Once Tharn was satisfied that the
column of fifty Ammadians, with Dylara and Trakor
in its midst, meant to cut directly across that wide
expanse of sun-baked grasses, he set out on a circuitous
course to pass them that he might be the first to
reach the distant forest beyond. It meant covering
a quarter again as much ground, but the advantage made
this extra effort worth while.
As he moved across the prairie at
a tireless trot, bitter thoughts filled his mind.
Last night Dylara had been almost within arm’s
reach and it seemed his long search for her was on
the point of ending. Caution, ever a strong attribute
of jungle dwellers, had brought on his decision to
wait until the camp was settled down for the night
before he attempted to wrest her from the Ammadians
who held her captive. Had the circumstances demanded
it, Tharn would have unhesitatingly charged all fifty
of those armed men; but only the inexperienced uses
force where stealth will do.
And so Tharn had restrained his impatience,
deciding to nap an hour or two while he waited.
He had awakened to loud voices and had witnessed,
in helpless rage, Ekbar’s cross-examination of
Trakor and Dylara. His first reaction was anger
that Trakor had attempted a deed beyond his still
limited prowess, but understanding came at once.
It was in this fashion that the boy had sought to
show his gratitude to Tharn, and in so doing had alerted
the camp and gotten himself captured in
Thus by the impulsive act of a hero-worshiping
boy had Tharn’s original task become a double
one and doubly difficult to accomplish
At first he considered entering the
camp after another hour or two, but with the trebling
of the guard he gave up the idea for the
night at least. There would be other nights nights
when the number of guards would be normal and their
behavior the same. Guards, it was well known,
were apt to become heavy-eyed and less alert along
All during the following morning Tharn
trailed the Ammadians. At first he did so from
a position among the branches above them; but along
toward mid-morning the trees began to thin out, as
well as the undergrowth normally covering the ground
between the giant boles, and he was forced to lag
further and further behind. When the fifty men
reached the prairie’s edge and stopped to rest,
he managed to work his way close enough to hear conversations
among several of the men.
Their talk was filled with eagerness
at being close to Ammad once more, and Tharn was aware
of a feeling of sharp disappointment. Was it
possible this group would reach the city before nightfall?
If that were true, his chances of freeing Dylara and
Trakor were small indeed.
An hour later Tharn was standing in
the shelter of a large tree, his eyes regretfully
watching as the entire party forged across that broad
stretch of open ground where he might not follow.
Two hours before sunset Tharn reached
the wall of jungle and trees. The column of Ammadians
were still far out in the grasslands and would need
another three hours to reach the game trail where Tharn
was standing. The cave lord decided to spend
that time in reconnoitering. There was the possibility
that Ammad itself lay not too deep within the forest
to make it worthwhile for the approaching column to
continue its march even after darkness fell.
It was as he had feared. Less
than an hour’s swift progress through the forest’s
upper terraces brought him to the edge of a vast clearing,
much like the one surrounding Sephar, beyond which
rose sheer grey walls of stone. From his elevated
position he could see beyond that barrier, and he
saw that, except for its far greater size and magnificence,
Ammad was not much different from Sephar. But
in size alone did Ammad make Sephar seem a small jungle
clearing by comparison. In diameter it was at
least ten miles and there were five small hills grouped
near its center, at the apex of each a magnificent
structure. The general layout of streets was
much the same as he had found in Sephar, but there
were more people on them.
For nearly an hour Tharn sat high
among the concealing foliage of his tree and watched
the scene below and before him. Hunting parties
well laden with trophies of the hunt entered the clearing
from the trail beneath him and the great gates of
wood, guarded by Ammadian warriors, swung open to
let them through the massive wall. It was a wall
much higher and stronger than Sephar had boasted and
getting past it was going to take some doing.
Tharn shrugged and turned back to
pick up those who were holding Dylara and Trakor.
