a lion, his arms were knotty with muscles, and his legs were stout as small trees.
"Helgvor allied himself with the fugitives," the young man answered, stepping back a pace, holding his club ready. "Thus Helgvor knows where the Men of the Rocks live, and the fugitives shall guide the Ougmars."
"Akroun wants to see those women!" the chief grunted.
"All the warriors want to see them!" Heigoun added.
"It is well."
WHEN the women appeared, an astonished murmur spread among the Ougmars. All eyes turned from the wide face, the slanting eyes and the stocky body of Amhao, to fasten upon Glava.
With her golden hair, her tawny eyes with jade-hued lights, her high, flexible stature, she was comparable with the most beautiful maiden of the Blue River. Because the women were gone, she appeared more desirable.
"That Tzoh is worthy of entering a warrior's hut," said Heigoun, staring at her avidly, speaking in a masterful voice. As she stood straight and proud, an expression of scorn on her face, the man added: "Heigoun is a chief! The Tzoh woman shall be a chief's woman."
"Is Heigoun the chief of the clan?" Helgvor asked, vehement fury flooding his chest. "And did he make alliance with this maid?"
Akroun listened in silence. The passion for leadership held him entirely, and this quarrel left him indifferent. And if he disliked Heigoun, he feared him because of his strength and his numerous adherents. When Akroun grew old, all expected command to come to Heigoun, the colossal warrior.
"Helgvor is not even a warrior!" rasped Heigoun.
"Helgvor looks Heigoun face to face and will fight with spear, bow or hatchet."
The spears lifted, and Akroun wished for the defeat and death of his rival. But he feared that Helgvor would be beaten, and he spoke imperiously: "No man of the Blue River shall have a new wife until the Tzohs have been chastised. Until the hour of revenge, the Ougmars will be like jackals or deer. After, the man who shall have fought best shall obtain the woman he desires."
A clamor of applause rose. Many of the warriors were lured by the captive woman, and jealousy already darkened their hearts. The majority, however, wanted to free their women and slay their ravishers. Thus, they all heard Akroun's words with satisfaction, and Shtra said: "The chief has spoken well. The Ougmars shall obey."
"Helgvor defied Heigoun!" the giant howled.
"The tribe needs all the warriors!" Akroun stated harshly. "If Heigoun, Helgvor, or the two of them, were wounded, the Tzohs would be the stronger!"
"Heigoun shall kill Helgvor after victory!"
"Helgvor shall beat down Heigoun!"
As he spoke, the young man stood straight, and his height was almost equal to that of his adversary; but the shoulders of the grown warrior were more massive, his limbs thicker. Startled by the daring of Shtra's son, many warriors admired his courage. Glava, aware that Heigoun was interested in her, was pale with anger and hatred.
THE warriors, who were to start the following day, spent the afternoon repairing or sharpening their weapons. Worry depressed Helgvor, and, dimly, he felt how gentle and easy life had been within the enclosure. If the instinct of race and hatred for the Tzohs had not been strong, he would have thought of escape. Glava was as sad, and when the first stars appeared, she felt the threatening weight of the darkness.
Heigoun was as evil as Kzahm, hostility was aroused in her against the alien breed, and she experienced a certain resentment toward Helgvor for bringing her among these men.
Akroun had called Helgvor to his shelter, to ask:
"The maid will lead us to the land of the Tzohs?"
"Yes," the warrior replied, "if no one menaces her. Glava does not fear death. She fought like a man. And she will bow to none. If the chief wants her for a guide, let Heigoun stay aside. The maid will talk only to Helgvor."
The chief listened, worried, and at heart he approved Helgvor, but he foresaw trouble. Shaken by circumstances, his authority was swaying; he guessed that many among his people blamed him for carelessness. A few had murmured audibly. Heigoun, daring and eager to dominate, would leave him no respite. Because their natures were antagonistic, and perhaps because Heigoun had shown his greed for power too soon, the chief of chiefs did not wish to have him take leadership.
"How came Helgvor to meet the women and fight the Tzohs?" he asked.
Helgvor related his adventures, the first meeting with the Men of the Rocks, the massacre on the Red Peninsula, the pursuit and the meeting with the fugitives, the fighting on the shore, the combat at the enclosure.
Those many exploits astonished Akroun, for Helgvor was younger than any warrior who hunted the aurochs and horses. Nevertheless, his skill with the bow was well known; since childhood, he had fired arrows and thrown spears with surprising accuracy. His strength increased quicker than his size.
Akroun saw in him a rival for the Giant; should Helgvor become the hero of the tribe, the chief of chiefs would have no rivals. A very young man would never aspire to command. Akroun no longer claimed physical supremacy. Age had drained his muscles of their suppleness and vigor.
At least seven men of the clan were better warriors than he; as he reigned through foresight and craftiness, he was the first to reproach himself for the catastrophe befallen the tribe during his absence. Doubtless it was true that the Men of the Rocks had not raided the Ougmars for two generations and had been thought to have migrated far to the East. But a chief should never have forgotten their existence!
