translated by George Surdez
from Helgvor du Fleuve bleu (1930)
Helgvor of the Blue River
By J. H. ROSNY AINÉwith GEORGES SURDEZ
4th (final) installment
Argosy, June 18, 1932 - pp 111-125Helgvor, about to lead his primitive clansmen to battle, did not know that the woman he had chosen as mate was surrounded by cannibals...
LEADING UP TO THIS CONCLUDING INSTALLMENT
PRESSING forward to battle, a little band of Ougmars come within striking distance of the enemy marauding Tzoh warriors who have raided the Ougmar camp and kidnapped the women of the clan.
Akroun, chief of the Ougmars, is directing the battle plans, but he is having difficulty controlling two of his young warriors: Heigoun, the boastful strong man of the tribe, and Helgvor, clear eyed, straight limbed hunter who is not impressed by Heigoun's strength or his boasting.
The enmity between the two has been caused by Heigoun's challenge. Helgvor, in tracking down the Tzoh raiders, had come upon Glava, a Tzoh woman who was fleeing her cruel tribesmen. Helgvor, after helping her to escape, took her to his own tribe, where he announced that she was to become his mate. Heigoun desires her, and the two men have agreed that they will do battle for her after the pursuit of the Tzohs is ended.
Glava, who has accompanied the Ougmars on their march, to show them the way to the Tzoh country, fears the unwelcome attentions of Heigoun and escapes during the night. A greater peril faces her now, however. In a forest she has been surrounded by a savage tribe of black-faced Gwahs, eaters of human flesh. She is about to be captured.
Helgvor, ignorant of her fate, has gone ahead of the main body of Ougmars, to act as scout and to draw the enemy into ambush. Heigoun remains with the main body of warriors.
BATTLE OF THE CLANS.
FIRST, Helgvor and his two fellow scouts had to ascertain the strength of the enemy and report to the chief. Only toward evening, Akroun having prepared the ambush, should Helgvor lure the Tzohs to their doom.
The Tzohs had changed their route since the preceding night, striking westward, probably in the hope of finding the river again. On the terrain covered in the last few days, the flood had caused no damage. It was seldom that the ravines had been found flooded.
Helgvor, with his wolf and his dog, followed the trail as easily as if the foe had been in sight. The tracks were so clear that they had to proceed with care. Luckily, there were few thickets, and the grass was rather short.
At noon they came to a range of hills rising from the plain. As they climbed the slopes, Helgvor and Akr found many traces, and when they reached the crest, the scouts saw the enemy's band and the women. The sight of the women and the girls maddened Houam for the Men of the Rocks had taken away his mate and his young sisters. Hatred stirred Akr, although his wife was among those who had already been rescued by Helgvor. Because he had lived through a like adventure before, Helgvor remained calm, although his heart beat harder.
"We must go downhill by the ravine," he suggested. "Then by the pools." Casting a glance at the sky to ascertain the time, Helgvor added: "Will Houam go back to our people and warn them?"
As agreed, the scouts had left clear traces of their march, and Akroun could have had no trouble following them.
"Houam will warn the warriors."
While Houam went back to the northwest, Helgvor and Akr passed through the ravine and circled the pools. Skilled at hiding themselves, nothing betrayed them. And the Tzohs walked without fear, confident because of their numbers. They marched slowly. The flood had reached this section and made the trip difficult. Many were obviously tired, not a few wounded. Moreover, the women had to be spared too great fatigue.
Through the grass, behind hillocks, bushes and trees, Helgvor and Akr followed the hostile horde. The Tzohs halted before the sun grew red with approaching twilight. They had chosen a formidable position in which to camp. Protected by pools and bowlders, it could be reached only through a gap in the rocks, easily fortified, easily defended. Pines and firs supplied wood for the fires.
"The Tzohs are mighty!" Akr said, doubtfully.
"The Ougmars shall not attack their camp!" Helgvor replied. He laughed low, and resumed: "They would be dangerous to attack with club and spear, with hatchets. Dangerous also against spears. For one would have to risk their weapons in return. But, with his bow, Helgvor can harm them without coming within their range."
He indicated his bow, and Akr, knowing his reputation, grinned. The Tzohs were still gathering wood, and a few came toward the bush behind which the two Ougmars had taken shelter. Although it was improbable that they would come this far, Helgvor and Akr retreated to the tall grass. The dog and the wolf, now accustomed to hunting man, imitated them without need of speech.
THE sun was setting in an enormous blaze of red against the west when Houam returned.
"The Ougmars are in the ravine," he said.
He related that Akroun had chosen a spot pitted with caves. But Helgvor went back to the main body. He addressed the chief.
"This place is too far to lure the Tzohs."
"Let Helgvor guide us."
And the Son of Shtra led the Ougmars into a thicket within a thousand cubits of the Tzohs' camp. The sun had vanished and light was dwindling on the plain.
"We must wait for moonlight," the chief said. "What does Helgvor wish now?"