Perhaps, he thought as he moved swiftly along the aerial
highway, it would not be necessary for him to pass
those walls. Even if those fifty Ammadians did
not make camp for tonight, he might still find a way
to rob them of their captives. Let them lower
their guard for even a moment, let them become only
a little careless and their hands would
be empty before their minds had caught up with their
He arrived at the prairie’s
edge only a few moments before Ekbar and his men reached
the game trail’s mouth. Tharn, narrow-eyed
and alert, watched them halt and gather gumwood torches,
saw these latter ignited and the march resumed.
It was as he had feared: they intended to press
on until Ammad’s walls hemmed them safely in.
Even Tharn’s iron-willed reserve
broke a little at this last blow. Through the
velvety darkness of a semi-tropical night he moved
stealthily above them, his fangs bared slightly, his
hand hovering often near his blackwood bow and the
quiver of arrows.
Several times he saw Trakor’s
upturned face as the youth sought to pierce the wavering
shadows cast by the flaming shadows. He knew well
what was passing through Trakor’s mind and, despite
his own disappointment, he smiled a little. Let
the headstrong cave youth worry a little; it would
be small payment indeed for the trouble he had caused!
But most often Tharn’s eyes
went to Dylara. He saw her stagger now and then
from sheer physical exhaustion and his heart went out
to her. How he would have loved to wrest her
from that spear-bristling line of warriors! There
was no way to do that, however. A barrage of arrows
could have cleared away those men directly around her,
but a rope about her wrist had its other end bound
about the arm of the man beside her; and even had
Tharn leaped down on the heels of his arrows to slash
away that rope spears might fell either or both of
No, for all his giant strength and
agility he was as helpless to aid the girl of his
choice as though miles lay between them.
Finally the time came when Tharn realized
Ammad was only a short distance ahead. He must
resign himself to the unescapable fact that Dylara
and Trakor were going to be taken beyond those walls
whether he liked the idea or not. This meant
his energies and cunning must be diverted to a different
channel; and with this in mind the cave lord halted
on a broad leafy branch above the column, waiting while
the twin lines moved ahead at a snail’s pace.
A pair of tall husky Ammadian warriors
were last in line. One of them carried a blazing
torch, the other had a heavy pack about his shoulders.
They plodded along, weariness evident in the lines
of bent shoulders and dragging feet. The one
with the pack seemed especially tired and every fifty
or sixty feet he would pause momentarily to shift his
burden to a new position. Each time this happened
the distance between him and his companion became
a matter of ten or fifteen feet until, pack adjusted,
the man hurried forward to join his unheeding partner.
A wry smile touched Tharn’s
firm lips. With uncanny ease he slipped to the
ground and moved silently along behind the wall of
undergrowth flanking the trail, his course parallel
with the column’s rear guard.
A bend in the path was coming up.
Already most of the column had made the turn and was
out of sight. Quickly Tharn raced ahead until
he was at a point no more than ten feet from the turn.
Crouching here, concealed by a maze of creepers and
brush, he picked up a short length of dead branch
As the last two Ammadians reached
a position directly opposite to the crouching cave
lord, Tharn thrust out the branch two or three inches
above the path’s surface and squarely between
the legs of the pack bearer.
The man’s swinging foot struck
against the unyielding wood and, weighted by the heavy
pack and weary from the long hours without rest, he
stumbled and fell headlong.
His companion, aroused by the thump
of a falling body and a string of curses rising on
the night air, turned back and bent to help him up.
“What happened, Posak?”
“What does it look like?
Do you think I decided to lie down and rest awhile?”
Still muttering under his breath Posak
got shakily to his feet and turned his back on his
companion to pick up the heavy pack. When he
turned back again, his amazed eyes beheld his friend
face down and motionless in the trail and the mightily
muscled figure of an almost naked cave man standing
over him and holding the torch.
Posak opened his mouth to yell a warning
to the others of the column. The cry was never
voiced. An iron fist swept from nowhere to crash
full against the point of his chin. There was
a sharp brittle sound like a branch breaking and Posak
sank lifelessly to the ground, his neck snapped cleanly
Quickly Tharn propped the torch of
gumwood against a tree bole and dragged the two corpses
into the brush. With rapid care he stripped tunic
and sandals from one body and donned them. The
tunic he found to be tight across his chest but still
adequate; the sandals fitted him perfectly.
