The Well of Time
An Elmo of the Apes Adventure
Copyright © 1997, All Rights Reserved.
Illustrated by Tangor and Nunez
The forest glade below Elmo was empty. He lay high above on a broad limb, while little Nkima the monkey slept nestled against his neck and shoulders. Elmo was beginning to get hungry, and he hoped that Wappi the antelope or Bara the deer would emerge into the open. He was many leagues west of his estate in the Uziri province. There was talk of a new war in Europe, where a man with a little mustache was building an army of supermen. Elmo had moved his family back to the Uziri, hoping that war clouds would not blow south as they did in 1914.
A scent made his nostrils twitch. It was that of a man, sour with sweat. Elmo straightened up, nearly spilling Nkima from the limb. The monkey chattered angrily.
"Hush," Elmo whispered. "A tarmangani is coming."
"I do not fear a weak-eyed tarmangani," Nkima said, expanding his tiny chest. "That is, unless they have a thunderstick."
Elmo managed a rare smile. "Let us see."
A figure then emerged from the western side of the glade. He was thick, but stooped and gnarled almost like an ape. His bushy black hair was matted, and a black beard covered most of his face, flowing down into his chest to be lost in the riot of wiry hair on the man's chest. His features were thick and ape-like, and he was dressed in a torn loincloth of hides held up by a girdle of beaten gold links. In his girdle gleamed a curved knife, and in one meaty fist was a large cudgel. Elmo knew immediately that this was an inhabitant of the lost city of Opar.
Having one of the degenerated products of sunken Atlantis' orphaned province traipsing around Elmo's jungle did not please the apeman. Oparians, most notably their high priestess, the beautiful La, meant nothing but trouble. Elmo gripped his spear with his right hand and easily swung down from the limb with his left.
"Waugh," Nkima grunted. "A tarmangani from Opar. Do they not eat the flesh of manu, Elmo?"
"Is the mighty Nkima afraid?" Elmo asked.
"Elmo is here," Nkima stated, leaping to Elmo's shoulder. "Together, we are more than a match for the Oparian. This manu's flesh is not for him."
Elmo advanced to within thirty paces of the bestial man and stopped, spear-butt resting lightly on the ground.
"What are you doing in the jungles of Elmo, Oparian?" the Lord of the Jungle demanded in the language of the great apes.
"Elmo!" snarled the stranger. "Long have I sought you over many days' travel. Through dense jungle and encounters with savage beasts have I come to find you. No Oparian has traveled so far from home."
"Then you must have a dire reason, indeed. What is your name?"
"I am Darus, loyal to Queen La."
"I remember you. You were to gather her loyal followers after Oah and Dooth imprisoned La. But, you betrayed us."
"Not true. I was followed and a servant of Dooth's overheard our conversation. When I returned, I was imprisoned. La released me after the death of the conspirators. You must trust me."
"As much as I trust any priest of Opar," Elmo assured him, which in reality was not saying a whole lot, considering the trustworthiness of the Oparian priesthood. "State your business."
"La has vanished."
"What? Explain this."
"As you know, an earthquake struck Opar, damaging some of the temple. A priest discovered that a crack in one wall had opened a secret room, long sealed. La was summoned and entered the room alone, due to the narrowness of the crack. Before any could follow, a scream issued forth from the room. La did not come out, nor were any priests found to be of sufficient courage to enter. We thought perhaps she had encountered a spirit, but no one would go and see. Finally, after a full day, I, myself, looked within the crack. The room was ajumble with fallen masonry and decayed furnishings. No form, living or dead, was to be seen. Also, I could see no other exit from the room. La had vanished. The chief priests convened to discuss what to do. None wished to replace La without confirmation of her death. In her stead, we have selected Noa, with the understanding that she will relinquish her duties as soon as La returns."
"What have I to do with this?" demanded the ape-man.
"The same council decreed that you should be found to help in the search, as a friend of La's," Darus answered.
Elmo considered this. He was too far from his plantation to return swiftly. Besides, Darus was so worn from his journey, that he might no survive a trip to the Uziri and back to Opar. He might not even survive the return to Opar. Elmo thought of Jane. He felt she would be safe from war until he returned. The nearest Nazi troops would take weeks to get to Africa, and they had to fight through France first. The Germans did not defeat France in the Great War, and he did not think they would do so again, for all the bluster of their strutting dictator.
"Very well, I will accompany you," Elmo said. "Do you need rest?"
"Rest and food," Darus admitted. "It is difficult to fill one's belly with a cudgel and knife. I broke my spear against a leopard several days ago."
"You rest and I will find us a meal," Elmo commanded. "Nkima will watch over you."
"Waugh," complained the monkey. "His belly is empty. Is not Nkima a tempting morsel?"
"Stay high in the branches, then, mighty Nkima," Elmo suggested and, grabbing the nearest limb, was soon lost in the foliage of the middle terraces.
It was not long before he spotted Horta the boar drinking from the impression left by an elephant's foot. Notching an arrow, the Lord of the Jungle let fly and it struck Horta just below his shoulder. The pig struggled briefly, then collapsed into the depression. Elmo descended from his perch and quickly butchered his kill. So strong was the smell of Horta's blood in his nostrils, that he did not hear Sheeta the leopard until a brittle twig snapped by chance. Elmo wheeled and faced his rival predator.
Sheeta was hungry, and his black, sinuous body slithered low to the ground as he crept upon Elmo. However, his surprise was lost, and he reared back with a snarling hiss. Elmo had his knife in hand and replied.
"Kreegah, Sheeta!" he growled. "Elmo will be happy to leave you the parts he does not want."
