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Title: The Treasures of Tartary
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0608021.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: October 2006
Date most recently updated: December 2007

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The Treasures of Tartary
Robert E. Howard



Chapter I - Key to the Treasure



It was not mere impulsiveness that sent Kirby O'Donnell into the
welter of writhing limbs and whickering blades that loomed so suddenly
in the semidarkness ahead of him. In that dark alley of Forbidden
Shahrazar it was no light act to plunge headlong into a nameless
brawl; and O'Donnell, for all his Irish love of a fight, was not
disposed thoughtlessly to jeopardize his secret mission.

But the glimpse of a scarred, bearded face swept from his mind all
thought and emotion save a crimson wave of fury. He acted
instinctively.

Full into the midst of the flailing group, half-seen by the light
of a distant cresset, O'Donnell leaped, _kindhjal_ in hand. He was
dimly aware that one man was fighting three or four others, but all
his attention was fixed on a single tall gaunt form, dim in the
shadows. His long, narrow, curved blade licked venomously at this
figure, ploughing through cloth, bringing a yelp as the edge sliced
skin. Something crashed down on O'Donnell's head, gun butt or
bludgeon, and he reeled, and closed with someone he could not see.

His groping hand locked on a chain that encircled a bull neck, and
with a straining gasp he ripped upward and felt his keen _kindhjal_
slice through cloth, skin and belly muscles. An agonized groan burst
from his victim's lips, and blood gushed sickeningly over O'Donnell's
hand.

Through a blur of clearing sight, the American saw a broad, bearded
face falling away from him--not the face he had seen before. The next
instant he had leaped clear of the dying man, and was slashing at the
shadowy forms about him. An instant of flickering steel, and then the
figures were running fleetly up the alley. O'Donnell, springing in
pursuit, his hot blood lashed to murderous fury, tripped over a
writhing form and fell headlong. He rose, cursing, and was aware of a
man near him, panting heavily. A tall man, with a long, curved blade in
hand. Three forms lay in the mud of the alley.

"Come, my friend, whoever you are!" the tall man panted in
_Turki_. "They have fled, but they will return with others. Let us
go!"

O'Donnell made no reply. Temporarily accepting the alliance into
which chance had cast him, he followed the tall stranger who ran down
the winding alley with the sure foot of familiarity. Silence held them
until they emerged from a low dark arch, where a tangle of alleys
debouched upon a broad square, vaguely lighted by small fires about
which groups of turbaned men squabbled and brewed tea. A reek of
unwashed bodies mingled with the odors of horses and camels. None
noticed the two men standing in the shadow made by the angle of the
mud wall.

O'Donnell looked at the stranger, seeing a tall slim man with thin
dark features. Under his _khalat_ which was draggled and darkly
splashed, showed the silver-heeled boots of a horseman. His turban was
awry, and though he had sheathed his scimitar, blood clotted the hilt
and the scabbard mouth.

The keen black eyes took in every detail of the American's
appearance, but O'Donnell did not flinch. His disguise had stood the
test too many times for him to doubt its effectiveness.

The American was somewhat above medium height, leanly built, but
with broad shoulders and corded sinews which gave him a strength out
of all proportion to his weight. He was a hard-woven mass of wiry
muscles and steel string nerves, combining the wolf-trap coordination
of a natural fighter with a berserk fury resulting from an overflowing
nervous energy. The _kindhjal_ in his girdle and the scimitar at his
hip were as much a part of him as his hands.

He wore the Kurdish boots, vest and girdled _khalat_ like a man
born to them. His keen features, burned to bronze by desert suns, were
almost as dark as those of his companion.

"Tell me thy name," requested the other. "I owe my life to thee."

"I am Ali el Ghazi, a Kurd," answered O'Donnell.

No hint of suspicion shadowed the other's countenance. Under the
coiffed Arab _kafiyeh_ O'Donnell's eyes blazed lambent blue, but blue
eyes were not at all unknown among the warriors of the Iranian
highlands.

The Turk lightly and swiftly touched the hawk-headed pommel of
O'Donnell's scimitar.

"I will not forget," he promised. "I will know thee wherever we
meet again. Now it were best we separated and went far from this spot,
for men with knives will be seeking me--and thou too, for aiding me."
And like a shadow he glided among the camels and bales and was gone.

O'Donnell stood silently for an instant, one ear cocked back
toward the alley, the other absently taking in the sounds of the
night. Somewhere a thin wailing voice sang to a twanging native lute.
Somewhere else a feline-like burst of profanity marked the progress of
a quarrel. O'Donnell breathed deep with contentment, despite the grim
Hooded Figure that stalked forever at his shoulder, and the recent
rage that still seethed in his veins. This was the real heart of the
East, the East which had long ago stolen his heart and led him to
wander afar from his own people.

He realized that he still gripped something in his left hand, and
he lifted it to the flickering light of a nearby fire. It was a length
of gold chain, one of its massy links twisted and broken. From it
depended a curious plaque of beaten gold, somewhat larger than a
silver dollar, but oval rather than round. There was no ornament, only
a boldly carven inscription which O'Donnell, with all his Eastern
lore, could not decipher.

He knew that he had torn the chain from the neck of the man he had
killed in that black alley, but he had no idea as to its meaning.
Slipping it into his broad girdle, he strode across the square,
walking with the swagger of a nomadic horseman that was so natural to
him.

Leaving the square he strode down a narrow street, the overhanging
balconies of which almost touched one another. It was not late.
Merchants in flowing silk robes sat cross-legged before their booths,
extolling the quality of their goods--Mosul silk, matchlocks from
Herat, edged weapons from India, and seed pearls from Baluchistan,
hawk-like Afghans and weapon-girdled Uzbeks jostled him. Lights
streamed through silk-covered windows overhead, and the light silvery
laughter of women rose above the noise of barter and dispute.

There was a tingle in the realization that he, Kirby O'Donnell,
was the first Westerner ever to set foot in forbidden Shahrazar,
tucked away in a nameless valley not many days' journey from where the
Afghan mountains swept down into the steppes of the Turkomans. As a
wandering Kurd, traveling with a caravan from Kabul he had come,
staking his life against the golden lure of a treasure beyond men's
dreams.

In the bazaars and _serais_ he had heard a tale: To Shaibar Khan,
the Uzbek chief who had made himself master of Shahrazar, the city had
given up its ancient secret. The Uzbek had found the treasure hidden
there so long ago by Muhammad Shah, king of Khuwarezm, the Land of the
Throne of Gold, when his empire fell before the Mongols.

O'Donnell was in Shahrazar to steal that treasure; and he did not
change his plans because of the bearded face he had recognized in the
alley--the face of an old and hated enemy. Yar Akbar the Afridi,
traitor and murderer.

O'Donnell turned from the street and entered a narrow arched gate
which stood open as if in invitation. A narrow stair went up from a
small court to a balcony. This he mounted, guided by the tinkle of a
guitar and a plaintive voice singing in _Pushtu_.

He entered a room whose latticed casement overhung the street, and
the singer ceased her song to greet him and make half-mocking salaam
with a lithe flexing of supple limbs. He replied, and deposited
himself on a divan. The furnishings of the room were not elaborate,
but they were costly. The garments of the woman who watched
interestedly were of silk, her satin vest sewn with seed pearls. Her
dark eyes, over the filmy _yasmaq_, were lustrous and expressive, the
eyes of a Persian.

"Would my lord have food--and wine?" she inquired; and O'Donnell
signified assent with the lordly gesture of a Kurdish swashbuckler who
is careful not to seem too courteous to any woman, however famed in
intrigue she may be. He had come there not for food and drink, but
because he had heard in the bazaars that news of many kinds blew on
the winds through the house of Ayisha, where men from far and near
came to drink her wine and listen to her songs.

She served him, and, sinking down on cushions near him, watched
him eat and drink. O'Donnell's appetite was not feigned. Many lean
days had taught him to eat when and where he could. Ayisha seemed to
him more like a curious child than an intriguing woman, evincing so
much interest over a wandering Kurd, but he knew that she was weighing
him carefully behind her guileless stare, as she weighed all men who
came into her house.

In that hotbed of plot and ambitions, the wandering stranger today
might be the Amir of Afghanistan or the Shah of Persia tomorrow--or
the morrow might see his headless body dangling as a feast for the
birds.

"You have a good sword," said she. He involuntarily touched the
hilt. It was an Arab blade, long, lean, curved like the crescent moon,
with a brass hawk's head for a pommel.

"It has cut many a Turkoman out of the saddle," he boasted, with
his mouth full, carrying out his character. Yet it was no empty boast.

_"Hai!"_ She believed him and was impressed. She rested her chin
on her small fists and gazed up at him, as if his dark, hawk-like face
had caught her fancy.

"The Khan needs swords like yours," she said.

"The Khan has many swords," he retorted, gulping wine loudly.

"No more than he will need if Orkhan Bahadur comes against him,"
she prophesied.

"I have heard of this Orkhan," he replied. And so he had; who in
Central Asia had not heard of the daring and valorous Turkoman chief
who defied the power of Moscow and had cut to pieces a Russian
expedition sent to subdue him? "In the bazaars they say the Khan fears
him."

That was a blind venture. Men did not speak of Shaibar Khan's
fears openly.

Ayisha laughed. "Who does the Khan fear? Once the Amir sent troops
to take Shahrazar, and those who lived were glad to flee! Yet if any
man lives who could storm the city, Orkhan Bahadur is that man. Only
tonight the Uzbeks were hunting his spies through the alleys."

O'Donnell remembered the Turkish accent of the stranger he had
unwittingly aided. It was quite possible that the man was a Turkoman
spy.

As he pondered this, Ayisha's sharp eyes discovered the broken end
of the gold chain dangling from his girdle, and with a gurgle of
delight she snatched it forth before he could stop her. Then with a
squeal she dropped it as if it were hot, and prostrated herself in
wriggling abasement among the cushions.

He scowled and picked up the trinket.

"Woman, what are you about?" he demanded.

"Your pardon, lord!" She clasped her hands, but her fear seemed
more feigned than real; her eyes sparkled. "I did not know it was
_the_ token. _Aie_, you have been making game of me--asking me things
none could know better than yourself. Which of the Twelve are you?"

"You babble as bees hum!" He scowled, dangling the pendant before
her eyes. "You speak as one of knowledge, when, by Allah, you know not
the meaning of this thing."

"Nay, but I do!" she protested. "I have seen such emblems before
on the breasts of the _emirs_ of the Inner Chamber. I know that it is
a _talsmin_ greater than the seal of the Amir, and the wearer comes
and goes at will in or out of the Shining Palace."

"But why, wench, why?" he growled impatiently.

"Nay, I will whisper what you know so well," she answered,
kneeling beside him. Her breath came soft as the sighing of the
distant night wind. "It is the symbol of a Guardian of the Treasure!"

She fell away from him laughing. "Have I not spoken truly?"

He did not at once reply. His brain was dizzy, the blood pounding
madly in his veins.

"Say nothing of this," he said at last, rising. "Your life upon
it." And casting her a handful of coins at random, he hurried down the
stair and into the street. He realized that his departure was too
abrupt, but he was too dizzy, with the realization of what had fallen
into his hands, for an entirely placid course of action.

The treasure! In his hand he held what well might be the key to
it--at least a key into the palace, to gain entrance into which he had
racked his brain in vain ever since coming to Shahrazar. His visit to
Ayisha had borne fruit beyond his wildest dreams.



Chapter II - The Unholy Plan



Doubtless in Muhammad Shah's day the Shining Palace deserved its
name; even now it preserved some of its former splendor. It was
separated from the rest of the city by a thick wall, and at the great
gate there always stood a guard of Uzbeks with Lee-Enfield rifles, and
girdles bristling with knives and pistols.

Shaibar Khan had an almost superstitious terror of accidental
gunfire, and would allow only edged weapons to be brought into the
palace. But his warriors were armed with the best rifles that could be
smuggled into the hills.

There was a limit to O'Donnell's audacity. There might be men on
guard at the main gates who knew by sight all the _emirs_ of the
symbol. He made his way to a small side gate, through a loophole in
which, at his imperious call, there peered a black man with the
wizened features of a mute. O'Donnell had fastened the broken links
together and the chain now looped his corded neck. He indicated the
plaque which rested on the silk of his _khalat_; and with a deep
salaam, the black man opened the gate.

O'Donnell drew a deep breath. He was in the heart of the lion's
lair now, and he dared not hesitate or pause to deliberate. He found
himself in a garden which gave onto an open court surrounded by arches
supported on marble pillars. He crossed the court, meeting no one. On
the opposite side a grim-looking Uzbek, leaning on a spear, scanned
him narrowly but said nothing. O'Donnell's skin crawled as he strode
past the somber warrior, but the man merely stared curiously at the
gold oval gleaming against the Kurdish vest.

O'Donnell found himself in a corridor whose walls were decorated
by a gold frieze, and he went boldly on, seeing only soft-footed
slaves who took no heed of him. As he passed into another corridor,
broader and hung with velvet tapestries, his heart leaped into his
mouth.

It was a tall slender man in long fur-trimmed robes and a silk
turban who glided from an arched doorway and halted him. The man had
the pale oval face of a Persian, with a black pointed beard, and dark
shadowed eyes. As with the others his gaze sought first the _talsmin_
on O'Donnell's breast--the token, undoubtedly, of a servitor beyond
suspicion.

"Come with me!" snapped the Persian. "I have work for you." And
vouchsafing no further enlightenment, he stalked down the corridor as
if expecting O'Donnell to follow without question; which, indeed, the
American did, believing that such would have been the action of the
genuine Guardian of the Treasure. He knew this Persian was Ahmed
Pasha, Shaibar Khan's vizir; he had seen him riding along the streets
with the royal house troops.

The Persian led the way into a small domed chamber, without
windows, the walls hung with thick tapestries. A small bronze lamp
lighted it dimly. Ahmed Pasha drew aside the hangings, directly behind
a heap of cushions, and disclosed a hidden alcove.

"Stand there with drawn sword," he directed. Then he hesitated.
"Can you speak or understand any Frankish tongue?" he demanded. The
false Kurd shook his head.

"Good!" snapped Ahmed Pasha. "You are here to watch, not to
listen. Our lord does not trust the man he is to meet here--alone. You
are stationed behind the spot where this man will sit. Watch him like
a hawk. If he makes a move against the Khan, cleave his skull. If harm
comes to our prince, you shall be flayed alive." He paused, glared an
instant, then snarled:

"And hide that emblem, fool! Shall the whole world know you are an
_emir_ of the Treasure?"

"Hearkening and obedience, _ya khawand_," mumbled O'Donnell,
thrusting the symbol inside his garments. Ahmed jerked the tapestries
together, and left the chamber. O'Donnell glanced through a tiny
opening, waiting for the soft pad of the vizir's steps to fade away
before he should glide out and take up again his hunt for the
treasure.

But before he could move, there was a low mutter of voices, and
two men entered the chamber from opposite sides. One bowed low and did
not venture to seat himself until the other had deposited his fat body
on the cushions, and indicated permission.

O'Donnell knew that he looked on Shaibar Khan, once the terror of
the Kirghiz steppes, and now lord of Shahrazar. The Uzbek had the
broad powerful build of his race, but his thick limbs were soft from
easy living. His eyes held some of their old restless fire, but the
muscles of his face seemed flabby, and his features were lined and
purpled with debauchery. And there seemed something else--a worried,
haunted look, strange in that son of reckless nomads. O'Donnell
wondered if the possession of the treasure was weighing on his mind.

The other man was slender, dark, his garments plain beside the
gorgeous ermine-trimmed _kaftan_, pearl-sewn girdle and green,
emerald-crested turban of the Khan.

This stranger plunged at once into conversation, low voiced but
animated and urgent. He did most of the talking, while Shaibar Khan
listened, occasionally interjecting a question, or a grunt of
gratification. The Khan's weary eyes began to blaze, and his pudgy
hands knotted as if they gripped again the hilt of the blade which had
carved his way to power.

And Kirby O'Donnell forgot to curse the luck which held him
prisoner while precious time drifted by. Both men spoke a tongue the
American had not heard in years--a European language. And scanning
closely the slim dark stranger, O'Donnell admitted himself baffled. If
the man were, as he suspected, a European disguised as an Oriental,
then O'Donnell knew he had met his equal in masquerade.

For it was European politics he talked, European politics that lay
behind the intrigues of the East. He spoke of war and conquest, and
vast hordes rolling down the KhyberPass into India; to complete the
overthrow, said the dark slender man, of a rule outworn.

He promised power and honors to Shaibar Khan, and O'Donnell,
listening, realized that the Uzbek was but a pawn in his game, no less
than those others he mentioned. The Khan, narrow of vision, saw only a
mountain kingdom for himself, reaching down into the plains of Persia
and India, and backed by European guns--not realizing those same guns
could just as easily overwhelm him when the time was ripe.

But O'Donnell, with his Western wisdom, read behind the dark
stranger's words, and recognized there a plan of imperial dimensions,
and the plot of a European power to seize half of Asia. And the first
move in that game was to be the gathering of warriors by Shaibar Khan.
How? With the treasure of Khuwarezm! With it he could buy all the
swords of Central Asia.

So the dark man talked and the Uzbek listened like an old wolf who
harks to the trampling of the musk oxen in the snow. O'Donnell
listened, his blood freezing as the dark man casually spoke of
invasions and massacres; and as the plot progressed and became more
plain in detail, more monstrous and ruthless in conception, he
trembled with a mad urge to leap from his cover and slash and hack
both these bloody devils into pieces with the scimitar that quivered
in his nervous grasp. Only a sense of self-preservation stayed him
from this madness; and presently Shaibar Khan concluded the audience
and left the chamber, followed by the dark stranger. O'Donnell saw
this one smile furtively, like a man who has victory in his grasp.

O'Donnell started to draw aside the curtain, when Ahmed Pasha came
padding into the chamber. It occurred to the American that it would be
better to let the vizir find him at his post. But before Ahmed could
speak, or draw aside the curtain, there sounded a rapid pattering of
bare feet in the corridor outside, and a man burst into the room, wild
eyed and panting. At the sight of him a red mist wavered across
O'Donnell's sight. It was Yar Akbar!



Chapter III - Wolf Pack



The Afridi fell on his knees before Ahmed Pasha. His garments were
tattered; blood seeped from a broken tooth and clotted his straggly
beard.

"Oh, master," he panted, "the dog has escaped!"

"Escaped!" The vizir rose to his full height, his face convulsed
with passion. O'Donnell thought that he would strike down the Afridi,
but his arm quivered, fell by his side.

"Speak!" The Persian's voice was dangerous as the hiss of a cobra.

"We hedged him in a dark alley," Yar Akbar babbled. "He fought
like _Shaitan_. Then others came to his aid--a whole nest of
Turkomans, we thought, but mayhap it was but one man. He too was a
devil! He slashed my side--see the blood! For hours since we have
hunted them, but found no trace. He is over the wall and gone!" In his
agitation Yar Akbar plucked at a chain about his neck; from it
depended an oval like that held by O'Donnell. The American realized
that Yar Akbar, too, was an emir of the Treasure. The Afridi's eyes
burned like a wolf's in the gloom, and his voice sank.

"He who wounded me slew Othman," he whispered fearfully, "and
despoiled him of the _talsmin_!"

"Dog!" The vizir's blow knocked the Afridi sprawling. Ahmed Pasha
was livid. "Call the other _emirs_ of the Inner Chamber, swiftly!"

Yar Akbar hastened into the corridor, and Ahmed Pasha called:

"Ohe! You who hide behind the hangings--come forth!" There was no
reply, and pale with sudden suspicion, Ahmed drew a curved dagger and
with a pantherish spring tore the tapestry aside. The alcove was
empty.

As he glared in bewilderment, Yar Akbar ushered into the chamber
as unsavory a troop of ruffians as a man might meet, even in the
hills: Uzbeks, Afghans, Gilzais, Pathans, scarred with crime and old
in wickedness. Ahmed Pasha counted them swiftly. With Yar Akbar there
were eleven.

"Eleven," he muttered. "And dead Othman makes twelve. All these
men are known to you, Yar Akbar?"

"My head on it!" swore the Afridi. "These be all true men."

Ahmed clutched his beard.

"Then, by God, the One True God," he groaned, "that Kurd I set to
guard the Khan was a spy and a traitor." And at that moment a shriek
and a clash of steel re-echoed through the palace.

When O'Donnell heard Yar Akbar gasping out his tale to the vizir,
he knew the game was up. He did not believe that the alcove was a
blind niche in the wall; and, running swift and practiced hands over
the panels, he found and pressed a hidden catch. An instant before
Ahmed Pasha tore aside the tapestry, the American wriggled his lean
body through the opening and found himself in a dimly lighted chamber
on the other side of the wall. A black slave dozed on his haunches,
unmindful of the blade that hovered over his ebony neck, as O'Donnell
glided across the room, and through a curtained doorway.

He found himself back in the corridor into which one door of the
audience chamber opened, and crouching among the curtains, he saw Yar
Akbar come up the hallway with his villainous crew. He saw, too, that
they had come up a marble stair at the end of the hall.

His heart leaped. In that direction, undoubtedly, lay the
Treasure--now supposedly unguarded. As soon as the _emirs_ vanished
into the audience chamber where the vizir waited, O'Donnell ran
swiftly and recklessly down the corridor.

But even as he reached the stairs, a man sitting on them sprang
up, brandishing a tulwar. A black slave, evidently left there with
definite orders, for the sight of the symbol on O'Donnell's breast did
not halt him. O'Donnell took a desperate chance, gambling his speed
against the cry that rose in the thick black throat.

He lost. His scimitar licked through the massive neck and the
Soudani rolled down the stairs, spurting blood. But his yell had rung
to the roof.

And at that yell the _emirs_ of the gold came headlong out of the
audience chamber, giving tongue like a pack of wolves. They did not
need Ahmed's infuriated shriek of recognition and command. They were
men picked for celerity of action as well as courage, and it seemed to
O'Donnell that they were upon him before the Negro's death yell had
ceased to echo.

He met the first attacker, a hairy Pathan, with a long lunge that
sent his scimitar point through the thick throat even as the man's
broad tulwar went up for a stroke. Then a tall Uzbek swung his heavy
blade like a butcher's cleaver. No time to parry; O'Donnell caught the
stroke near his own hilt, and his knees bent under the impact.

But the next instant the _kindhjal_ in his left hand ripped
through the Uzbek's entrails, and with a powerful heave of his whole
body, O'Donnell hurled the dying man against those behind him, bearing
them back with him. Then O'Donnell wheeled and ran, his eyes blazing
defiance of the death that whickered at his back.

Ahead of him another stair led up. O'Donnell reached it one long
bound ahead of his pursuers, gained the steps and wheeled, all in one
motion, slashing down at the heads of the pack that came clamoring
after him.

Shaibar Khan's broad pale face peered up at the melee from the
curtains of an archway, and O'Donnell was grateful to the Khan's
obsessional fear that had barred firearms from the palace. Otherwise,
he would already have been shot down like a dog. He himself had no
gun; the pistol with which he had started the adventure had slipped
from its holster somewhere on that long journey, and lay lost among
the snows of the Himalayas.

No matter; he had never yet met his match with cold steel. But no
blade could long have held off the ever-increasing horde that swarmed
up the stair at him.

He had the advantage of position, and they could not crowd past
him on the narrow stair; their very numbers hindered them. His flesh
crawled with the fear that others would come down the stair and take
him from behind, but none came. He retreated slowly, plying his
dripping blades with berserk frenzy. A steady stream of taunts and
curses flowed from his lips, but even in his fury he spoke in the
tongues of the East, and not one of his assailants realized that the
madman who opposed them was anything but a Kurd.

He was bleeding from a dozen flesh cuts, when he reached the head
of the stairs which ended in an open trap. Simultaneously the wolves
below him came clambering up to drag him down. One gripped his knees,
another was hewing madly at his head. The others howled below them,
unable to get at their prey.

O'Donnell stooped beneath the sweep of a tulwar and his scimitar
split the skull of the wielder. His _kindhjal_ he drove through the
breast of the man who clung to his knees, and kicking the clinging
body away from him, he reeled up through the trap. With frantic
energy, he gripped the heavy iron-bound door and slammed it down,
falling across it in semicollapse.

The splintering of wood beneath him warned him and he rolled clear
just as a steel point crunched up through the door and quivered in the
starlight. He found and shot the bolt, and then lay prostrate, panting
for breath. How long the heavy wood would resist the attacks from
below he did not know.

He was on a flat-topped roof, the highest part of the palace.
Rising, he stumbled over to the nearest parapet, and looked down, onto
lower roofs. He saw no way to get down. He was trapped.

It was the darkness just before dawn. He was on a higher level
than the walls or any of the other houses in Shahrazar. He could dimly
make out the sheer of the great cliffs which flanked the valley in
which Shahrazar stood, and he saw the starlight's pale glimmer on the
slim river which trickled past the massive walls. The valley ran
southeast and northwest.

And suddenly the wind, whispering down from the north, brought a
burst of crackling reports. Shots? He stared northwestward, toward
where, he knew, the valley pitched upward, narrowing to a sheer gut,
and a mud-walled village dominated the pass. He saw a dull red glow
against the sky. Again came reverberations.

Somewhere in the streets below sounded a frantic clatter of flying
hoofs that halted before the palace gate. There was silence then, in
which O'Donnell heard the splintering blows on the trap door, and the
heavy breathing of the men who struck them. Then suddenly they ceased
as if the attackers had dropped dead; utter silence attended a
shrilling voice, indistinct through distance and muffling walls. A
wild clamor burst forth in the streets below; men shouted, women
screamed.

No more blows fell on the trap. Instead there were noises below--
the rattle of arms, tramp of men, and a voice that held a note of
hysteria shouting orders.

O'Donnell heard the clatter of galloping horses, and saw torches
moving through the streets, toward the northwestern gate. In the
darkness up the valley he saw orange jets of flame and heard the
unmistakable reports of firearms.

Shrugging his shoulders, he sat down in an angle of the parapet,
his scimitar across his knees. And there weary Nature asserted itself,
and in spite of the clamor below him, and the riot in his blood, he
slept.



Chapter IV - Furious Battle!



He did not sleep long, for dawn was just stealing whitely over the
mountains when he awoke. Rifles were cracking all around, and
crouching at the parapet, he saw the reason. Shahrazar was besieged by
warriors in sheepskin coats and fur _kalpaks_. Herds of their horses
grazed just beyond rifle fire, and the warriors themselves were firing
from every rock and tree. Numbers of them were squirming along the
half-dry river bed, among the willows, sniping at the men on the
walls, who gave back their fire.

The Turkomans of Orkhan Bahadur! That blaze in the darkness told
of the fate of the village that guarded the pass. Turks seldom made
night raids; but Orkhan was nothing if not original.

The Uzbeks manned the walls, and O'Donnell believed he could make
out the bulky shape and crested turban of Shaibar Khan among a cluster
of peacock-clad nobles. And as he gazed at the turmoil in the streets
below, the belief grew that every available Uzbek in the city was on
the walls. This was no mere raid; it was a tribal war of
extermination.

O'Donnell's Irish audacity rose like heady wine in his veins, and
he tore aside the splintered door and gazed down the stairs. The
bodies still lay on the steps, stiff and unseeing. No living human met
his gaze as he stole down the stairs, scimitar in hand. He gained the
broad corridor, and still he saw no one. He hurried down the stair
whereon he had slain the black slave, and reached a broad chamber with
a single tapestried door.

There was the sudden crash of a musket; a spurt of flame stabbed
at him. The ball whined past him and he covered the space with a long
leap, grappled a snarling, biting figure behind the tapestry and
dragged it into the open. It was Ahmed Pasha.