So quickly had the cave lord acted
that by the time he caught up the torch and rounded
the bend in the trail, the end of Ekbar’s column
was no more than a dozen yards away. No one seemed
to be looking back of his shoulder in search of the
missing pair, a fact probably explained by the sight
of open ground directly ahead.
Blazing torch held high, thus leaving
his face shadowed, Tharn moved easily along at the
rear of the column of Ammadians, across the ribbon
of open ground about Ammad’s walls, and on through
the city gates.
Vokal awakened under the touch of
gentle but insistent fingers against his shoulder.
He opened his eyes to find one of his personal slaves,
a lighted candle in one hand, bending over him.
“What do you want, Adgal?” he demanded,
“Ekbar has returned, Most-High,”
the slave replied, cringing. “I told him
you were sleeping but he demanded that I arouse you
The nobleman bounded from the bed
and caught up his tunic. “Where is he?”
“In the outer chamber, Most-High.”
“Good. Tell him I’ll be out immediately.”
When Vokal entered the wide living
room he found the captain of his guards standing at
rigid attention just inside the door. The nobleman,
his tunic fresh and unwrinkled, his thick grey hair
as smoothly brushed as though this were midday instead
of the dead of night, strolled to a nearby table,
poured out a single glass of wine and sank into a chair.
His thin shapely fingers lifted the goblet slowly to
his lips, he sipped the liquid as slowly, savoring
its bouquet. Finally he put down the goblet and
swung his dreamy-eyed gaze to the uncomfortable and
self-conscious captain of the guards.
“Well, Ekbar?” he said softly.
“He is dead, Most-High.”
“Indeed? You took care of the matter yourself?”
“No, Most-High. He was
killed many suns before my men and I came upon his
men. Sadu, the lion, slew him.”
Vokal stiffened slightly. “How do you know
Ekbar retold, in detail, the story
given him by Tykol. For several minutes after
he finished Vokal sat there and thought it over while
he sipped from his goblet of wine. “...
You are sure he was not lying?”
“Yes, Most-High. There
were but thirty-seven of them, where once there was
fifty, and many wore strips of cloth over wounds left
by Sadu’s claws. Scouts who knew Jotan
by sight reported he was not with the column.”
He hesitated. “One part of their report
I did not understand, however, although it probably
is not important.”
“Tell it to me.”
Ekbar shrugged. “There
was a woman with them a young and very beautiful
girl. The scouts say she was very lovely dark-haired,
a pleasing figure and clearly the daughter of some
“Why did you not ask this Tykol who she was?”
“I learned about her the following day.
By that time Tykol was dead.”
Vokal nodded. “The balance
of Jotan’s men were not aware of being watched?”
“No, Most-High. I took
pains to keep that from them. Since Jotan’s
earlier death was something we had not foreseen, I
acted as I thought you would order. Since Jotan
is not with them it would be better that they reached
Ammad and told of his death under the fangs and claws
“You have acted wisely, Ekbar,
and I shall not forget it.”
The captain flushed with pleasure.
He said, “We did not return empty-handed, noble
Vokal. Two cave people fell into our hands one
of them a beautiful young woman who told us some wild
story about being Jotan’s intended mate.”
At Vokal’s look of languid interest,
Ekbar repeated the story Dylara had told him.
“And you say,” Vokal said
when the captain finished, “that this cave girl
is very beautiful?”
“There is none in all Ammad
who is more lovely,” Ekbar said, his deep-set
“How interesting!” Vokal
leaned back in his chair, his long, well-kept fingers
toying with the stem of his wine goblet. “Where
is she now?”
“Both she and the cave man we
captured a little later are under guard in the outer
corridor, Most-High. I thought you might wish
to look them over before they were placed with the
“Bring them in, my good Ekbar,” murmured
The captain saluted stiffly and withdrew.
A moment later he was back again followed by the two
captives and a second guard.
For several moments the nobleman let
his eyes move slowly over the two cave people.
The man, he saw, was, despite his youth, a remarkable
physical specimen, extraordinarily handsome and evidently
intelligent and keen-witted as so many of the cave
dwellers were. With the proper attitude toward
his new master it would not be long before he rose
to the status of a warrior and an end to his position
as slave. Judging from the flashing eyes and
his air of insolent contempt, it would take a few
days of iron-fisted discipline, however, to make him
amenable. Well, Ekbar was a past master of that
The girl, though, was another matter
entirely. Ekbar had not exaggerated in naming
her more beautiful than any of Ammad’s women including
those of noble birth. Despite her travel-worn
tunic and the weariness evident in every line of face
and figure, her beauty shone through like Dyta’s
brilliant rays. A man could lose his heart in
that red-gold wealth of softly curling hair falling
to her shoulders; he could drown in the depths of
those sparkling brown eyes. He smiled a little
at these thoughts. What would Rhoa, dark-haired,
olive-skinned, beautiful and passionate, think if
she knew he was having such thoughts about a wild
girl of the caves?
Well, Rhoa need not know. Most
noblemen had beautiful slave girls and most noblemen’s
wives ignored the fact....
Dylara bore his steady gaze with calm
indifference. The enforced association with the
men of Ammad during the past several moons had taught
her a great deal about them; that, plus a native shrewdness,
told her she could expect little sympathy and no help
from this silver-haired, languid-eyed man whose property
she now appeared to be.
“Your name, cave girl?”
The soft, almost caressing voice repelled
her. There was something ugly and evil behind
it a reflection of the man’s true
She met his gaze unflinching. “I am Dylara.”
“What is this wild story you
told the captain of my guards the story
that you were the noble Jotan’s mate?”
“I was never his mate. I am no man’s
“But he wanted you. Why, then, did he not
“Because, in spite of his being
an Ammadian, Jotan was a true nobleman. He sought
to win me with kindness and consideration instead of
taking me by force.”
Deliberately Vokal let his eyes wander
over the beautiful lines of her figure. “From
your tone I judge that you do not believe all Ammadians
would be so considerate. From looking at you I
would say he was more stupid than anything else....”
“However, that is no longer
important. Jotan is dead and you now
belong to me to do with as I see fit.
You may be sure I will not confuse consideration with
There was no mistaking his meaning.
Dylara felt her cheeks burn, but before she could
voice the angry retort trembling on her lips, Vokal
turned his eyes to the silent and expressionless Ekbar.
“Confine the girl in one of
the private rooms in the slave quarters,” he
said. “As for her companion, put him in
with those slaves who work on the palace grounds.
Keep me informed as to his general attitude. If
he gives you any trouble, have him beaten until he
Once past Ammad’s walls.
Tharn permitted the rest of Ekbar’s column to
draw gradually away from him until, to the eye of the
casual passerby, he was not a part of that body but
only a solitary warrior abroad on some affair of his
He would have liked nothing better
than to continue on with the column until it passed
through the walls of whatever estate they were headed
for. But already his luck had held up far beyond
what he had originally expected; to remain longer
with Ekbar’s warriors would have meant risking
almost certain discovery that he was not one of its
He must keep the column in sight,
however, until it reached its goal. Once he knew
which of these stone walled estates was to swallow
up Dylara and Trakor he would be free to enter in
his own way and undertake their rescue.
At this late hour Ammad’s streets
were nearly deserted. An occasional solitary
figure strode along with purposeful steps, and twice
small groups of men, staggering and loud-mouthed from
too much wine, blundered and weaved along the paved
thoroughfares. On these latter occasions Tharn
was careful to cross the street to avoid contact, for
drunken men were notoriously unpredictable.
At last Ekbar’s column ground
to a halt outside a wide gate in a high wall of stone
midway along one of the streets. Twin lanterns
burned from a niche above those gates, their rays
glinting on the spear points of four armed guards
From the shadows of a wall across
the street, Tharn watched as Ekbar held a brief conversation
with those four sentries; then the gates swung wide
and the column, Dylara and Trakor among its members,
disappeared from view.