"The daughter of the Rocks shall walk by day with Helgvor," he decided. "At night she shall be alone, watched by Akroun's dogs, which cannot be approached by any one save the chief."
Deep sorrow gnawed at Helgvor's heart. He did not trust even the chief.
IN the morning, Akroun counted the warriors. There were fifty-eight, all hardened to fatigue and skilled in the use of hatchet, stake, club and spear.
"The Men of the Rocks are much more numerous," Helgvor said. "There are three Tzohs for each Ougmar."
"Formerly, the warriors of the Green Lakes fought with us against them," Akroun said. "But their tribes are now more than a moon's march away."
"We must surprise the Tzohs," Heigoun grumbled.
"The Ougmars shall pass through the forests of the far bank," Akroun said with a somber laugh. "Ten days of marching, along the High River, will bring them to the Land of the Sun. There they shall try to make an alliance with the Gwahs, Men of the Night."
"They are jackals lacking in strength, they eat their dead!" Heigoun retorted harshly.
"The Gwahs are swift afoot and clever at preparing ambushes," Shtra stated. "For six generations they have been the friends of the Ougmars. Shtra has hunted with the Gwahs."
"Gaor also," put in another warrior. "It is a fact that they eat the dead men, but they are faithful to friends, trustworthy."
The Ougmars forded the river in well built canoes. Although the forest was thick, the ancestors of the clan had many years ago traced a trail through it, a path often taken by mammoths, bison and other animals. Each craft was carried by four men, who were relieved at intervals. This made the march slower, but once the western hills had been crossed, the river would be found, in the high valley, which led southward on a swift current.
The warriors traveled all day, stopping only to eat. The forest seemed endless and it grew on slopes ascending toward the sunset sky. At twilight, behind their fires, the Ougmars were stronger than all animals, even than the mammoths and bison which travel in herds. Only vertical beasts were to be feared, but only the Men of the Night were known to live in the forest, a strange people living in the trunks of old trees.
Glava had been isolated in the center of the camp. The warriors looked toward her often, with fierce yet tender glances. Heigoun roamed as near as he dared, but Akroun had stationed around her Shtra and some men who detested the gigantic warrior, and his alert dogs.
"Akroun didn't know enough to protect the women," Heigoun told his friends. "He's keeping this maid for his friends."
And he turned toward Glava his hairy face, the hue of dying ashes.
Crushed by fear and regret, she was bitterly resentful that she had followed Helgvor to the Red Peninsula. She had been separated from Amhao roughly, and her sister had been left behind with the old men and the survivors. She had resisted at first, then, understanding that this might prove dangerous for Amhao, she had yielded to superior force.
Now, she dreamed of circulating again, with her sister, on the solitary trails. As hateful as the Tzohs, and strangers moreover, the Ougmars, by their gestures, their habits, their weapons, their voices, inspired in the young girl an intense dislike. She would gladly have led Helgvor toward the Land of the Tzohs, but she meant to deceive the others, to take them on false roads.
Helgvor, looking at the maid in the firelight, understood her rancor, and was worried. Several times he had urged the chief to take Amhao on the trip. Heigoun and his friends had opposed this, explaining that the woman would delay the march unless her child was left behind.
"Helgvor will carry the child," the young nomad had said.
"Shtra and Iouk also," his father and brother had added.
Heigoun would not accept this and Akroun gave in, careless of what happened to Amhao. As he would not listen to Helgvor, the young man did not risk suggesting that Glava might avenge herself.
THE next day, the first Men of the Night were encountered. Their faces lengthened like sheep's heads and their pointed ears were tufted with coarse hair. Black as slate, they showed small eyes, like squirrels' pupils, mouths shaped as if eternally sucking, thin limbs and hollow bellies. Their hair grew in islets on their skulls, faces and chests. Their skins oozed an evil-smelling oil, and the thick upper lip lifted to show fang-like teeth. For weapons, they had only sharp stones and pointed sticks.
Shtra had met them in the forest for a score of years. Knowing their tongue he spoke, with many gestures: "If the Gwahs will come with the Ougmars, they shall have flesh and blood aplenty."
"Why should the Gwahs go with the Ougmars?" asked the oldest black.
"To help in tracking down the Tzohs. Don't you remember the time when the Tzohs massacred the Men of the Night? The Gwahs shall have the carcasses of the fallen, for the Ougmars are the stronger!"
Despite their craftiness, the Gwahs had credulous souls. To-morrow seemed to them an unlimited time ahead. They sniffed toward the roasting meat, and having been given a share, they ate as they walked beside the River Men. At times, other Gwahs, emerging from hollow trees or from branches, joined the detachment, lured by the example of the others.
"Flesh will be needed every day," Shtra said to Akroun. "If flesh is lacking, the Gwahs will stop."
Poor hunters, and poor fire-builders, the Gwahs often knew famine.
"They'll have flesh," Akroun assured. "There is much game in the forest." He counted on the Gwahs less to fight the Tzohs openly than to harass them and draw them into ambushes.