The leopard roared back, green eyes steady. Elmo met this stare with a steel-gray gaze of his own. For a time neither moved, then, slowly, Sheeta began to inch away. Elmo gathered up his kill and sprang for the trees before Sheeta thought better. A backward glance showed the black leopard falling upon the refuse Elmo had left behind. He swung along the trees with the boar's carcass over one shoulder until he returned to the Oparian. He split the carcass with his knife and handed half to Darus. Then, like two apes, instead of two men, they devoured their meal raw.
"Well enough," said Darus, wiping his fingers upon his flanks. "I feel much strengthened. Let us
depart for Opar."
"There is water nearby," Elmo said. "Then we can go."
For many days the two traveled through the dense forests of central Africa. Finally, they came to the giant valley that hid the orphan of Atlantis. The roofs of Opar shone red and gold in the sunlight. Elmo found the narrow entrance that he often used to enter the city unseen. Through the halls and past the treasure rooms they traveled, until they emerged once more in the Chamber of the Dead. Darus balked when he learned their destination, but the presence of Elmo compelled him to traverse the dreaded room. They then stood before the sacrificial altar used so many times by countless priestesses of Opar. Blood had stained it permanently, and Elmo felt a slight thrill go through his body as he remembered being twice laid upon that same worked stone.
"Darus, you have returned!" A female voice echoed in the chamber. Rushing forward joyfully was little Noa, now dressed as High Priestess of the Flaming Sun. Disks and ovals of beaten gold encompassed her head into which diamonds were worked, and her arms were covered with bracelets and arm bands of gold and jewels. Maintaining her leopard-skin skirt was a wide girdle of gold encrusted with jewels, into which was thrust the sacrificial knife. She was every inch a worthy priestess of the Flaming Sun, but to Elmo's eyes, she was no La.
"Noa!" Darus exclaimed. "Where are the others? Elmo is here."
"I will summon them," she offered, and ran off. Elmo sat in a curule chair carved from stone and overlaid with gold. Above him rose the vaulted roof of the Temple of the sun, its massive dome covered with paintings of strange beasts and men. He checked his weapons, including a sturdy grass rope he had made during his journey. Soon, Noa returned with a dozen of the squat priests and a nearly equal number of priestesses.
"We are grateful the mighty Elmo has returned to help us search for La," said Noa. "Since her guard of bolgani deserted her, Elmo alone has been seen as her protector. You must hurry. If she is alive, she is in desperate straits."
Nkima chattered at Elmo's shoulder. "None is mightier than Nkima, and with his helper Elmo, we will find La. I suggest you ready many succulent nuts and berries for Nkima's return."
"Nkima's boast notwithstanding, we will begin to search for her," Elmo said. "If you will provide us with some food and drink, we shall begin."
A golden ewer of water and cups of the same metal were brought forth, along with golden trays of fruits and meat. Elmo dined on this, then bade farewell to the Oparians as he entered the jagged crack they indicated. As Darus had described, the room was dark, and great blocks of stone stood like a child's play blocks in various parts of the room. The room's center was dominated by a raised stone circle. At Elmo's approach, a scraping sound began, and the center of the stone circle began to descend. After about twenty feet, the stone disk moved sideways, and a blue-white light sprang forth, nearly blinding Elmo. He looked down, but all he could see was a coruscating mass of blue and white.
"La!" He called into the recess.
"Elmo!" came her voice, faint and echoing as if she were very far away.
"I am coming, La!"
Elmo found a heavy piece of stone to which he attached one end of his grass rope. He then gained the lip of the stone circle and began to work his way down the side of the pit. He felt like he was descending a well. At the end of the twenty feet, he saw the lip of the well, and the sliding stone disk, but all else was lost in the blue glare. He had no choice but to try to find the bottom by climbing to the end of his rope. He went down a further twenty feet, and was now completely surrounded by the pulsing illumination.
"La!" He again yelled.
"Elmo!" Came the ghostly cry again.
Suddenly, a wind buffeted him, and a banshee shrieking encircled him. His ears hurt from the awful wail. The wind picked up, to nearly hurricane force, and he lost his grip on the rope. Totally disoriented, the ape-man tumbled into nothingness.
* * * * * * * *
Conan of Cimmeria, late of the pirate ship Tigress, slashed his way southward. He had trekked two weeks or more beyond the headwaters of the Zarkheba river. So far, he had found no hint of civilization, and had constantly been imperiled by lions, leopards, and cannibals. His body was covered with welts from insect bites and scars from fang and claw. He had skinned his largest kill, a rare saber tooth, and used the untanned hide as protection during the night from the many vermin which found his flesh tasty while he slept.
The jungle sun had nearly baked the memory of his lost love, Bllit the Shemite pirate. Many adventures had he shared with a woman of many passions, and his heart still ached when he though of her ivory body dancing naked in the moonlight. His body retained the memory of hers pressed close to him on their bunk aboard the Tigress as he crushed her in his brawny embrace. Life had taken on a mechanical routine. Cut and slash vegetation, cut and slash his foes. Food came in various forms, as fruit, nuts, or even the flesh of those animals he slew. Raised in the wastes of Cimmeria, Conan had become hardy by surviving in the bleakest of environments.
A sense of fatalism drew him onward. If he survived his journey inland, perhaps he would find a tribe of black warriors and create his own kingdom, far from the disciplined armies of the Hyborian lands. Here, the hosts of Stygia and Turan had never penetrated. A man could carve his own niche here. His cutlass continued to do its work as his mile eating stride plunged him deeper towards the interior. Of late, the ground had become higher, with naked rock now projecting amid the verdant forest.
Hills and mountains appeared, and soon Conan found himself standing above a huge valley. Below him sprawled a city more like that of Aquilonia or Zamora than what he expected. Huge minarets and towards soared heavenward, mottled with red and gold colored roofs. Conan speculated that it couldn't be real gold. No city could have so much treasure. At its center was a huge temple, topped by the figure of a giant bird. The entire mass of buildings was encompassed by a huge wall higher than any wall he had seen. Whatever this city was, its inhabitants meant to be secure.
Here is my chance, by Crom, he thought. Here is a city fit for a king-- me, that is.
He waited until dark. From his vantage, he saw that the city teemed with inhabitants, but he could make out nothing of them. Stalking down the valley like a shadow among shadows, he came to the base of the high walls. He sought the gates, to find them carved with strange beasts. How was he to get in?
* * * * * * * *
Elmo found himself swimming in a sea of florescent blue. Everywhere, he saw the dark purple mouths of openings. He tried to picture La, her tan, radiant features and foaming mass of glossy black hair that ran to her hips. Beautiful as she was, Elmo knew that she could not compare with Jane. Still, if Jane were gone, Elmo could not find the idea of he and La as mates totally repulsive. As his mind filled with the green eyed vision of La, he found himself being inexorably drawn toward one particular hole, even though it had nothing unique in its aspect.
"Elmo!" came Nkima's voice.
Elmo looked back to see Nkima plummeting toward him. He grasped the monkey by the nape of his neck as he shot past and cradled him under his arm. Unresisting, he began to fall again toward the beckoning pit. A roaring sound filled his ears, and he felt as if his forward momentum was slowly down. The edge of the hole became more defined. Elmo saw an identical stone disk and lip. As soon as his hand touched the rough edge of the disk, he felt the tug of gravity. It was all he could do to hold onto the stone with one hand now. He placed Nkima on one shoulder and levered himself up on the edge of the disk. Using his fingers and toes, he scaled the wall of the pit, racing swiftly up the twenty feet to the top. Behind him, he could hear the disk slide into place and begin to rise.
He emerged into what must have been a twin of the room he had vacated in Opar. This room, however, was in pristine shape, opening directly into the sacrificial chamber. Only one man was in the room, dressed in white robes and beaten gold ornaments. He seemed perfectly human, unlike the apelike priests. Everywhere, Elmo saw votary furnishings, including idols of beasts he had hitherto only seen as frescoes on the walls of Opar's temple. These idols were some ten feet tall and seem made of pure gold.
The priest stepped back as Elmo vaulted from his hole. A look of amazement shot across his features. Elmo landed lightly on the floor and stood waiting. The man said something in a strange tongue which Elmo recognized as being similar to the ritual language used by La during sacrifices. This man spoke true Oparian. Elmo did not know a word of it.
"I am Elmo of the Apes," he said in the language of the mangani.
"Who are you that you speak the language of slaves?" the priest demanded in poor accents. "Are you a demon?"
"I am not," Elmo replied. "I seek La, Priestess of the Flaming God."
"Do not anger Elmo," Nkima advised. "He has killed dozens who were not as puny as you."
"You speak of the she who came through the Well of Time, like yourself," the priest stated. "She has been taken before the king some days ago. The last I heard, he was considering taking her as a bride."
"The only thing of hers he will take is her knife, and that between his ribs, no doubt," Elmo said. "Take me to her."
"Dog!" The priest spat. "You do not command a priest of Opar. Guards!"
The priest turned on his slippered heel and snatched a cloth pull that hung from one wall. Immediately bells sounded, and Elmo heard shouts. Angrily, he backhanded the priest into unconsciousness and rushed to the altar room. His only chance was to get to the Chamber of the Dead and hope that the secret passageway existed in this Opar as well. His way was blocked by half a dozen men in golden breastplates and leathern kilt. They carried long bronze shod spears and oval shields with copper bosses in the center. At their waists were short swords in finely decorated scabbards.
If this was Opar, Elmo reasoned, they had a long way to go before reaching the state that he remembered. He had to have traveled far into time indeed. Elmo had no choice but to use his bow like a bat and knock the foremost guardsman from his feet. The rest of the party stopped in a huddled formation, preparing to launch their spears. Elmo dropped his bow, scooped up the fallen guard like he was an infant, and threw him into the mass of men. They all stumbled or went down.
Not waiting to see the results, Elmo wheeled and fled down another corridor, Nkima clinging to his quiver for dear life. A guard almost collided with him around one corner. Before the man realized what was going on, Elmo had shoved him into a room and knocked him senseless with one blow of his fist. Shutting the wooden door to the room, Elmo quickly stripped the guard of his weapons and armor, and donned them, retaining only his hunting knife. Securing the unconscious man with the strap from his quiver, Elmo then slid into the hallway once more.
It was filled with guards and priests running to and fro. Elmo seemed only slightly larger than average. These ancient Oparians were a hardy, fine-featured race, similar to pictures he had seen of reconstructions of Greek or Roman athletes. Where could the squat beast men of his time be? And what did the priest mean when he called the language of the mangani a "slave" tongue? He decided that his subterfuge would not last long, so it was best to find the throne room as quickly as possible and see if he could snatch La from this king and return her to the well before the whole city was after him. He rounded another corner and came face to face with Bolgani the gorilla.
* * * * * * * *
Conan heard alarm bells going off inside the city. He inwardly cursed his luck. He had been seen! He ran for the shadows, but stopped to await pursuit. When none was forthcoming, he again stole to the gates. At their feet he saw with horror that the bones of men lay littered everywhere. So long had they lay that the jungle had softened most of their outlines. He could tell nothing of them, save that dozens of bodies must have lain within a hundred yards of the city walls. Plague? Or a warning. Conan figured the latter. This was going to be a tough bunch, but he had faced tough enemies before. As a Cimmerian, he feared no man, but he had a healthy respect for wizardry.
Apparently something was going on within the city. Perhaps this was his chance. He examined the gate carefully. It was twenty feet tall, with no handholds. The wall was smooth to the top. Conan decided that he would probably have to braid a rope from vines and use his dagger as a grapple to catch the top of the gate. Either that, or he would have to wait until somebody went in or out and slip in then. That was risky. However, by the look of place, very few people went in or out of the gates.
A voice gave a command in a tongue unknown to him, and a hand fell upon his shoulder. Conan wheeled with panther-like speed, steel springing to his hand. Behind him was a knot of men in golden breastplates and leather kilts. They carried spears, but more fantastic was the gorilla behind them in a jewel-studded leather harness with golden fastenings and a collar of gold plates. In the gorilla's hand was an ivory handled bludgeon with a knob of gold shaped like a lion. Conan was so fascinated that he did not move. One of the men spoke a barking language to the gorilla. To Conan's utter amazement, the gorilla understood and replied to the man. The soldier who had touched him spoke again in the interrogative.
"I am Conan, a Cimmerian," the barbarian said. "I was just passing through."
He swung to block the bludgeon that the gorilla wielded, but his speed was no match for the ape's. Still, his sword laid open the ape's forearm from wrist to shoulder, and the club only struck him a glancing blow. Instead of having his brains dashed out, Conan was merely rendered unconscious.
* * * * * * * *
"Kreegah, Bolgani!" Elmo snarled in the language of the great apes. "Elmo bundolo!"
The Bolgani was dressed in a leather harness covered with gold and jewels. A truncheon swung at his hip. Before he could draw it, Elmo swung the butt of his newly acquired spear so hard it sent the six hundred pound gorilla reeling headlong. Elmo sprang upon him before he could recover and drove the spear into Bolgani's breast. He wrenched it free and continued on his way. He emerged into the courtyard after elbowing his way through a growing throng of guardsmen who were going through the temple in search of him.
Before him was the massive palace. How different it looked clean and intact, towers gleaming in the afternoon sun. No vines choked its pillars, and no beasts roamed through its gaping doorways. As he traversed the granite flags of the courtyard, he saw a party coming from the direction of the city gates. It included another Bolgani, and Elmo reasoned that they must have been the slaves the priest spoke of. He noted that the gorilla was wearing a harness and his arm was bandaged from wrist to elbow. Here, perhaps, were the origins of the Bolgani that Elmo encountered in the city of Diamonds some twenty years ago, or was in ten thousand in the future? The Bolgani was carrying a man whose size rivaled Elmo's own, but his features were lost in a massive of coal-black hair. He seemed much like the rest of the Oparians, save that his body was covered with the marks of a long travel in the jungle. Clearly, he was a stranger to them.
Elmo decided to fall in with the group of warriors bearing the stricken man to the palace. Nkima became agitated upon seeing the Bolgani as they approached.
"Waugh," Nkima snorted. "Bolgani is ever the enemy of Elmo and Nkima. Will he not slay us?"
"Do not fear, mighty Nkima," Elmo admonished, "this Bolgani is a slave to these tarmangani. Besides, some Bolgani have been Elmo's friend, especially at the city of Diamonds."
"Nkima is not so sure," the monkey chittered.
Guards at the Palace doors allowed the party to enter after their leader had a short parley with one. Elmo stayed close, and was not challenged as he entered. He followed them down a long hall of colonnaded marble pillars that gleamed in the flickering light of a hundred inset bowls made from gold. Guards stood between each set of pillars, spears pointed skyward. Courtiers scurried to and fro, all finely attired and wearing a king's ransom in gold and jewels. Even the least servant had more jewels than the Queen of England. He wondered what the wife of George VI would have thought had she been suddenly thrust into this savage world of barbaric splendor.
The hallway ended before a huge set of brass-valved doors of deep mahogany. Gold chased the stolid brass fittings and overlaid the massive handles. Huge guards tugged open the doors as the war party approached. Elmo looked ahead and saw a dozen marble semi-circles laid upon each other to form a set of steps leading to a massive dais. The throne that topped the dais was made of ebony wood, finely inlaid with gold and silver. Jewels throbbed and glittered at every point, and a beautiful leopard skin was flung over it. Seated upon the dais was a man of nearly perfect dimensions. His straight, high cheeked features were matched by a sleek, well-muscled body. An elaborate diadem of gold and diamonds confined his short black hair, and a kilt made from cloth-of-gold was held around his waist by a wide girdle of interlinked golden plates inset with diamonds and rubies. a huge sword hung from a gold and jewel-encrusted scabbard that was lying at the man's feet. His haughty countenance took on a slight sneer of amusement as the party approached the base of the dais.
Elmo peered about the courtroom. a dozen guards stood nearby, and naked female servants orbited back and forth, serving the king and his courtiers, most of whom were seated on pillows or elaborate curule chairs near the base of the dais. To the left of the throne stood a tall, reed-like man with drawn, leathery skin. He was dressed in immaculate linen robes that fell to the ground, and an elaborate miter with gold trim was upon his head, a crook not unlike an Egyptian priest's was in one hand. The man appeared to be a high priest, and his face was as seamed as an old cliff face. Elmo's eyes narrowed as they fell upon one naked prisoner who was linked to the throne by a chain of pure gold. Even her jewels and headdress were absent, and her only adornment were bracelets of gold that were attached to the chain. Still, Elmo had no trouble recognizing the woman. Her green eyes lit upon his and recognition filled them as well.
It was La of Opar.
* * * * * * * *
La nearly gasped out loud when she recognized the face of Elmo beneath the polished helm of a guardsman. Hope was once more kindled in her breast. For weeks, she had been a prisoner in this palace. Her mind traveled back to the discovery of the walled-up room. She entered alone, will all her followers fearful of the strange blue glow that sprang forth from the room's center. She had climbed upon the lip of the pit to look into the blue fastness at its center.
Then, she had felt the rough hands of someone pushing her in.
Through some random attraction, she had fallen to this world, this Opar of the past that legends had spoken of. Priests had immediately taken her to the king, Zorthas. Zorthas had found her amusing, since her Atlantean was atrocious and nearly incomprehensible after being handed down mostly by rote over the millennia. He preferred to speak with her in the language of the apes, since they had mastered it after capturing many Bolgani for use as slaves. The Bolgani, over the centuries, had become domesticated to the same degree as dogs, but their intelligence made them dangerous slaves.
Zorthas' amusement soon gave way to lust. For all the centuries, La was still of a pure Atlantean strain, and her beauty outshone all those in this isolated city. Zorthas desired her, and his first attempt and unfeigned intimacy caused him to come away with deep scars on the back of the offending hand. Further, more physical attempts had led him to be stabbed in his shoulder with his own dagger. From then on, La had remained chained to the throne, fed well, but virtually ignored. Zorthas hoped to break her spirit, since he could not force his attentions on her. If Zorthas was merely brutish, it was his priest, Holatar, who repelled her. The man was hideous, like a worm on legs. His demeanor was as dry as his desiccated features. Clearly, he was the power behind the throne.
Now, La saw hope standing before her. Zorthas did not see the exchange of glances between herself and Elmo. The captain of the patrol saluted Zorthas and spoke in Atlantean.
"Most noble king, son of Valka, and beloved of the Flaming God," the captain began, "it is our pleasure to bring to you a stranger which we found skulking near our gates. Since he is of a white skin like ourselves, we thought you would wish to see him."
"Well enough," Zorthas said. "Is he the white giant I have heard who came up from the Well of Time, perhaps?"
"My lord, we know not of this. He was found outside, carrying a large curved sword."
Zorthas considered this. "Then he is another outlander. The other was carrying bow and knife. Arouse him. I would hear his tale, if he can speak our language."
A servant was summoned to upend a golden ewer of water upon the sleeping man. He awoke, shaking himself much like a wet zebra. After doing so, the huge man raised himself to his full height and stood with arms folded before the king.
"Bow," said the captain. "This is King Zorthas."
The man did not move. The captain nodded to the Bolgani, who smashed the man to his knees. Glaring with smoldering blue eyes, the man struggled to regain his feet, but the huge leathery palms of the Bolgani held him in place.
"Who are you?" Zorthas demanded. His intent was unmistakable to the man.
"I am Conan, a Cimmerian," the man said. The rest of what he said was incomprehensible.
"Do you know this man?" Said Zorthas to La, a sneer on his face.
"He is a stranger to me," she replied.
"Someone came through the Well of Time," Zorthas said. "I am sure he was looking for you. Let us see if he makes any attempt to intervene."
So saying, he grasped La's chains in one hand and pulled her to him. Rising, he stood perpendicular to her to avoid her well-aimed kicks and placed one hand rudely upon her right breast. He drew it back when a spear buried itself in the throne a hair's breadth from his nose. Turning, he saw one of his own guards advancing upon the dais, short sword in hand.
"Kreegah!" Elmo challenged. "Fight me, Dango! I am Elmo of the Apes, and I will avenge this atrocity upon the High Priestess of Opar."
Guards leaped to attack him. He used his sword and shield well, but the odds were against him, and he was clubbed to the ground. The man called Conan struggled to help, but the Bolgani kept him restrained. Finally, roped to a spear thrust behind his arms, Elmo was raised to his feet. Bloody and bruised, he still stared defiantly at Zorthas.
"You speak the language of the Bolgani," Zorthas noted. "You are one of her people."
"I am not of Opar," Elmo said. "I am of the tribe of Kerchak. Your death is too long in coming, excrement."
"Dog!" Zorthas thrust out his hand. "On your knees! I am Zorthas, son of Valka!"
Elmo remained on his feet. Nkima, who had fled during the fighting, remained hidden in some pillows.
"Make him kneel!" Zorthas shrieked, reaching for his sword. "I will slay any who disobey."
The Bolgani took one hand from Conan and attempted to force Elmo to his knees. Elmo bellowed forth an angry challenged and strained with all his might. His rippling biceps rolled backward and the spear haft snapped like a rotten twig, followed by the hastily knotted ropes. He slipped under the grasp of Bolgani, and came up behind him, locking the gorilla in a full nelson. Enraged, Elmo heaved with all his strength, nearly lifting the Bolgani from his feet. A deep crack resounded in the room, and Elmo cast the Bolgani from him. The lifeless body twitched spasmodically on the floor.
"There!" spat La, stabbing a slim forefinger at Elmo. "That will be your fate, O eater of carrion, should you not release me. Elmo of the Apes is no slave to be trifled with."
"Seize him!" Zorthas commanded, and a dozen leaped to obey. "Take them to a cell. We shall see how mighty they are when placed in the arena. I, Zorthas, have spoken." Froth was forming at the corners of the king's mouth as he gibbered. Even La had not seen him so maddened. "Captain!" He called to the leader of the party that had brought in Conan. As the captain came forward, Zorthas drew forth his gleaming bronze great sword from its scabbard.