Tharn voiced a low grunt of approval
and satisfaction. Somewhere within the huge sprawling
building of four floors looming massively against the
night sky was the girl he loved and the young man he
had befriended. Within another hour the dwellers
of that cliff-like dwelling would have finished welcoming
the returning warriors and be back in their beds.
Then would Tharn enter in search of their captives.
In the interim a general reconnaissance
seemed in order. The palace sat squarely atop
one of Ammad’s low hills amid wide grounds.
Here and there behind the encircling wall a tree lifted
its crested top, the night’s gentle wind stirring
its leaves and branches.
Making certain his bow, quiver of
arrows, grass rope and flint knife were in their accustomed
places, Tharn set out for a leisurely stroll.
For several hundred yards the street he followed lay
unbroken by any intersecting avenue and in all that
length the only life in sight was the group of four
guards lounging outside that wide gateway which had
swallowed up Dylara and Trakor.
When he reached a position directly
opposite those four Tharn was aware that all of them
were watching him from across the strip of paving that
made up the street itself. At any moment he might
be challenged and ordered to a halt.
But the challenge did not come and
he passed casually on along the walk. They were
behind him now and, unless he turned his head to look
back, out of range of his eyes. His ears, however,
were busy and soon they caught the sound of voices.
An intersection appeared ahead and
unhesitatingly the cave lord cut diagonally across
it and moved out of sight of the four sentries.
If he expected to find this section of the wall unguarded,
however, he was doomed to disappointment. Half
way down the block a single lantern sent out feeble
rays from a small niche directly above a single gate a
gate guarded by a patrolling sentry.
Because of the comparative narrowness
of this street and the high walls on either side,
heavy shadows left it in almost total darkness.
Tharn, across the street and still a good hundred
and fifty yards away, had not yet been observed by
that lone sentry.
He might, Tharn realized, be able
to pass the man once without arousing undue interest
or suspicion. But should he attempt to retrace
his steps later on the guard would be almost certain
to take some sort of action. It was not that
Tharn would be unable to handle the matter if that
should happen, but there was always the possibility
that others might be aroused by a warning cry.
Stooping, Tharn removed his sandals
and, hugging the wall where shadows lay deepest, began
a slow, careful advance.
Thirty paces the guard took in each
direction before executing a brisk about face and
retracing his steps. The leather soles of his
sandals made crisp clear rhythmical sounds against
the stone underfoot. Each time his measured pacing
brought him toward Tharn, the cave lord remained frozen,
hugging the wall; when he wheeled and started back
Tharn raced lightly ahead, even while he counted off
each step the sentry took. On the twenty-ninth
pace Tharn would freeze again, then repeat the maneuver.
Finally the man of the caves reached
the point where he dared go no further. He was
still fifty or sixty feet down the street and another
fifteen feet to one side. Hardly daring to breathe,
he stood as motionless as the wall at his back until
the man finished the routine of thirty paces toward
him; then, as he wheeled and started back, Tharn unslipped
his bow with unthinkable swiftness, fitted an arrow
to its string. Mighty muscles rippled smoothly
across that bronzed back as a steady hand bent the
stubborn wood, a single musical “twang”
sounded against the still air and flint-tipped death
flickered for an immeasurable instant between the
True to its target flew Tharn’s
arrow, the sharp point striking squarely at the juncture
of neck and the skull’s base. Wide flew
the sentry’s arms and he fell soundlessly in
a crumpled heap, the spear still tightly clutched
in one dead hand.
Even while the body was still falling
Tharn was bounding toward the now unguarded gate.
Unbarring it, he drew the lifeless warrior out of sight
beyond, then closed the gate with his back.
Here at the wall’s base was
darkness, but a few steps beyond was a moonfilled
clearing dotted with carefully spaced bushes and an
occasional tree. A curving path of crushed rock
led across cropped grass and ended at a wide door
of the palace itself.