"Another bow and many arrows."
Behind the fires of the Tzohs, glowing brighter as the twilight darkened, the swarthy faces of the warriors could be seen clearly. The women also could be discerned, and many of them appeared resigned to their lot.
Helgvor selected a second bow, that of a warrior with mighty arms, a weapon which few men could use well. Arrows were brought. Helgvor tested the bow, adjusted its tension. Then, patient as animals in ambush, the warriors waited in the shadow. The sky was overcast, and they saw neither the great blue star, the Northern Cross, nor the red star. Many closed their eyes and drifted into a light sleep. Then the moon appeared at the edge of the plain, dipped its distorted disk into pools, while millions of frogs croaked like old men.
"The Son of Shtra must prepare to go,'' Akroun said.
The orb, at first much like a red cloud, condensed and became like the polished blade of a hatchet: its light turned the plain into a limitless, silvery lake.
Already, followed by Akr, Helgvor crawled through the grass. When they had gone five hundred paces, Akr hid, and permitted the Son of Shtra to go on alone. The Tzohs were dropping off to sleep. A few sentries squatted near the entrance. Before so many warriors skilled in the use of hatchet and all weapons, what could be done by a lion, a tiger, or a gray bear? Spears alone would have riddled them. The Tzohs felt secure.
Suddenly, the only presence they would fear manifested itself: A tall man was standing in the grass!
At the first alarm, Kzahm, Son of the Boar, stood. The warriors, startled from sleep, were puzzled and bellowed questions. And the resounding voice of Helgvor defied them.
"The Ougmars come to punish the skunks!"
Clubs whirled, spears were darted. Helgvor, with a savage laugh, took his bow and aimed. The arrow pierced the neck of a Tzoh. The outcry died out and deep surprise immobilized the Men of the Rocks; no Tzoh bow could have sent an arrow that distance. Advancing a few steps, Helgvor shot again; the arrow stabbed between the ribs of another man.
Upon an order from Kzahm, the warriors fell headlong to the ground. The third arrow missed, the fourth dug into a shoulder. Thus, Helgvor made the camp unsafe.
Seeing but a single warrior, Kzahm grew ashamed and ordered a pursuit. Not too trustful, nevertheless, he dispatched but fifteen warriors against that odd adversary. Feeling that delay was dangerous, the warriors rushed headlong. Helgvor waited for them to come halfway, his bow hummed three times. The first arrow pierced a belly, the second knocked out an eye, the third missed. Several of the Tzohs returned his shots, and an arrow scratched his thigh, but the Ougmar ran, and increased the distance separating him from his pursuers.
The appearance of Akr worried the Tzohs and slowed them a while. He fired an arrow, missed, and pretended to flee, while Helgvor stood still. Five men headed for Akr, eight sought to surround Helgvor, who avoided them with ease.
Scattered in a semi-circle, fierce and desperate, for the fugitive's speed left them small hope, they kept on stubbornly. Then Helgvor raced to the right and, with a blow of his club, killed an isolated warrior. Then his arrows hummed again, and he faced the remaining five.
"The Tzohs are not even hyenas!" he derided them. "The Tzohs can't fight any one but old men and women!"
Some distance away, Akr had reached the ambush. Twenty Ougmars leaped out, terrifying the Tzohs, who were killed off almost without offering resistance, while Helgvor dropped two more of his foes.
NOW, Kzahm was aware that the night of life or death had come The Ougmars, the Gwahs and the dogs howled all together. Because they had appeared suddenly where they were not expected, they seemed the more formidable. Memories were stirred in the skulls of the veterans, the legends woven around the Ougmars. But the battle must be fought: the Ougmars were coming. Around them were scattered the fierce dogs and the Gwahs with pointed ears.
Furious puzzlement quivered in the Black Boar's breast. He thought of rushing out to meet his enemies, but the numbers of the Tzohs and those of the Ougmars were now almost equal, and moreover there were those black men, those dogs with the terrifying bark. From the elders, Kzahm had heard of the Men of the River, knew their strength to be great, their agility extreme. He alone, he thought, was more formidable than any Ougmar. He decided to wait for the attack and had fresh branches piled across the gateway. The warriors could take shelter behind the heap of wood and bush.
But Akroun called a halt, to inspect the Tzohs' camp. He saw that the storming would be hard to push through, and would cost many lives.
"It is wood that fire loves to eat," Helgvor said, coming near.
"Helgvor is as sly as he is valiant," Akroun smiled.
He ordered that dry branches and twigs be gathered, then, torches in hand, the Ougmars went forward once more. Arrived close to the camp, they tossed the flaming bundles into the barrier. Smoke lifted.
Kzahm had guessed his foes' plan quickly. To avoid the spread of flames over the entire camp, he ordered the barrier fired, and the two blazes clashed. On both sides, men waited until nothing but ashes remained. As the Ougmars had to cross a narrow spot or wade in the pools, Kzahm decided to stand his ground and wait for them.
"The Men of the Blue River seek to die!" he clamored to cheer his followers. "They shall die!"
The Ougmars replied with their war cry, but still Akroun delayed an onrush. He preferred to order his best bowmen, Helgvor principally, to harass the enemy with arrows. This tactic could not fail. When several Tzohs had dropped, Kzahm realized that his wait meant disaster, and ordered an offensive movement.
It was like a mass of bodies, of hatchets, stakes, clubs and spears. Fearing panic, Akroun opposed onslaught with onslaught. The mass of the Ougmars dashed forward, while the Gwahs hovered on the flanks, pelting the Tzohs with sharp stones.
THE two hordes collided: young and strong men left life. Heigoun, Kzahm, Helgvor, with the more muscular of the fighters, struck with clubs, broke bones. Others, armed with stakes, aimed for the body, disemboweled their antagonists. Many used the spear, striking for the soft places. While the spring of the Tzohs appeared to triumph at first, the Ougmars soon were masters.
Both Heigoun and Kzahm staggered from the impact.
Heigoun and Kzahm came face to face. Their bulks were alike. Both had the deep chest of the bear, monstrous shoulders and legs like oak branches. Their clubs clashed like rock on rock, and the impact was so terrific that both staggered back.
Astonished. each now aware of the strength of his enemy, they hesitated, eyed each other, and planned clever strokes. Rasher, Heigoun resumed the fight, and his swinging club would have crushed Kzahm's skull had not the other parried. The Black Boar swung on the flank, mightily. But an Ougmar warrior shoved the club aside, hitting Kzahm on the shoulder. Heigoun got home two blows immediately, one to the other shoulder, the other on the neck.
Kzahm fell to the ground and Heigoun shattered his ribs and his limbs.
The defeat of their chief discouraged the Tzohs: only a few kept on fighting. The mass suddenly became as does under the claws of the leopards, like stags before the tiger, and perished without combat, struck down by the hatchets, the clubs and the heavy stakes.
Akroun looked down upon the corpses and the bodies of those not yet dead. The women had come to greet their men, who dripped with fresh gore.
"The Ougmars are mighty; the Ougmars have annihilated their enemies!" the chief proclaimed, tossing a spear into the air. All the warriors acknowledged his worth. His reputation would last a long time, for the hero of the day was much too young to command.
"Akroun is a great chief!" Shtra declared solemnly.
"Helgvor is a great warrior!" the chief replied.
Heigoun, somber, sullen, eyed Helgvor steadily.
The clan was taking the women back to the Red Peninsula, but Helgvor, with Iouk and Akr, sought Glava's tracks.
The left bank having proved fruitless, Helgvor had thought of the right shore and the islands, particularly of the tiny islets on which animals were scarce. Akr explored ardently, for he loved to seek for trails above all things, loved to direct the dog. Days passed without result, until one morning when Akr picked up a spear with a broken head. Poorly chipped, the stone point was not the work of Ougmar or Tzoh, while the Gwahs used only stakes and stones.
Later, a second indice was found, on an island: Helgvor, Iouk and Akr found ashes, a squirrel skin, the shell of a tortoise blackened with smoke.
SACRIFICE TO THE RED MOON.
GLAVA waited with her limbs stiff with horror. Terrorized, the little jackal had fled. There were pauses, absolute silence, then crawlings, creepings, heavy breathing. Stake in hand, ready to fight, Glava was moved by the instinct of hunted beasts, and felt in advance the anguish of death.
The attack was brutal as the leap of the leopard, sly as the onslaught of wolves. The Gwahs, springing together in a somber, moving mass, overpowered their victim. The only blow she contrived to deliver dropped a Gwah, but ten arms were around her like black reptiles, and collective strength vanquished individual vigor. Blows with sharp stones dazed her. Lianas were wound around her limbs.
"The Gwahs are the masters of the daughter of the Blue River!" Ouak clamored.
Because his ruses had succeeded, his authority increased. All the others thought merely of drinking warm blood, of eating flesh, but Ouak was sensitive to the mysterious allure of the tall, flexible maid, whose light complexion made her so startling among the black masks surrounding her.
"The foreign woman must be killed!'' one of the men said.
"The Gwahs shall kill her," Ouak agreed, "but she shall be offered in sacrifice to the Red Moon!"
This was the most important of the rites performed according to ancestral traditions by the Men of the Night. The flesh of beings sacrificed to the Red Moon had particular virtues, and the mention of the sacrifice recalled evenings of absolute happiness. Even the greediest accepted the delay, and Ouak had gained time to think of some way to be alone with the captive.
"The Daughter of the River shall perish beneath the Pointed Rock!" he added.
Then, four Gwahs carried Glava through the forest. She closed her eyes, unable to look at these men without frightened disgust. Perhaps she would have suffered less under the claws of the gray bear or the tiger. Racial instinct made the Gwahs more odious than Old Man Urm, than Kzahm with the bison's head, than even that gigantic Ougmar from whom she had fled. She felt the end approaching.