After a lapse of several days, there were about fifty Gwahs with the party. Despite their small bodies, they were always ready to eat, equally fitted to starve as to gorge. The Ougmar hunters sought stags, aurochs, boars, all large animals, to satisfy the voracity of their allies.
The Gwahs, inclined to laziness, scattered during the day on all sides of the marching clan, but at night gathered near the fires, inhaling the smells of cooking meat, warming their bodies with much pleasure. Their smells, which resembled those of foxes and skunks, inspired Glava with bitter disgust, but the warriors, after the first evenings, paid no further attention.
WHEN the High River was reached, it was discovered that there were not enough canoes, and the Gwahs, directed by Ougmars, built rafts. They handled them with more skill than canoes, and did not fear water, for all of them swam like otters. The High River carried them impetuously; in three days, they covered an enormous distance and found themselves near the Blue River.
The stream had overflowed. The water spread in the forest and beat against the lower slopes of the hills. It took six hours to find dry land on the shore. As the plain was broken by great ponds, the canoes and rafts had to be carried along. Akroun hardened his face to maintain his authority in the face of this additional hardship.
"The Ougmars crawl like worms," Heigoun cried late that afternoon. "Never shall they reach the land of the Tzohs."
"The flood must have delayed the kidnapers," Akroun replied harshly. "The Ougmars must pursue." He sent for Helgvor and asked him: "The Tzohs were further than we are upstream when Helgvor met the fugitives?"
"No, the Tzohs were two or three days' travel downstream from here."
"The Tzohs must have gone overland," Heigoun suggested. "We must leave the river bank."
"Not yet!" Akroun snapped. He stared at Heigoun. "Does Heigoun forget we are on the warpath?"
"Heigoun obeys the chief! But warriors have the right to group and confer."
Akroun grew ashen pale. There was no talk of gathering the warriors for a conference unless the authority of the chief was questioned.
"Akroun will call the warriors together when the fires are lighted."
"If the Tzohs are near by, they shall see the fires."
"Is Heigoun a child? Does he believe that the chief does not know fires must be screened ?"
That night Akroun selected a depression rimmed with trees for the camping place. In any case the scouts, Ougmars and Gwahs, had discovered no tracks up to a distance from which the fires, even on the flat plain, would have been invisible. When the wood burned brightly, Akroun summoned the men.
"Let the warriors gather. The chief will listen to them."
Heigoun's supporters came first. There were twelve of them, no one of whom had seen over thirty autumns. Those who remained loyal to the chief, whether by trust, by fear or hatred of Heigoun, arrived more slowly. There were fifteen, among them Shtra, Iouk and Helgvor. The rest, undecided, ready to side with the stronger group, hovered behind.
Akroun, watching his rival's friends with anxiety, remembered with bitterness the days, not so far in the past, when the tribe had followed him blindly. Then, Heigoun had waited for the time to ripen. Now, the chief sensed distrust in the depths of his men's souls, knew that he was reproached with the loss of the women. He rose, and the fires cast red reflections in the amber eyes. His mighty face simulated confidence. And he spoke.
"The chief has gathered the warriors to consult their wisdom. The road alongside the river is flooded. But it is the shortest route. Must we follow it, or strike across land? Let the warriors think it over!"
HEIGOUN lurched to his feet, bulky, formidable. His shoulders oscillated slowly, his powerful jaws were contracted, and when he opened his mouth he showed white fangs.
"The experience of the chief is great and the warriors shall obey his orders. But if the river road is the shorter, it will take longer to follow. The Tzohs will not have followed it. The Tzohs have gone inland."
His enormous hand indicated the West, while his companions exclaimed approvingly. "Hunting is difficult near the shore! To-night, the Gwahs will not get enough flesh, and the Gwahs are with the Ougmars only to eat. Do the Ougmars wish the Gwahs to go away? Then they shall not be numerous enough to attack the Tzohs!"
His backers agreed by words and gestures. The undecided looked on timidly, ready to fall in with the new power. When Akroun rose to answer, his chest was seen to quiver.
"Heigoun is a clever warrior! But what does he know of the enemy? What do the Ougmars know? The tracks have not been picked up. We must seek their trail. Here is what Akroun wishes. Seven warriors, with Gwahs and dogs, will scout along the river. All will bring back the flesh of animals they hunt. Thus will the Ougmars know the right way. The chief has spoken. The warriors shall obey."
Then the timid men who had waited for a decision again trusted the chief, while Heigoun's supporters were silent and still. Understanding that the occasion was not arrived, the Son of the Wolf said:
"Heigoun can command scouts to march overland?"
The chief agreed. But a suspicion stirred the giant; he looked at Helgvor, he looked toward Glava. Akroun understood, and, being careful not to nurture a quarrel before the Tzohs had been beaten, he intervened.
"Shtra shall command the men who will follow the river and Helgvor will be the guide."
Helgvor looked at Glava with despair. A deep rancor rose in his heart.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK.