Fiction Excerpt: “Tumithak in Shawm”

Fiction Excerpt: “Tumithak in Shawm”

By Charles R. Tanner

Illustrated by Denis Rodier
from Black Gate 6, originally published in Amazing Stories, June 1933. Copyright © 1933 by Teck Publishing Corporation. Original illustrations by Leo Morey.
“Tumitahk in Shawm” is the sequel to “Tumithak of the Corridors” reprinted in Black Gate 5.

The Approach to the Surface

They came to the narrow flight of stairs, ascended it, and saw in the distance the opening that was the entrance to the Surface. But to Tumithak’s surprise, no reddish light appeared, as it had on his previous visit. In fact no light at all shone down into the hall from the Surface! Tumithak was puzzled. He motioned the other three to wait there, and then crept softly to the opening that was the goal of the long trek through the corridors. Cautiously, the slayer of the shelk raised his eyes above the level of the pit and looked about him. It was true, as he had thought, all the Surface was in darkness! He felt a pang of fear. Had the shelks discovered the approach of his men and somehow plunged the Surface into darkness, he wondered. Were they even now in hiding, waiting for the men of the lower corridors to emerge, that they might slaughter them?

Involuntarily, Tumithak drew back into the corridor and there he stood, lashing his failing courage. Once again, as in the days when he had come this way alone, his cold, fanatic reasoning overcame his emotions, as he remembered that all the legends that he had ever heard of the shelks told of their hatred of the dark. Indeed, his wonderbook, that manuscript that he had found when a boy, had told him that the shelks had originally come from a land where there was never darkness and that story — combined with the vague legends of his tribe which said that no shelk would ever, from choice, do battle in the dark — convinced him that the darkness could not be of the shelk’s contriving.

So, once again he returned to the pit and, greatly daring, leapt out of it and stood upon the Surface!

After a short while, it seemed as if his eyes began to adapt themselves to the darkness, and faintly he could see certain forms in the distance. The trees, those pillars whose tops were covered with strange green billows, he could see as dense black blobs against a background only slightly less dark. A few hundred feet away and directly in front of him, rose the homes of the shelks, obelisk-like towers, leaning at crazy angles, silhouetted against the sky. And, looking up into the sky, Tumithak was amazed to see that that ceiling, as he thought it, was covered with hundreds, yes, thousands of tiny pin-points of brilliance, twinkling and glittering unceasingly, yet giving off so little light that the dense darkness could hardly be said to be diminished at all by them.

For some time the Loorian stood there and then, as nothing happened to disturb the stillness and calm of the night, he returned to the pit and called to his friends. In a few minutes Datto emerged from the pit, closely followed by Thorpf and Nikadur. They looked around them, obviously worried by the darkness, but afraid to ask questions, for fear that the sound of their voices might betray them. So they stood, awaiting an order from Tumithak, until in sudden decision, the Shelk-slayer fell on his face and began to crawl slowly in the direction of the towers of the shelks, motioning them, as he did so, to do likewise.

The trip to the towers took some time, for the slightest whisper of wind in the trees would frighten the pit-men and cause them to lie motionless for many minutes at a time, but at last they arose and stood in the shadow of one of the towers. They were panting, not so much with the exertion of wallowing through the grass, as with the realization of the frightful danger they were facing, but after many minutes of tense listening, they grew bold enough to look around and take an interest in their surroundings. It was a strange building in whose shadow they found themselves, composed of some strong metal that was strange to the pit-men; a four-sided building that rose nearly a hundred feet high and was not more than fifteen feet square at the base. And it leaned at an angle of nearly twenty-five degrees in the direction from which the men had come. Towering over them, it seemed that at any moment it must fall and crush them, yet when they looked at its firm strong base, they realized that it might stand thus for centuries.

Having come this far, the waning courage of the men of the pit forbade their penetrating further into the town of the shelks, and so, undecided, they stood for many minutes, wondering what to do next. And though they stood in utter silence for long, in all that time they heard no sound of shelk, nor did they see a moving form.

But at last, Nikadur spoke softly in Tumithak’s ear.

“Something is happening to the wall of the Surface on our right, Tumithak,” he breathed. “It seems to be giving off a faint light.”

Light on the Surface

Tumithak started. It was true! A faint, uneven light dimly shone in the sky at his right. Even as he gazed at it, he realized that the glow was penetrating all over the Surface. He could distinguish the faces of his comrades and make out details on the ground! And Datto and Thorpf were commenting softly on the amazing wonder of the trees, which were now sufficiently visible to be distinguished separately.

Tumithak addressed his comrades: “The light is returning, or another is being prepared. It is strange, for it is in the opposite side of the Surface from the light which I saw when I came here before.”

“Soon it will be light enough for the shelks to be about,” whispered Datto. “Had we better retire to the pit, Tumithak?”

The Loorian was about to reply in the affirmative when Thorpf gave a gasp and, trembling violently, pointed to a spot under the trees beyond the pit. There, faint forms were visible, moving toward the towers, and to them from the distance came the sound of clacking voices! A group of shelks was moving toward them!

In a moment, the terrible fear that was almost instinctive in man had seized the four. Panic-stricken, they looked about them for some means of flight. To return to the pit was impossible – already the group of spider-like creatures had passed it. To attempt to flee to the trees on either side was equally impossible — they could not fail to be seen almost immediately. But a single direction offered possible protection, and the hair of all four rose at the thought of taking that direction. Yet if they did not do so, and at once, discovery would be inevitable in another minute, so they fled around the side of the tower, further into the shelk-city, intent only on avoiding the present evil, and leaving the future to take care of itself. Even as they did so, rustling noises and here and there a clacking voice, told them that the city was beginning to awake. Utterly beside themselves with fear, they hugged the walls of the tower — and then, suddenly there was a door before them, an old, badly dilapidated wooden door, and Tumithak had pushed it open and was hustling them into the interior of the tower.

Had there been an enemy within, he might have easily slain them as they entered, for the transition from the rapidly increasing light without to the dismal interior gloom made the room seem dark as Erebus. But before long, their eyes adjusted themselves and soon they could distinguish faintly the details of tower. And great was their relief as they realized that this could hardly be one of the inhabited homes of their enemies.

The Web of Ropes in the Tower

The floor was uncovered, just bare earth, queer, thickly packed dust that covered all the floor of the Surface; and there was no furniture of any description visible, unless a pile of straw in one corner might pass as a bed of sorts. But here and there about the room hung ancient frayed ropes, and looking aloft, Tumithak could notice dimly that these ropes led up to where, about twenty feet above, a great mass of twisted cables, ropes and cords crossed and recrossed the entire interior of the tower. It was a veritable nest of ropes, a web, he thought, as the similarity of the shelks to spiders again came to him. And, indeed, he was not far from wrong, for the shelks used the towers only as sleeping quarters and, at night, retired to the upper parts of them, where, in a bed made of hundreds of cables and ropes hanging criss-crossed from the sides, they slumbered the dark hours away. Fortunately, this tower in which Tumithak and his companions found themselves was an old one, no longer considered fit for occupancy by the builders, and the use to which they now put it, we shall soon see.

The frightened pit-men stood for several minutes in the narrow confines of the tower, and their hearts were just beginning to again take up their normal beat when once more there came the ominous clacking voice of a shelk, this time almost without the door. It grew louder and the men knew suddenly, without a doubt, that the shelks were approaching this tower! They glanced wildly about them for a place of concealment, but even as they looked they knew there could be but one, and an attempt to hide in the maze of ropes and cables above the small room on the ground seemed tantamount to voluntary surrender. Nevertheless, no other alternative was possible, so in a moment, they were scrambling up the ropes and losing themselves in the thick maze of twisted cords and cables above. The crisscrossed ropes were not numerous near the ground, but some ten feet beyond where they began, they were so thickly placed that it would have been impossible to detect anyone hiding in them, from below. So here the adventurers halted their climb, and reclining in the thick web, lay listening to the sounds that were now immediately without the door. Indeed, by parting the ropes that concealed him, Tumithak found that he had an almost unhindered view of the floor beneath. That they had not concealed themselves a moment too soon was evidenced by the fact that hardly were they comfortably fixed among the ropes when the door was opened and a strange party came into view.

The Hounds of Hun-Pna

A shelk was the first to enter and Tumithak felt the ropes, on which he and his companions lay, shake as the other pit-men trembled with fear at this, their first sight of one of the savage beasts from Venus. The creature was a fair representative of its kind; about four feet high, and ten long spider-like limbs and a head that, save for the fact that it was hairless and noseless, might have been that of a man. Held high in two of its limbs, as a man might hold a twig between thumb and forefinger, this shelk held a rod of metal, the tip of which glowed with a brilliant light. On its back was a queer-looking box, from which a hose emerged that was coiled up and ended in a long rod that was set into a sort of scabbard fastened on the box.

Following him came another, that might have been his twin, and bringing up the rear of this strange party were two men! And the strangeness of these men made the party above gasp with astonishment. The men were tall, taller even than Tumithak; in fact, the larger of the two must have been nearly seven feet in height. It was not their height though which astonished Tumithak and his friends; it was their incredible thinness and the savage look on their faces. Their legs and arms were long and stringy; their thighs, indeed, being little bigger around than Tumithak’s arm. Their waists, too, were surprisingly narrow, their necks were lean; but their chests were enormous, as were their hands. Not that all these members were out of proportion, no, there was something about them that made one feel that for certain purposes, these men might be better proportioned than even Datto, that colossus of the corridors. But, in comparing the two, it would be evident that these men were of another race, just as it had been clear that the Esthetts were. If one should compare a picture of those ancient dogs of the Golden Age which were called greyhounds with our dogs of today, one would he able to understand the difference between the men of the corridors and these creatures of the shelks.

Tlot and Trak

These men were clad only in a single garment, a cloth wrapped around their middle and dropping to their knees; but over this cloth a belt was strapped, and from this belt dangled a sword. In their hands, each held a vicious-looking whip made from the hide of some animal; and, as if all this were not enough to distinguish them, their hair and their luxurious beards were black! The pit-men, who had never seen hair of any other color than their own fiery red (save the yellow Esthetts) would not have been more surprised if their hair had been green.

These men followed the shelks into the room and at once cast themselves down on the beds of straw. The shelks muttered something to them in a low clacking whisper, and then, extinguishing their lights, they turned and left the tower. The men remained, lying on the straw in a manner that clearly indicated fatigue. After a moment, one of them spoke languidly.

“I have seen real hunts in Kaymak, Tlot,” he said, and there was a decided sneer in his voice. “I have known the time when three and even four of the wild ones would be bagged before night fell. You should see some of those hunts in the great city, Tlot.”

The man called Tlot grunted.

“When you see a hunt in Shawm, Trak, you know that you are really flushing a wild one. Those so called wild ones that you hunt in Kaymak are domesticated, and bred for the purpose, and you know it.”

Trak looked crestfallen and turning to his bed, produced a small jug from within the straw. He poured some oil from it into his hand and began to oil his whip. Presently he made bold to speak again.

“Not for nothing is Hun-Pna called the cautious one,” he remarked. “Never have I seen a hunter proceed with such caution. One might almost think that he expected one of the wild ones to turn and kill us. We might have brought down that one we pursued and reached Shawm before dark last night, had it not been that he feared to let us out.”

Tlot sat up in his straw, and looked across at his companion. It was obvious that he shared the other’s opinion of the shelk that was their lord and master.

“When you have belonged to Hun-Pna as long as I have,” he stated, “you will be more used to his ways.” He rummaged in the straw, pulled out another larger jug, and after drinking from it noisily, went on: “I have seen him give up a chase and call us off after hours of pursuit, because the wild one showed fight when cornered!”

“Why, they always show fight when cornered, don’t they?” asked Trak, who was evidently the younger man and deferred to the other’s knowledge.

“Only about one in five really fights,” answered the older one. “The others struggle weakly, but make no defense worth worrying about. They have sense enough to know that, if they showed signs of defeating us, the shelks would immediately finish them.”

The speakers were silent again, for a while, and above them, four silent watchers wondered in perplexity over what they had heard. Presently the older man spoke again: “But I have seen quite pretty vicious battles put up by some of the wild ones. The women of the Tains are notorious for their fury. I am reminded of a hunt which I had about two years ago. That was the hardest battle I ever did have. It was a woman, too. But she didn’t get away, like this one did, yesterday. Her scalp is decorating Hun-Pna’s tower, right now.”

Tlot looked interested.

“Tell me about it,” he suggested.

A Great Hunt

“Well,” began the other, and there was a certain boastfulness about his manner that infuriated the pit-men who were listening from above, “you see, Hun-Pna was having a great feast to celebrate the Conjunction, and half the shelks in Shawm were invited. Nearly a hundred shelks were there, even old Hakh-Klotta himself; and, of course, one of the main features of the feast was to be the sacrifice to the mother planet. They don’t sacrifice Esthetts at the Conjunction Ceremonies as I suppose you know, and so we were taken out to see if we could get some wild ones alive.

“Well we decided to look for Tains; Hun-Pna always hunts Tains because their corridors are so near the Surface. To go down into some of the deeper corridors, would be too much like risking his head, to suit the cautious one. He just drove us into the entrance to the pit and sat down to wait until we flushed some of the wild ones and chased them out to him.

“So I, with two other Mogs, started down into the corridors of the Tains. I had a sword, of course, and my whip and so had each of the others, for that is plenty of protection against a Tain. They’re smart, the Tains are; but they’re afraid of their own shadows.

“Well, it wasn’t long before one of the other Mogs had spied a Tain and soon had him running to the Surface, and just as they disappeared up the corridor, I ran across a woman with a baby in her arms. Now, that was some find, as you’ll agree; the shelks are always pleased to have you capture a live cub. So I bore down on her, expecting to find her an easy prey, but she turned on me like a wolf. She had a club in her hand, and before I could raise my whip, she had struck me a dizzying blow on the neck and was off in a flash, running toward the Surface. She must have been beside herself with fright or she would never have taken that route, for there wasn’t a side passage or a branching corridor, all the way to the Surface. I was stunned by her blow, and stood for a moment, gathering my wits, before I took after her.

“I followed her, without hurrying greatly, to the entrance. I expected the shelks would seize her the minute she appeared, but unfortunately they were busy with the mule Tain that the other Mog had flushed; and when I reached the open, I saw, to my dismay, that she had cleared the crowd and was running like mad into the forest. I shouted to Hun-Pna for help, and dashed in pursuit, never once glancing back to see if they were following. Naturally, I supposed they were.

“Well, the Tain had quite a start on me, and you know how hilly and stony it is in the neighborhood of the Tain’s pit. So it was that even my legs refused to carry me fast enough to catch up with her until she began to get winded. But at last she threw herself down by a rock on the hillside and faced me, snarling viciously. I approached her with care, for I still remembered that I must catch her alive, if possible. I turned to see how far behind the shelks were, and to my surprise, I found they were nowhere in sight! For a moment, I began to fear that I must give up my quarry, for none of us are used to fighting without a shelk at our back, you know, but at last I made a bold decision. I would attack and conquer this Tain single-handed. And so I approached her as diplomatically as possible.

The Single-Handed Attempt to Capture the Tain and Her Baby

“She stood there panting with fatigue and still clinging to her baby and as I approached her she began to swing her club about her in circles.

” ‘Give up, you fool,’ I said, ‘I’m not going to kill you. I want to take you alive.’

” ‘Alive!’ she sneered. ‘For what purpose? Mate or meat?’

“I didn’t answer. What was the use? I wouldn’t mate with one of those wild ones, if I died for not doing it, and if I told her I wanted her for the sacrifice, that wouldn’t help any. So I lashed out with my whip, and the battle was on.

“And it was a battle, too! As we struggled there, minute after minute, I took more than one blow from that infernal club of hers, while she was a mass of blood from where my whip had cut her skin. At last an idea came to me, and I began to direct the blows of my whip not at her but at her child! After that, it seemed that my victory was going to be an easy one. She was so taken up with protecting her child that she had not time to devote to hurting me. Presently she began to sob, and to curse me. Said I was a demon, and that I didn’t deserve the name of man. You know what I mean, you’ve heard the wild ones give the same kind of talk. Well, that sort of stuff has never bothered me. I was born a Mog, and a Mog I’ll die. But I knew, when she began that, that she had almost reached the breaking point, and I begun to have new hopes of bringing in the mother and the baby, both of them alive.

The Death of the Baby and Its Mother

“But just as I expected her to cower down and give in, she suddenly shouted ‘No!’ — and raising the child over her head, she dashed it to the ground and brained it with a club. Then she rushed at me in a fury, clawing, biting and spitting, until in sheer self-defense, I was forced to use the sword on her.

“I returned with nothing to show for my hunt but the scalp of the woman, but Hun-Pna hung it up among his trophies and it’s there yet.”

The speaker was silent at last, and, pulling some straw over him, apparently prepared himself for a nap. The other man, after a moment, evidently decided to follow his example, but his preparations were rudely interrupted by the decision that had been reached by the pit-men in the ropes above.

While this gruesome tale was being related, the watchers had listened in horror. That men could exist, so low and base as to hunt their own kind for the pleasure of the shelks, had never entered their heads. They had been prepared for the fact of the existence of the Esthetts by the story that Tumithak had told them, but here was a race of shelk-worshippers even lower in the scale of humanity than were the Esthetts!

As the tale progressed, the horror of these creatures grew in the minds of Tumithak and his companions, and as Tlot finished his story, the same thought showed clearly in the eyes of each of them. These creatures had surely lived far too long, they felt. Black, unreasoning anger choked the pit-men, and without a word, with only a questioning look from Datto and Thorpf and an affirmative nod from Tumithak, the four dropped suddenly to the ground in front of the astonished Mogs, intent on bringing an end to their foul existence.

There is no doubt but that the continued victories that had attended the men in the corridors had made them over-confident. The savages of the dark corridors had capitulated to the force of their arms, the Esthetts had succumbed without a struggle, and in the minds of the four was the idea that this would not be so much a battle as an execution. With the advantage of four to two and the added fact that the attack was a surprise they expected to dispatch the Mogs on the instant. But once on the ground, it took but a matter of seconds for them to realize their error. Almost before they knew it, the Mogs were standing back to back; swords in hand, were defending themselves so valiantly that the outcome of the battle seemed for a moment in doubt. And as they fought, the Mogs shouted – shouted loudly for their masters to come and help them!

The Folly of the Attack on the Mogs

Tumithak realized the folly of their attack almost as soon as it was accomplished, yet even in the realization, he could not help but feel that somehow they were justified. And, if they could but slay the Mogs, their lives would not be sacrificed in vain.

One of the tall, black-haired creatures was down now, and Thorpf pounced upon him and finished him with a vicious thrust at his throat; but in the brief moment that the attention of the other two was diverted by this, the other Mog turned and sped like a deer past Datto and out the door, still bellowing for the shelks.

Datto roared with anger and would have sped after him, but Tumithak laid a restraining hand on his shoulder.

“Quick, Datto, we must hide again!” he whispered excitedly. “Up the ropes! Quickly!”

Without an instant’s hesitation, Nikadur leaped for the ropes and began to climb, and the other three immediately followed his example. Without, the clickings and clatterings of shelk-talk were rising higher and the Loorians were hardly well-concealed by the strands of cables when the Mog rushed into the room, followed closely by a group of shelks. The creatures were all armed, each carrying the box and hose such as the shelk had worn, which had entered before. Only now the long, queer nozzle had been removed from the scabbard and was carried in two of the limbs.

The shelks looked about them in amazement for a moment, and then one of them pointed aloft. The pit-men had not ceased their climbing, apparently the web of ropes continued to the top of the tower, and so they climbed on, intent only on getting as far as possible from the savage masters of the Surface. But escape was utterly impossible, they felt, and what tiny grains of hope remained to them was lost when two of the shelks sheathed their weapons and with incredible agility began to follow them up the ropes.

Above, the four desperate pit-men could see little to do but to continue their hopeless climbing and to pray for some miraculous means of escape. Nikadur continued to be in the lead, closely followed by the agile Tumithak; but the great bulks of Datto and his huge nephew were handicaps to them and they were several feet below the Loorians.

The mazy web of ropes and cables became thicker and thicker as the men ascended, until it was impossible to see the ground; but the sounds from below left no doubt that the shelks were rapidly drawing nearer. Suddenly there was a cry from below Tumithak — a human cry, a cry of agony. And then there was a wild thrashing, a sound of bodies tumbling through the ropes and a crash! Tumithak looked back, but the thick tangle of ropes obstructed his view, until they suddenly parted and Datto’s fierce face appeared, its deadly pallor contrasting oddly with the red of his beard and hair.

Thorpf and the Shelks

“Thorpf!” he cried, in agonized tones. ‘They’ve got him, Tumithak, my nephew, Thorpf! It was he who fell. They leaped upon him and tried to tear at his neck with their infernal fangs! He struck back, but he lost his hold and fell. But he took them with him! He took them with him! You are not the only Shelk-slayer now, O Lord of Loor!”

The huge Yakran was weeping as he climbed, for his nephew had meant much to him and would have been his successor as Lord of Yakra. Tumithak, too, felt an ache in his heart at the realization that Thorpf was gone, but he made no answer to Datto, reserving all of his remaining breath for the climb. And then, Nikadur, who had been lost to sight in the web above, gave a cry and momentarily, Tumithak’s heart sank in increased despair. Was he to lose this friend, too? Had the shelks somehow attacked them from above? He hastened his climbing, wondering if he would reach his friend in time to aid him.

He parted the ropes above him, climbed higher, and saw a dim light filtering down through the web. A moment later and Nikadur’s form came into view, dimly against this new light. The light shone from one of the walls, and as Tumithak drew himself up beside his friend he saw the reason for his cry.

The light came from a small circular window set in the very top of the tower, and Nikadur had cried out involuntarily as he had looked out and beheld his first view of the Surface in the full light of day. As Tumithak raised his eyes to the level of the window’s ledge, it was all that he could do to keep from crying out himself.

The little window looked down upon the shelk-city, and from its ledge a cluster of strong ropes hung. The other end of each rope was fastened to the window of another tower; apparently the shelks used these ropes to go from tower to tower without returning to the ground. Below, Tumithak could see the bases of the other towers, and an ever-increasing crowd of shelks, with here and there a lean, hairy-faced Mog.

It was not the crowd below, nor the connecting cables, not even the vast view from the window that had caused Nikadur to cry out in surprise, however. It was his first view of the sun! Even in his desperate straits, that object had been the thing that most impressed him as he looked for the first time on the fully lighted Surface of the earth. And indeed, Tumithak, who had seen the sun before, was hardly less surprised. For the sun he had seen before had been a dully glowing ball of red, setting in the west, while this great orb, dazzling in its intense, white brilliance, hung in the exact opposite side of the heavens. For a moment, he was puzzled, but he quickly thrust his amazement to the back of his mind, and strove to concentrate on some means of escape.

The metal walls that fell away from the window’s ledge were as smooth as the blown glassy walls of his own home corridor — there was no chance of escape there. Indeed, could he have clambered down the side of the tower, it would have availed nothing, for the crowd of shelks below had by now grown to such proportions as to cover the ground, and Tumithak could see them pointing and gesticulating, exactly as a crowd of humans would do under similar circumstances.

Datto Joins the Other Two

Datto suddenly drew himself up between the two Loorians, leaning his huge form upon the ledge of the window. His eyes were still filled with the tears that had sprung into them at the death of Thorpf, but he spoke nothing now of his grief. His mind, too, was filled with the problem of escape.

“They are coming, Tumithak,” he said. “Other shelks are coming up through the ropes. What shall we do now? Turn and fight them?”

The Loorian’s heart felt a glow as he realized Datto’s willingness to fight the shelks. This was one man, at least, who had learned the lesson that Tumithak had preached so long and earnestly to the pit-men. He shook his head at Datto’s proposal, however, and continued to look out of the window. There did seem one course of escape left, but so small was it that Tumithak was loath to suggest it. At last, however, he heard sounds not far beneath him, and knowing that the pursuing shelks would soon reach the window, he determined to put his desperate plan into execution.

The far ends of the cables that hung from the window ledge extended to towers that were, most of them, inhabited. Tumithak could see the faces of shelks at the windows, and in one, even, the hairy face of a Mog was visible. But two of the windows were empty and toward the nearer of these, Tumithak pointed.

“It is our only chance,” he said, and tried to conceal the despair in his voice. “It is a slim chance, but perhaps we can get across and escape some way out of that other tower.”

Nikadur, who held the best position at the window, seized upon the idea at once and, climbing into the window’s opening, swung out upon the cable. Hand over hand he passed out on the rope, and Tumithak motioned to Datto to follow him. The big Yakran shook his head.

“This is no time for heroics, Lord of Loor,” he said. “The lower corridors need you far more than me. The chances are slim enough for escape now, without increasing them. Go you, and I will follow and guard from the rear.”

This arrangement was hardly to Tumithak’s liking and for a moment, he felt inclined to argue, but the increasing danger made him realize that time was precious and so he took his place at the window and followed Nikadur hand over hand across the cable.

The Escape from the Tower — Datto’s Sacrifice

Tumithak gave one look down as he swung ape-like along the rope but the vertigo that immediately resulted caused him to look hastily upward again. He found himself not far behind Nikadur and hesitated in his crawling pace long enough to look hack to see if Datto was following him. The sight he saw in the brief glimpse he had was something that remained in his memories for years.

The shelks had arrived at the window’s opening and Datto had been forced to turn and face them. As Tumithak looked, he saw the huge chief of Yakra, with one shelk clawing desperately at him from behind, pick up another and hurl him, clattering and squeaking from the window. Then he drew his sword and called to Tumithak.

“They have me, Tumithak,” he cried, “I can’t hold them off. There are many — ” he hesitated and then, as if an idea had suddenly occurred to him: “Hold fast the rope, Tumithak!”

The Loorian chief gazed in puzzled despair as Datto swung his sword. Again the Yakran cried: “Hold fast the rope!” and then the blade struck down the cable, half severing it. Fearful, at a loss to understand Datto’s reason for his actions, Tumithak gripped the cable even tighter, and then the sword struck again, cleanly cutting the cable from its fastening at the window.

Tumithak caught a single glimpse of Datto being jerked back into the tower, even as he struck; and then the Loorians were falling away from the tower. Nothing but death was in Tumithak’s mind, yet some inward instinct made him obey Datto’s last command and cling like grim death to the rope. He saw the ground approaching with terrible swiftness, saw that they were swinging toward the tower to which the other end of the cable was fastened; and then there was a terrific jolt, and beyond, he heard Nikadur scream fearfully. The rope had swung past the leaning tower, its end, weighted with the Loorians, acting as a huge pendulum and then the ground, which had approached with sickening closeness, was dropping away again!

Dimly conscious that they had somehow escaped death, the two had hardly realized it when Tumithak’s precarious grip on the rope began to slip. He grabbed at the nearest object, which happened to be Nikadur’s leg; heard his companion scream again, and then they were turning over and over in the air, to land, a second later, in the branches of a huge tree that stood beyond the group of towers.

The complete version of “Tumithak in Shawm” appears in Black Gate 6.

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