They passed between trees older than one hundred human generations; grass died in their shade, in their clefts, large as caves, dwelt wild beasts. The trees grew scarcer, the soil was hard and red. Then they came to a pointed rock, in a cluster of black pines.
Gwahs, men, women and children, emerged as if from the ground, howling hideously, clawing toward the prisoner. Glava thought her life was finished. The hot blood of youth revolted against destruction. Amhao seethed to float in the sky, together with the tall Ougmar warrior who had saved her, the memory of whom made the Gwahs appear more ugly, more sordid.
THE women, ardent as she-wolves, were for putting the captive to death at once.
"Ouak has heard the voice of the Red Moon," the chief said, to quiet them.
The women accepted this explanation, but watched over the girl with blood-thirsting jealousy. In vain Ouak used all his ruses; he discovered no reason for being alone with the prisoner. In any case, as this was a ritual question, his prestige availed nothing against the opinion of the old men, in whose heads were kept alive the obscure legends.
A stag was captured alive, and joy increased. It would be sacrificed at the same time as the foreign woman. And the time drew near when the Red Moon would swing into the sky.
Two men unfastened the lianas binding Glava. Five others came, armed with sharp stakes, and the girl knew she was to die. An old Gwah started a ritual chant, monotonous as the dripping of rain on stones.
"The Gwahs were born of the Night and the Red Moon yields them strength! The Gwahs are the masters of the forest, and those who walk on all fours fear the stakes and the sharp stones! When strangers come into the forest, the strangers must perish, and the Gwahs must drink their blood! The Gwahs were born of the Night and the Red Moon grants then strength!"
The men brandished their stakes, the women yelped horribly, and all repeated in chorus: "The strangers must perish, and the Gwahs must drink their blood."
Then the old man indicated Glava, and resumed his chant:
"That woman is a stranger. She shall perish!"
The stakes menaced the Daughter of the Rocks.
There was a great silence; the Red Moon was about to be born anew. A pale light filtered among the western stars, a cloud was illuminated, and suddenly the Red Moon lifted her disk above the horizon.
The old man chanted: "Red Moon, Red Moon, who made a pact with our ancestors, here is the stranger! Her blood shall flow before thee, and thou shalt hear her cry of agony!
He lifted both arms to give the signal, and his eyes dimmed with terror. Somber silhouettes had leaped from a clump of bushes, came on, numerous as the ants from a heap. Bellowing like bison, impetuous, they attacked.
They were the Upper Gwahs, whose legs were longer than those of the Lower Tribes, whose hair was spotted as the pelt of the panther, but whose skins were also porous and sweaty. Their thick lips were drawn back on sharp teeth. Often, a generation would pass on without their appearance, but their hatred was eternal.
WOMEN fled, the males turned their stakes against the invaders, and the battle started, at the end of which the living would eat the dead. Alone beneath the Pointed Rock, Glava was paralyzed by surprise for a moment, then, understanding that her death had been delayed by fate, she sought cover.
Near by ran Gwah women, so frightened that they did not recognize the stranger. But when they reached the shadows of the old trees, two of them instinctively leaped upon the Daughter of the Rocks.
She dropped the first one with a blow and, grasping the other by the hair, dragged her to the ground. Bewildered, the others allowed the prisoner to escape, and soon she was a long distance ahead, out of their reach. She no longer felt fatigue nor pain. Drunk with the joy of living, she crossed an immense stretch, and only stopped when tired out.
The stars twinkled through the leaves, branches palpitated in the wind. She flung her arms wide and dropped to the soil. She slept there, at the mercy of prowling animals.
When she awoke, the patient moon had reached the zenith. A night-bird flew away like an enormous, dark butterfly. Near by, animals grazed, and Glava, sitting up, saw herself surrounded with monstrous shapes. The nearest one was as bulky as seven aurochs, resembled a bowlder covered with reddish moss. The block of the head ended in a long snake, twisting between white horns, large as the horns of ten bison, which were tusks. Four cylinders thick as tree-trunks supported chest and belly.
Glava recognized the mammoth. For thousands of years such beasts had not inhabited the Land of the Tzohs, and in the territories of Ougmars and Gwahs they grew rarer as the centuries passed. The Daughter of the Rocks had first seen mammoths during her flight with Amhao. This one, standing in the moonlight, formed an imperishable image in the eyes of the fugitive.
Dull fear seized her; she looked at the other mammoths, under the low branches, with the light of the moon drenching their backs, and because they were so like the first, her amazement did not increase. But the impression made by this giant stirred her to active fear.
Glava knew that she was in the center of immense forces, any one of which could crush her as she could crush a lizard. The formidable beasts were asleep, and she could hear the rhythm of their breathing. They feared nothing in the murderous forest, neither tiger, lion, gray bear, nor poorly armed Gwahs, and were endangered only when faced by the rhinoceros who occasionally clashed with them, and tried to pierce their bellies with his spike. But the mammoth oftener than not crushed him beneath his tremendous weight. And those encounters were so rare that generations of mammoths knew nothing of them.
For several thousand centuries the ancestors of the mammoths had lived in a dreamy peace. Now the time had come when, upon a warmer earth, their number dwindled. Those who were to exist for a long time were far north, on plains where water became stone as early as autumn.
The future did not exist for them: peaceful innocence filled their hearts. But the summers were becoming too hot for them, and on very long days, when the sun consumed half the night, they plunged their hairy bulks into the river, into lakes, into pools, to refresh themselves. They felt better during the cool autumn months.
DAWN broke, dimmer than moonlight, then day came, with its bird songs and colored clouds. Glava was no longer afraid. While she had slept, exhausted, still as death, one of the mammoths had investigated her. As she did not move, the instinct of the animal supposed that she lacked that life which troubles other lives. And he readily granted her the small stretch of soil she occupied.
When the animals awoke, her scent was familiar. All that recurs without bringing annoyance or danger becomes indifferent or loved by the living. The mammoths accepted Glava as they would have accepted a tree or a stag.
She also felt, although differently, the security of repetition. When the mammoths strode away, to seek better pasture, she followed them, because she feared the Gwahs, keeping nearest the one who knew her best. The others, as time passed, grew accustomed to her presence. And a whole day elapsed. She found nuts, roots and mushrooms which fed her, while they ate bark, tender stems, grasses or the tufts of aquatic plants.
On the second day, she circulated in the herd as it she had been with the mammoths for several seasons. Her scent was so well known that they forgot her. In all things they proved themselves better than men; none were inclined to kill her or to cause her suffering. They roamed at random through the forest and the marshes. The world entered through their tiny eyes, the hue of sod, and they had an intelligence special to them, which permitted them to know what was harmful and what was good.
Glava lived more at ease while with them than she had among the Tzohs, where the weak were sacrificed, or among the Ougmars, where she had met Heigoun. She was sad, however, for she needed Amhao, and although she did not know it, she missed the tall, tawny warrior.
Perhaps she could have become friendlier with the mammoths, by digging up roots for them or selecting tender twigs for offerings. But their bulk frightened her, and that strange hairy snake swinging between the immense tusks, their enormous legs which might crush her with ease. She kept her distance, and if they did not threaten her, they made no effort to know her better.
They marched uphill through the forest, farther from the river each day, so that she soon realized she would have to leave them. This was a hard decision to make, for she feared the Gwahs, the Red Moon, the evening fires, death.
Nevertheless, she allowed them to go off without her one morning. The thickets screened them. Alone, she felt rising in her the horror of meat-eaters, and she hid a long while under branches. The numberless sounds, which she had not heeded when with the mammoths, resumed their ferocious significance. The shadows held lurking monsters. Armed with a clumsy stake and sharp stones, she traveled in this land of claws, of teeth and venoms, all her senses keyed for a brief future.
As after her flight from the Ougmar camp, she found herself lacking fire, The flints she found produced small sparks, but she could not set flame to grass. She encountered the wolf, the hyena, the brown bear, the panther. None attacked her. But she saw no lion, no tiger, no gray bear, beasts that retreat before none save the mammoth, the rhinoceros or fire.
At last she reached the river and knew her way.
She walked and walked. At night, she sought shelter. And fate spared her.
AT the end of a day, after seeking long, she selected a flat space on a steep rock, five arms' lengths above the ground. The stars were out, she was tired, and she trusted herself to the night. Wolves, hyenas, jackals, passed by, ascertained that they could not reach her, went their way. Glava would awake, watch for awhile, fall asleep again.
Toward morning a terrible life halted near the bowlder. In the weak light seeping out of the east, by the lingering glow of the stars, the shape recalled that of the tiger. But it was a large, handsome lioness, full grown and very strong. Her light-colored pelt, her eyes with round pupils, were enough to distinguish her from the striped feline, the eyes of which are oval. But the manner was the same, that patient watchfulness, in a huddling crouch.
As her scent was poor, chance had caused her to stop near. A gust of wind had brought the smell of Glava to her nostrils. Having eaten the women and children of the Gwahs, she knew human odors. Of late, her hunts had not been successful. Accumulated hungers twisted her belly. And there was a prey upon the bowlder which would sate her craving.
But the needed leap worried her. If the prey fought, she would be in a bad position, and she recalled a blow from a sharp stick, flush on the nose, delivered by one of the women she had caught. With raging impatience, certain that the erect creature could not flee, she watched.
Finally, trying to surprise Glava, she stood up against the side of the bowlder. Glava had watched her without showing herself. And she saw no lane of escape. When the lioness leaped, Glava would die. She saw the beast prowl about the bowlder, smell the wind. Occasionally she heard heavy breathing or a low dull roar. Immobility was her defense. But when the lioness reared her body against the rock immobility became dangerous, and standing in her turn, the girl spoke, in a strident voice:
"The stake of Glava is sharp, it shall sink in the lioness's jaws! Sharp stones will put out her eyes!"
The animal, astonished, retreated as if to think the situation over. Glava had but one hope, that another life might pass, easier to catch. No life passed by, and the lioness sprang. The point of the stake broke off on her hard skull, and, one hip ripped open by a clawing stroke, Glava rolled helplessly from the flat surface down to the plain. She was helpless, closed her eyes, and waited for the lioness to devour her.
A shadowy form appeared near the bowlder.
The feline, turning, beheld an immense and hideous beast. A horn jutted from its nose, another was planted in the middle of the ungainly head. Its skin was like the bark of very old trees, its eyes were tiny and stupid. Survivor of a formidable breed which had vanished almost altogether, evil-tempered and ferocious, the beast had probably been awakened by the noise of the struggle and had come to investigate.
The ancestors of the lioness, recognizing a rhinoceros, would have fled without hesitation.
But she was surprised, excited by the conquest of copious flesh, hesitated a moment, then it was too late. The enormous mass charged headlong. The lioness clawed at random, bit, but the rhinoceros, invulnerable, had but to pass. She was stretched out, ribs smashed in, entrails showing, moaning with pain. The huge animal turned, trampled her, scattered her bones, her flesh, her hide. Then, his rage vented, he trotted away, forgetting the other being.
Glava had crawled behind the bowlder. Her blood spurted. Her head was light, her eyes no longer saw, she fainted.
WHEN she came to, a man was staring at her.
He had come out of the limitless solitude. And despite her pain, despite her weakness, she knew the unfathomable happiness of not being alone. Two other men were near by. When with the Ougmars she had learned that Iouk was a quiet man, and she guessed that Akr, slight, almost frail, would obey the others. For a time she took joy in not being alone, and a great tenderness went from her toward Helgvor.
Then she asked: "Amhao?"
"We'll find Amhao!" he said.
She trusted her destiny to the tall nomad, and sank into fever, fatigue and faith.
The wound was deep and the fall had harmed the bones. Glava suffered, bravely. In the mystery of instinct, she felt that Helgvor was more tender than she had ever been. Her astonishment was limitless, that such gentleness was not a weakness; for was he not as brave as a tiger, as clever as a wolf, as skilled as the most feared warrior?
No other man resembled him; he was alone; he seemed to spring from an unknown race. Her horror of men who break off women's teeth, who beat them, or throw them in sacrifice to the Hidden Lives, did not extend to him.
And Glava was revealed to Helgvor. She was the eternal and ever changing morning. For her, he would slay Heigoun. The fear of losing her was so violent that he would feel his heart grow cold at the thought.
As he watched by the fire, Heigoun's silhouette rose in the flames; Helgvor believed ardently in his own victory, but in a livid glow he sometimes felt himself crushed by the club, disemboweled by a hatchet. The cry that then died on his lips did not express fear, nor rage, but the supreme shame of not having known how to guard the Daughter of the Rocks.
They traveled in the canoe by day, stopped at night. Glava was delirious for a time, then youth won out. And they whiled the time exchanging the legends of their tribes. After twelve days she was well, out of danger. And that night, when Akr and Iouk were asleep, Helgvor spoke to Glava.
"In a few days the canoe will reach the Red Peninsula."
A shudder rippled on Glava's flesh, as the poplars quiver before the wind. She recalled the colossal warrior with the cruel eyes: Heigoun.
"Glava cannot live on the Red Peninsula," she cried.
At the sound of her voice Akr stirred restlessly in his sleep and the wolf growled. A sharp pang lashed Helgvor's heart.
"Where can Glava go? The Men of the Rocks would kill her, and women cannot live alone on the plain or in the forest."
"Amhao and Glava lived thus!"
"Was not Glava stretched helpless upon the ground? Even jackals could have devoured her. And was not Amhao's canoe pursued by the Tzohs on the river?"
"The chief will give me to the giant warrior," she said, trembling. "Glava prefers the tiger's fangs."
"Helgvor killed twenty times as many foes as Heigoun," the nomad said proudly. "If Heigoun wants Glava, Heigoun shall die."
She lifted her head with a surge of faith and admiration.
"Helgvor is braver than the snow-eagle!"
"Helgvor will not allow any man to touch Glava," he said excitedly. "For her he would fight the chief of chiefs and the whole tribe!"
Feeling that she would not be merely Helgvor's slave, Glava felt an intense tenderness.
THE moon was full when the canoe neared the Red Peninsula.
It was toward twilight that Iouk and Helgvor first saw the dark trees and the reeds faded by autumn. Since the preceding night they had been on the alert for Heigoun and his men. Helgvor decided not to take Glava to the tribe as yet, but concealed her in the bushes. He addressed Akr, more subtle than Iouk.