Although the hour Tharn had alloted
himself before entering the palace was not up, there
were no signs of life anywhere about the grounds, nor
did man-made light gleam through any of the windows
on this side of the building. Yet uppermost in
Tharn’s mind was that sense of caution when
caution was possible, and he decided to wait for a
while before entering the palace itself.
With a quick soundless rush he crossed
the stretch of greensward between him and the nearest
tree. A single agile leap took him among its
branches and, finding a comfortable fork, he settled
himself to wait.
Unexpectedly, it proved a wise move.
Hardly was he at rest when a group of six guards,
their spear-points and white tunics sharp and clear
in the light of Uda, the moon, rounded a far
corner of the building.
At first Tharn thought some one had
sighted him entering the grounds and given an alarm.
He abandoned the idea immediately, however, for the
actions and general attitude of the six indicated this
was no more than a routine patrol. Evidently
Ammad’s nobleman had many enemies....
In a way Tharn’s choice of a
point to break into this palace was an unfortunate
one. He would have preferred to enter on the side
where Uda’s rays did not reach. But four
guards instead of one were stationed at that gate
and an attempt to pass them would have been foolhardy
Now, indeed, he must wait wait
until he could learn how much time would elapse between
appearances of those six guards. He settled himself
firmly into the branch’s fork, using this period
of enforced idleness by attempting to locate some
means of ingress in that section of palace wall visible
All windows of the first two floors
appeared to be guarded by slender columns of stone.
He had seen such forms of protection on some of Sephar’s
structures and he knew that even his own great strength
would be unable to force them.
The windows of the top two floors
were shielded only by drapes of soft material, with
here and there a balcony dotting the white stone surface.
Could he but reach one of the former, entry would be
simple. But nowhere on the smooth sheer surface
could he make out hand- and foot-holds for that purpose.
Half an hour dragged by. Nobody
passed by, no light showed at any of the windows,
no sound broke the tomb-like silence. He wondered
at the failure of the six-man patrol to appear a second
Well, he could not remain in this
leafy retreat forever. With a slight shrug of
his giant shoulders, Tharn descended to the lower branches,
took a long and cautious look around, his ears and
nose alert for some sign of life. Nothing.
Dropping to the ground, the cave lord
ran lightly toward that corner of the palace around
which those six guards had disappeared more than half
an hour before. He was within feet of his goal
when a sudden chorus of shrill cries from behind him
broke the silence.
A single glance over his shoulder
told him the story. The ground patrol had chosen
this particular moment to reappear!
Once Dylara had been thrust not ungently
within a room off a fourth floor corridor and its
door barred from the outside, Trakor was turned over
to a single guard to be taken to one of the slave dormitories.
From the cave youth’s appearance of utter hopelessness,
the dispirited droop of his shoulders, it was clear
all fight had gone out of him since Ammad’s
gates had closed at his back. He shuffled wearily
along the hall ahead of his yawning guard, down a
flight of stairs to the third level and along a lengthy
corridor, lined with doors and completely deserted
at this hour.
At the corridor’s far end loomed
two massive doors, heavily barred. While Trakor
stood passively by, head hanging listlessly, the Ammadian
put down his spear and reached with both hands to lift
free the broad bar. In so doing he momentarily
turned his back to the cave youth and that
momentary lapse spelled his doom.
Steel fingers closed about his throat,
a naked leg tripped him up and he was flat on his
back before his lips opened to a cry that was never
uttered. Blindly the guard sought to reach the
knife at his belt; but Trakor, anticipating this,
ground a knee into that wrist.
The man’s heels hammered spasmodically
against the stone in mute agony and fear and his by
no means weak body thrashed and bucked. But those
fingers only tightened their hold.
Trakor, his face only inches from
that of the enemy, saw those fear-filled eyes start
from their sockets, saw lips and cheeks turn dark
with constricted blood, felt the broad chest beneath
his rise and fall wildly as the lungs fought for air.