"My lord!" answered the captain.
Zorthas tottered from the dais, swinging the great sword in a wide arc. Spittle flying from his lips, he buried the sword at the joint of the captain's neck and body. It plunged in nearly a foot, before becoming lodged in the man's breastplate. Further unbalanced, the king tumbled to the foot of the dais while the captain struggled in his death throes.
"Treason!" Zorthas mouthed. "He betrayed me. He let that wildman destroy one of my slaves. He did not make him bow. Help me! Help me!"
His eyes rolled wildly, and several courtiers rushed forward to help him up. Holatar put a withered arm about his shoulders and led him away. La shrank in dismay. Was she doomed to be the plaything of a madman?
* * * * * * * *
Conan the barbarian stumbled along the dark corridor, propelled by the rough shoves of guards. Beside him, silent, marched the wildman, his stolen clothing now hanging in tatters about his wide shoulders. They were tossed into a dank cell with a small barred window. A door with a similar barred window shut with a hollow thud, and a key turned in a lock. Immediately, the wildman threw himself against the portal, but it did not budge. Next, the man grasped the bronze bars of the window and tried to pull them out. They did not move. Finally, he paced the room like a caged animal. Conan, by contrast, found a heap of moldy straw and gave his backside a well-deserved rest.
The monotony was broken when a small monkey jumped through the window in the door and leaped to the wildman's shoulder. The monkey chattered excitedly, and the wildman replied in a similar tongue.
That's it, Conan thought, I am imprisoned with a madman. He has a madman's strength, since he broke that gorilla's neck, and now he thinks he can talk to animals. I am lost for sure. Why didn't I go further north? I could have been in Darfar or Stygia by now.
"Save your strength," he said to the wildman.
The man stopped and regarded Conan with interest. A large jagged scar on the man's head, once livid, was slowly fading to white. The wildman got down on his haunches and examined the cell's construction. He turned to Conan. He put a finger to his own breast and spoke.
"Elmo," he said. He pointed. "Conan?"
Conan nodded. "Yes, but I think I would be better off to learn the language of the apes, then you to learn Cimmerian, since ape talk is more widely used here." He pantomimed with his mouth and pointed at Nkima. Elmo nodded.
"Does he wish to eat me?" Wondered Nkima.
"No, he wishes to learn our language," Elmo replied. "This world is so primitive and savage, that I think it can be accomplished. At any rate, this cell is new, where the ones of my day were so old I could bend the bars easily. So, we have time on our hands before we are called." He put out his hand to take Conan's and shake it. "Yo."
The hours passed as Elmo and Conan struggled with the language of the great apes. Conan was an apt pupil, for all his barbarity (or perhaps because of it). Days passed, and they were fed barely edible food. Conan noted that Elmo smiled when Conan tore at some raw meat that was cast into their cell. Conan didn't care. Food was food, and better raw than rotten. After a few weeks, they could converse quite well.
"Who is that woman?" Conan demanded. "She is beautiful."
"La of Opar is unique," Elmo said. "I have known her for years, and besides my mate, none can compare with her. Zorthas will pay for taking such liberties with her."
"For fondling her breast? She is a slave. If he wanted to fornicate with her on the throne, I imagine few would raise an eyebrow."
The apeman scowled. "Perhaps in your time are morals so lax, but we have a different sort of honor where I come from. La is nobody's wench, and I will kill Zorthas if he falls into my hands."
"Oh, so? You sound as if you are in love with her."
Elmo half-smiled, something that Conan had found rare. "No, I do not love her, because my love is wholly consumed by my mate. She is a friend, and I will stand beside her and protect her from harm. Do you know anything of this city?"
"I wandered here after losing my ship. I am not sure if my background is up to the standards of your society. It seems strange to see you tear at raw meat and then moralize to me. You are the savage, not I."
"And you are a barbarian," Elmo returned. "We are from different times."
"What is your time like? A world full of pious wildmen?"
"Far stranger than that," Elmo admitted. "We have ways of dealing death that you would think are magical. We travel in conveyances without animals to draw them, and can fly through the skies. This city in my time is ruins occupied by apelike men and women like La."
"I think my time sounds better. Men can fly?"
"In machines with wings," Elmo answered. "If this city represents the height of civilization here, then you are indeed better off. If not for Jane, I think I would like to remain here in this time. I must go back."
They talked on, and one day another prisoner was dumped into their cell. This was a scrawny old man, his robe filthy, and many purple blotches on his arms and legs to indicate his abuse.
"Who are you?" Conan demanded.
"I am Lorf, a lesser priest," the old man replied. "I am in here for expressing my opinion."
"That the king is mad. Worse, he is a puppet of that snake Halator. Many in the city would love to see him toppled, but they dare not for fear of his guards and his Bolgani. Also, many fear that Halator is a wizard, and that he controls the Well of Time."
Elmo's interest brightened at this. "Tell me of the Well."
"It has existed since Valka and Hotath pulled Atlantis into the sea," Lorf said. "We are a mining colony, and supplied Atlantis and its other colonies, like Valusia, with gold and jewels. When it sank, we knew nothing and went to look. Finding nothing but islands where a mighty continent once existed, our explorers came back. Since then, we have killed all strangers to come to our realm. Of late, the kings have become worse and worse, due to inbreeding. Zorthas is the worst of all. But, the Well. Some say it reaches to heart of the world, and is a bridge between different times. It was created by the High Ones, the mightiest of all being Kathulos of Atlantis, creator of the elixir of life. Even now, it is rumored, Kathulos sleeps beneath the waves waiting to be awakened. Once brought forth, he will come here, to the Well of Time, and draw forth the armies of Atlantis to reconquer the world. Worse, he will bring forth the Elder beings, demons, to do his bidding. He is said to have been in league with the Serpent Men."
"Serpent men?" Conan rumbled. "Why does that name stir me?"
"It should stir all true men," Lorf continued. "Kull of Valusia, centuries ago, was thought to have slain the last of the Serpent Men, a race of intelligent lizards that could take the form of men. It is said that they cannot speak the phrase Kanama Kalajerama'."
"By Crom!" Conan said. "Those words sound true to me. It must be something magical to them."
* * * * * * * *
Elmo chafed after every day passed, fretting over La, and whether war was erupting in his own time. Hitler was marching into Czechoslovakia when he had left England. Who knew if that was really his last territorial demand? He found that Conan was a solid fellow, if somewhat immoral. The old man was useless, except as a source of information. Two days after he had been thrown in with them, guards came to their cell.
"On your feet," said one, as keys rattled in the lock. "The arena is ready. You will be the featured performers."
"Shall we take them?" Conan whispered to Elmo.
"No, Zorthas will be at the arena," Elmo replied. "We will have a better chance of getting him there."
They were led at spear point to an arena half the size of a football field. It was surrounded by walls some twelve feet high, ringed with stone benches. Under an ornate canopy sat Zorthas. Chained to a stone stanchion was La. Surrounding the king was his priest, four guards, and two hulking Bolgani, all resplendent. The rest of the arena thronged with Oparians. Elmo, Conan, Lorf, and half a dozen other Oparians were shoved through a wide gate onto the packed earth of the arena. From the wall above, short swords were thrown down to them, as well as Elmo's hunting knife. Elmo picked up his knife and held it at ready. Conan appropriated a short sword, and swung it expertly. Elmo knew he could count on him. Lorf approached a sword like it was a snake, and handled it like it would explode. Nkima had chosen to remain hidden, but Elmo saw that he was now lurking near the royal canopy.
A gate opposite it them was opened by Bolgani who pulled it up by ropes from above. Into the arena sprang a saber-toothed tiger. Elmo had faced them before, in Pellucidar. He did not realize that they had existed so late on the surface. Another one slunk out, then the gate closed behind them. Elmo nodded to Conan.
"Are these things common here?" He asked.
"Not really," Conan replied. "I broke a spear on one before being captured. You approach one from the left, and I will take the same from the right. The rest can handle the other."
Elmo agreed. "Kreegah!" He challenged. The big cat snarled, its six inch fangs gleaming against its tawny fur. It bunched itself up and sprang forward like a hurtling bus. Conan stepped quickly aside, burying his sword into its flank as it shot by him. Elmo leaped on its back, locking his feet under its ribcage. His knife sank into the tiger's shoulder half a dozen times. It reared up and then rolled, trying to dislodge the creature on its back. Conan dove in again, this time burying his sword beneath the flailing claws and into the beast's heart. It shivered and fell limp.
Elmo staggered to his feet, dirty and bloody. A glance told him that three of the others had gone down before the savage fangs of the other tiger. It was lying in one corner, three swords sticking from its hide. Lorf was lucky, for he had seemingly escaped without a scratch. Elmo never discounted the factor of chance. It had certainly saved him a number of times. Elmo strode to the area below the royal seats, and the rest followed him.
"We have killed your beasts," he told Zorthas. "Release us."
"I will set apes upon you, then," Zorthas sneered.
The gate opened again, and three Bolgani lurched out. These appeared to be unadorned and Elmo guessed that they were not slaves, perhaps due to being untrainable. Dangerous foes, indeed. He waved his remaining prisoners in a semi-circle. Conan remained at his right.
"I faced Thak, a hill ape once," he told Elmo. "He was almost too strong for me."
"It may not come to that," Elmo said. "You could not speak to this Thak."
He went forward to the foremost Bolgani.
"I am Elmo, mighty hunter, mighty fighter, killer of many beasts and black men," Elmo said by way of introduction. "We are not your enemies. The tarmangani above us are. Let us band together."
"The tarmangani have promised us freedom should we slay you," said the leader. "That is easy to do, since you are few, and the tarmangani above are many."
"I will make a deal. If I can defeat you in single combat, will you and your Bolgani join us?"
"An easy deal. I will break you in two, tarmangani. I accept."
"Kreegah!" Elmo challenged. He leaped upon the Bolgani, throwing the gorilla to the ground. They bit and tore at each other, and Conan wondered whether he should intervene when Elmo gained the Bolgani's back, locking his legs much as he had done to the saber-tooth. This time, he used the full nelson without exerting all his strength.
"Kagoda?" He demanded. "Do you give up, Bolgani?" He gave an extra heave, causing the bones in Bolgani's neck to creak and grind.
"Kagoda!" the gorilla rasped. "Never would I have thought that a tarmangani would possess such strength and speed. We will fight with you, Elmo."
Elmo released the gorilla. "It is well." He again turned to Zorthas. "Your apes have surrendered, O mighty king. Release us, or feel my wrath."
"I will have you all speared where you stand," Zorthas raged, half-rising. He waved to his guards. "Kill them."
Lorf rushed forward. "I thought of something after our conversation. What if Zorthas brought forth a lizard man from the Well of Time. Halator may not be what he seems. Kanama Kalajeramma!"
The effect was instantaneous. The withered priests features melted away, to be replaced by the hissing countenance of a huge serpent. Before any could act, the exposed lizard man stiff-armed one guard and struck another down with his crook. He then fled the arena.
"There is your false priest, people of Opar!" Elmo called to the crowds. "He led your equally false king by the nose! Rise and drag them down!"
There was an uproar in the crowd. Different factions struggled among themselves. Elmo used the confusion to attempt to get over the wall.
"Bolgani!" He commanded. "Toss me to the lip of the wall. Then toss Conan."
Conan appeared dubious, but allowed the apes to grab him. They flung the men up, and they were able to grasp the top of the wall. Then, they began to help themselves get to the top. The Oparians used their swords to try to hack their way through the gate. Elmo and Conan fell upon the guards men. They went down like ripe wheat. Their allied Bolgani appeared in time to take on the domesticated ones and the battle swirled all about the Royal canopy. Zorthas stood upon a bench, dragging his great sword from its scabbard. Elmo faced the insane monarch, knife against sword. He avoided one swipe with the blade.
"This is my fight," came a voice from behind him.
Conan stepped forward, sword in hand, having appropriated a shield from a guardsman. He waded in, heedless of the other's longer weapon. Zorthas's bronze blade crashed against Conan's shield, cleaving it in two. Conan shook the fragments from his arm and dealt Zorthas a buffet with such force that blood started from the king's nostrils. He swung again, and Conan danced back, the tip of the great sword opening a line a foot long in his chest. Conan swung in under the great sword's hilt, driving his own weapon into Zorthas' chest to the guard.
"Treason!" shouted the stricken king. "Nobody has protected me! He will not bow!"
Dropping his great sword, the king pitched forward on his face. Conan grabbed the weapon and its jeweled sheath.
"A nice weapon and a king's ransom," he said. "A good day's work by any means. Now, for a wench."
Elmo, meanwhile, used a fallen short sword to shear through the soft gold of La's chains. Finding a discarded robe to conceal her nakedness, he carried her from the arena. Conan and the loyal Bolgani followed in his wake.
"The Well of Time," Elmo said. "Halator may try to escape."
The rushed to temple, by now rife with chaos since a full scale rebellion had broken out. Elmo had no time to worry about how things would be sorted out. Perhaps this incident was the one which sent Opar into its descent to bestiality. Into the altar room they burst, to hear chanting in a strange language come from the Well room. Inside, they could see the familiar blue glow of the Well. Halator was within, arms raised in supplication as he prayed before the open well. A black cloud hung above it, and it seemed to be becoming more substantial all the time.
"Ph'nglui mglnafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah nagh naftagn!" Holatar was saying. "Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fthagn!"
The smoky creature wafting out of the Well seemed to be huge, winged and with a large head wreathed in moving tentacles. Great yellow eyes began to form, baleful and hungry.
"By Crom!" Conan shouted, and ran forth, great sword swinging. He severed the lizard man's head from his body, cutting him off in mid-chant. As the reptilian form still thrashed in cold-blooded stubbornness, Conan then snatched up a nearby brazier and dashed its flaming contents at the still-forming entity.
"Fire will harm you, demon!" he thundered. "Crom and Mitra, Ishtar's hips, Lyr's green beard, and Moloch's fiery belly! Die, damn you!"
The form blew away like smoke, the spell unfinished. The flames licked up the remains like tissue paper, and room filled with an unpleasant stench.
"Morrigan, Macha and Nemain," Conan muttered. "I hate wizards and wizardry."
"So do I," Elmo agreed. "Now, La and I must go, before we are recaptured in case the rebellion fails. You are welcome to come with us."
"This is my world," Conan replied. "I would not find yours to my liking, I think. Besides, I am determined to win a crown in this place, mayhap here. Your gorilla friends will make sure I am unmolested I think." He grasped the apeman's hand. "Farewell. I know we shall never meet again, and I am sad for it, because you are a mighty warrior. Together, we could have conquered Aquilonia itself."
"I have a title," Elmo assured him. "They are not all they're cracked up to be."
"I shall toast you with the first flagon of wine I find," Conan said. "Would it be too much to beg a kiss from the lady?"
"If you must, since we owe you our lives," La agreed. To her surprise, Conan grasped her in his bear-like embrace and buried his lips in hers. She was too stunned to resist. He released her and waved farewell. The apes followed, and soon they had plunged into the midst of fresh fighting. La seemed to have a wan smile on her face.
"You liked him?" Elmo demanded. "He was a barbarian."
"And what am I?" La retorted, still smiling. "That was the best kiss I ever received, though I cannot compare him with you. Unless, that is, you would like to show me your abilities in that regard."
"La knows my heart belongs to Jane," Elmo answered, face immobile.
Nkima appeared and leaped on Elmo's shoulder, breaking the tension. "Waugh!" he chattered. "Much fighting. Too many for Nkima to slay. Let us go, Elmo!"
"Very well, then," Elmo said. "If the mighty Nkima cannot prevail, then we must leave."
Grasping La tightly, Elmo plunged into the well. The same effects overcame them, and Elmo used his sixth sense to guide him to the correct opening. They shot forth into the Well they had left, to find the body of Darus lying nearby, his brains dashed out. Little Noa stood there, along with several priests, one holding a bloody club.
"Darus tried to make love to me," Noa said. "He revealed that it was he who pushed La into the Well of Time, then went to get you, Elmo, so that you, too would vanish, and he would rule Opar. I pretended to play along until I could get help. We have dealt with that traitor."
"I always suspected him," said La. "Thank you for standing in for me, Noa."
"All is well," Elmo decided. "I must hurry back to my home. What will you do with the Well, La?"
"Re-seal the room," replied the High Priestess of the Flaming God.