"Akr shall go and see if the Tzoh woman, sister of Glava, is on the Peninsula. He shall also find out if Heigoun is hunting. Akr shall not allow himself to be seen."
Akr left, light and swift as a stag. When he returned, the sun was rising over the forest.
"Akr walked among the Ougmars," hc reported. "He was not seen! The Tzoh woman is on the Peninsula."
"Akr has seen Heigoun?"
"Heigoun is not there."
"Helgvor then shall go to see the chief," the nomad said, after a moment's thought. "Akr and Iouk will watch over Glava?"
"They'll watch!" Iouk assured him.
Glava listened, fearful. She did not wish Helgvor to leave her, but she knew his aim, and kept quiet.
"Let Glava fear nothing!" Helgvor said." Before the sun reaches the black hills, Helgvor shall return."
Helgvor reached the Peninsula, and the warriors who saw him shouted loudly. Other men, women, ran forward, then came Akroun. He considered Helgvor with fretful elation.
"HeIgvor came back! Where are his companions?"
"Iouk and Akr are waiting away from here."
"Why did they not come with Helgvor?"
"They shall come," he answered, lifting his voice to be heard above the cheers of the warriors.
"And the foreign girl?"
"Helgvor saved the Daughters of the Rocks," the tall nomad replied, his face set.
"He also saved our own women," the chief said, gently. "The Men of the River have not forgotten. What does Helgvor wish?"
"That no one shall he master of the foreign women without his consent."
"So be it," the chief promised gravely.
"And if Heigoun protests?"
"The warriors will obey the chief of chiefs."
AKROUN'S sway was firm. No Ougmar now dared to question his judgment. But he distrusted the obscure twists of destiny, and he wished Heigoun to disappear.
"Helgvor always liked to obey Akroun, always shall obey him. But Heigoun will not obey. He will roam near the chief, roam near the Daughter of the Rocks. Let the chief allow Helgvor to fight."
Akroun was perturbed. Should Heigoun win, all would fear him.
"The tribe needs strong men!" he said at last. "If Heigoun gives up the foreign. woman, Helgvor must not fight him."
"Heigoun will not yield her."
"Then," the chief said after a long pause, "the combat is inevitable."
"It will be so," Shtra put in. "Heigoun will attack Helgvor!''
The spectators were silent. Almost all dreaded the defeat of their hero. Because Heigoun was escorted by ten men, Akroun gave ten men to Shtra to avoid a surprise, but he concluded:
"Ougmars must not fight Ougmars. Only Helgvor and Heigoun may fight!"
"Thus shall it be," Shtra agreed. "And if Helgvor wins, Shtra shall give him Glava for a mate!"
"The foreign woman shall be Helgvor's mate !''
Then Helgvor asked for Amhao, and added: "If Helgvor is vanquished, the foreign women shall not be slaves. They shall be permitted to go free."
The chief and the warriors having given their consent. Helgvor sought Amhao. She had lived somberly, for no Ougmar woman had befriended her. At the sight of the young man she trembled and wept. At first, poignant joy dominated her, then she feared the death of Glava, and she wept.
"Glava lives," he said. "Come."
She understood, cried out loudly. Then, submissive, filled with unutterable affection for her savior, she picked up her child and followed Helgvor.
"The Son of Shtra returns," Akr said. "He is not alone."
Glava heard the light rustling of the bushes and, suddenly seeing Amhao, boundless joy dilated her chest and she threw herself upon her sister.
"There"' Helgvor said. "Amhao and Glava shall follow Helgvor, and when Helgvor has found Heigoun they shall remain by the river bank, ready to flee in the canoe."
Glava then feared Helgvor's defeat, and no longer desired the combat. But she knew that the clash was as unavoidable as the darkness which follows twilight.
THE endless world was the same, yet constantly died. The river rolled waters which were not the same waters, light succeeded light, and it was never the same light, night followed day, and it was ever another darkness, the beasts roamed the plains, and they were other beasts than the numberless beasts vanished into eternity.
Heigoun, Son of the Great Wolf, roamed, furious, beneath the sky. He had the brutal temper of the boar, the ferocity of the flesh-eaters and a merciless pride. His ambition had been born one day, when Akroun, thrown far by the horns of an aurochs, had nearly died. While the chief of chiefs, in his hut, healed slowly, Heigoun dominated the others. His deception was bitter when Akroun lived. The Son of the Wolf scorned Akroun, whose hair was dusted with the spray of old age.
After the kidnaping of the women, seeing his followers increase in numbers and influence, he had condemned Akroun in his own mind. But his men had been too few and too timid. Helgvor had defied him, and dared to claim the stranger. Moreover, the exploits of Shtra's son had caused those of Heigoun to be forgotten.
Thinking of such things, rage shook the warrior: jealousy burned his entrails, he wished to annihilate Helgvor with invincible stubbornness. Finding neither Helgvor nor Glava on the Red Peninsula, he had started out to seek them. His hope was to meet them either on the river bank or on the stream, for he thought they would follow that path.