For several minutes after the Ammadian
warrior lay limp and still beneath him Trakor kept
his fingers buried in that lifeless throat. Finally
he rose shakily to his feet and looked down upon the
body of his first kill. Exultation filled him,
and pride and a strange sense of sadness....
He shook his head briefly as if to
clear away such thoughts. Guided by the dim light
from candles in wall brackets set at wide intervals
along the corridor, he bent and stripped the corpse
of its tunic and drew it over his own shoulders.
His late foe had been a tall man and the tunic came
a bit higher on Trakor’s legs than Ammadian fashion
dictated, a grievous matter which he ignored.
A keen-edged knife of stone went under the tunic’s
belt; the heavy spear he left where the warrior originally
had placed it.
Trakor went back along that corridor
with long swinging strides, his naked feet soundless
against the stone, his head erect, his ears and eyes
alert for the slightest sound or movement.
Ascending the same flight of stairs
he had descended a few minutes earlier, he paused
at the top and looked carefully at the twin lines of
closed doors. The seventh on his left; he had
counted them off carefully while on his way to the
For a full minute he stood motionless
outside that barred portal, listening for some indication
that others were up and about the palace. Then
he turned back, lifted the bar and pushed open the
door with slow care.
A flicker of motion from within the
darkened room caused him to leap sharply back, just
in time to keep a heavy wooden chair from caving in
his head. Unchecked, the chair struck the floor
with a resounding crash, the impact tearing it loose
from Dylara’s hands.
By the time she had bent to pick it
up for a second try, Trakor was inside and the door
closed. He threw out a hand to ward off Dylara’s
impromptu club, whispering, “No, Dylara!
It is I Trakor!”
A muffled sob of relief and thanksgiving
was torn from her throat, then she was in his arms.
At the feel of her body against his,
the heady scent of her hair in his nostrils, Trakor
felt his heart leap within him and his arms tightened
suddenly about the girl’s smooth, softly rounded
Then the moment was gone and they drew apart.
“I can’t believe it, Trakor!”
Dylara whispered. “How did you manage to
“There’s no time for that
now,” he said. “We’ve got to
get out of this place and back to the jungle where
we belong. Tharn is out there somewhere and we
must find him before he enters Ammad in search of us.”
“I don’t know yet.
If we can reach the streets without being seen....”
He went to the door, pressed an ear against its planks
for a moment, then very gently drew open the heavy
section of wood and put his head cautiously out.
The corridor, in either direction, was deserted.
“Come,” he whispered,
and hand in hand they stole silently toward the head
of those stairs Trakor had recently climbed.
From somewhere below them a door slammed
heavily and sandaled feet, several pairs of them judging
from the sound, approached the base of that same flight
Without speaking Trakor and Dylara
turned and, on tiptoe, raced in the opposite direction.
As he ran, Trakor drew his knife in preparation for
any enemy who might suddenly loom in their path.
A turn in the corridor brought them
to a second flight of steps, down which they raced
at full speed. Past landings at the third and
second floors they fled, stopping at last in front
of a closed door marking the main level of the palace.
“Wait!” Trakor breathed,
placing a restraining hand on the girl’s arm.
Silence seemed to press down upon
them, a silence so complete they could hear the breath
rustling in their nostrils.
With almost exaggerated care Trakor
drew back the door. Moonlight streaming in at
several stone-barred windows revealed a large hall,
its walls hung with rich tapestries and a long wide
table, lined with chairs, running almost its entire
Dylara, familiar with such scenes
from her days in Sephar, said, “The palace dining
hall.” She pointed to an open doorway in
the opposite wall. “That should lead to
the kitchens. No one will be there at this time
They crossed quickly to the designated
opening, along a short narrow hall, through a second
doorway and on into a low-ceilinged room whose furnishings
bore mute testimony that Dylara’s guess had been
“Look!” whispered Dylara, pointing.
Thin lines of moonlight formed a rectangle
on the far wall, marking a doorway leading to open
air. Quickly Trakor was across the kitchen and
straining to lift the heavy bar from its catches.
And in that moment a sudden chorus
of deep-throated shouts of alarm from beyond that
door reached their ears.