And one morning he halted in a cove. Five men followed him, who would become minor chieftains the day he won over Akroun. All scanned the river and saw nothing but floating trees, grasses, twigs, leaves, carried away by the current. Heigoun wondered whether Helgvor had not rcached the Peninsula since his depareture. And as he mused, a voice hailed him, and he turned, astounded at what he saw.
Helgvor had come.
He stood on a hillock, armed with a solid stake and one of the bronze hatchets taken from the defeated Tzohs, bow hung over one shoulder.
The giant replied to his call with a shout loud as the roar of a lion. His five followers advanced carefully, wishing to surround the young warrior, but Shtra appeared with the men given him by Akroun, and Hiolg, the boy, who had contrived to accompany them.
"Why does the son of jackals come here?" Heigoun asked.
"Helgvor wants to live in peace within his hut."
"Heigoun wants the foreign woman!"
"Did Heigoun find her? Did he make an alliance with her?"
"Before Heigoun, Helgvor is like a stag before the lion! Heigoun shall become chief of chiefs, and all the Ougmars will bow before him."
Helgvor will never bow to Heigoun, nor obey Heigoun."
"Did Heigoun go and dare the Tzohs within their camp?'' Shtra, irritated, spoke in turn. "Did he bring back twenty women? Did he kill fifteen warriors? Helgvor shall be a great chief."
HEIGOUN brandished his stake, but when he saw Helgvor grasp the bow, he hid in the bushes. His men imitated him and an arrow hummed close to Helgvor's head. Then Helgvor, Shtra and their men took shelter in the thicket. Silence weighed on land and waters; beast no longer saw the erect beings. Then the voice of Helgvor rose.
"Does Heigoun want peace or war?"
"Heigoun wants Helgvor to submit or die!"
"It is well! Helgvor and Heigoun shall fight."
Then Helgvor took his bow in hand. He had six arrows, but Shtra and his warriors gave him twenty more. Before shooting, the young man warned:
Helgvor is ready to fight!"
There was no reply, and the first arrow whistled. It shot through the leaves, near Heigoun, who laughed scornfully. At the fourth arrow, a roar of fury burst out, and the colossus appeared. Blood dripped from his ear, and his face was twisting; he rushed like a wounded leopard.
The twigs of the bush made the use of the bow awkward, and Helgvor was eager to fight. He showed himself, shot an arrow at random, for he was hurried, then his fire-hardened stake met the stake of the giant. The sense of fatality, submission to Destiny, held the other warriors aside.
The stakes clashed as Heigoun sprang upon Helgvor at top speed, but the young man avoided the lunge, leaping aside. He thrust out in his turn, and his point struck the giant's club, hung from the shoulder.
"Heigoun is as heavy as an aurochs! Shall Helgvor have to kill him with arrows?"
It seemed that the Son of Shtra was about to use the bow again, but the desire to clash hand to hand with his rival proved strong enough to make him retrace his steps.
Heigoun lunged for the belly; the weapon slid on the ribs, ripped oft a strip of skin. Already Helgvor, pushing with all his might, had driven his stake into his foe's breast. Heigoun reeled and grasped his club. Because his stake was blunted, Helgvor changed it for the bronze hatchet.
Formidable despite his wound, Heigoun whirled his club, but, carried away by his spring, he missed Helgvor. As he rushed by, the bronze hatchet split his skull. He fell, the hatchet dropped hard twice more, and death came. For a moment longer the immense body palpitated, then Heigoun was still forever.
"Helgvor is the mightiest of the Men of the River!" Shtra proclaimed in a resounding voice.
And the shrill voice of the boy, Hiolg, repeated:
"Helgvor is mightiest of men!"
GLAVA and Amhao had waited, ready for flight, in the canoe hidden among the reeds. At intervals the girl was swept by cold shivers, she chattered as if winter had come suddenly into the sky. Her confidence died and was reborn. She saw Helgvor beaten constantly, saw him triumph constantly. Neither image effaced the other completely. She listened tensely, but the distance was too great, and she heard nothing save the monotonous voice of the flowing waters, the rustling of insects, and when she looked at Amhao, identical terror showed in their eyes.
Steps were heard. Unbearable impatience drove Glava from the canoe upon the plain. The universe spun, Glava uttered a wild cry and sank to her knees. Helgvor, her beloved, had come back.
She extended her arms, while her face dripped with tears.
"The hatchet dropped the Son of the Wolf," Shtra said.
Helgvor held the girl against his chest, and with her, he seemed to embrace the river, the forests and the plains, all space and all time. She was weak from a happiness composed of the tests she had survived, of the death from which Helgvor had saved her, weak also from the immense faith she had in his strength.
Then Shtra said, according to traditions:
"The Daughter of the Rocks shall live in Helgvor's hut. She shall be obedient, and he shall kill those who covet her."