"Accursed one!" The vizir fought like a mad dog. "I guessed you
would come skulking here--Allah's curse on the hashish that has made
my hand unsteady--"

His dagger girded through O'Donnell's garments, drawing blood.
Under his silks the Persian's muscles were like taut wires. Employing
his superior weight, the American hurled himself hard against the
other, driving the vizir's head back against the stone wall with a
stunning crack. As the Persian relaxed with a groan, O'Donnell's left
hand wrenched from his grasp and lurched upward, and the keen
_kindhjal_ encountered flesh and bone.

The American lifted the still twitching corpse and thrust it
behind the tapestry, hiding it as best he could. A bunch of keys at
the dead man's girdle caught his attention, and they were in his hand
as he approached the curtained door.

The heavy teakwood portal, bound in arabesqued copper, would have
resisted any onslaught short of artillery. A moment's fumbling with
the massive keys, and O'Donnell found the right one. He passed into a
narrow corridor dimly lighted by some obscure means. The walls were of
marble, the floor of mosaics. It ended at what seemed to be a blank
carven wall, until O'Donnell saw a thin crack in the marble.

Through carelessness or haste, the secret door had been left
partly open. O'Donnell heard no sound, and was inclined to believe
that Ahmed Pasha had remained to guard the Treasure alone. He gave the
vizir credit for wit and courage.

O'Donnell pulled open the door--a wide block of marble revolving
on a pivot--and halted short, a low cry escaping his lips. He had come
full upon the treasure of Khuwarezm, and the sight stunned him!

The dim light must have come through hidden interstices in the
colored dome of the circular chamber in which he stood. It illumined a
shining pyramidal heap upon a dais in the center of the floor, a
platform that was a great round slab of pure jade. And on that jade
gleamed tokens of wealth beyond the dreams of madness. The foundations
of the pile consisted of blocks of virgin gold and upon them lay,
rising to a pinnacle of blazing splendor, ingots of hammered silver,
ornaments of golden enamel, wedges of jade, pearls of incredible
perfection, inlaid ivory, diamonds that dazzled the sight, rubies like
clotted blood, emeralds like drops of green fire, pulsing sapphires--
O'Donnell's senses refused to accept the wonder of what he saw. Here,
indeed, was wealth sufficient to buy every sword in Asia. A sudden
sound brought him about. Someone was coming down the corridor outside,
someone who labored for breath and ran staggeringly. A quick glance
around, and O'Donnell slipped behind the rich gilt-worked arras which
masked the walls. A niche where, perhaps, had stood an idol in the old
pagan days, admitted his lean body, and he gazed through a slit cut in
the velvet.

It was Shaibar Khan who came into the chamber. The Khan's garments
were torn and splashed darkly. He stared at his treasure with haunted
eyes, and he groaned. Then he called for Ahmed Pasha.

One man came, but it was not the vizir, who lay dead in the outer
corridor. It was Yar Akbar, crouching like a great gray wolf, beard
bristling in his perpetual snarl.

"Why was the treasure left unguarded?" demanded Shaibar Khan
petulantly. "Where is Ahmed Pasha?"

"He sent us on the wall," answered Yar Akbar, hunching his
shoulders in servile abasement. "He said he would guard the Treasure
himself."

"No matter!" Shaibar Khan was shaking like a man with an ague. "We
are lost. The people have risen against me and opened the gates to
that devil Orkhan Bahadur. His Turkomans are cutting down my Uzbeks in
the streets. But he shall not have the Treasure. See ye that golden
bar that juts from the wall, like a sword hilt from the scabbard? I
have but to pull that, and the Treasure falls into the subterranean
river which runs below this palace, to be lost forever to the sight of
men. Yar Akbar, I give you a last command--pull that bar!"

Yar Akbar moaned and wrung his beard, but his eyes were red as a
wolf's, and he turned his ear continually toward the outer door.

"Nay, lord, ask of me anything but that!"

"Then I will do it!" Shaibar Khan moved toward the bar, reached
out his hand to grasp it. With a snarl of a wild beast, Yar Akbar
sprang on his back, grunting as he struck. O'Donnell saw the point of
the Khyber knife spring out of Shaibar Khan's silk-clad breast, as the
Uzbek chief threw wide his arms, cried out chokingly, and tumbled
forward to the floor. Yar Akbar spurned the dying body with a vicious
foot.

"Fool!" he croaked. "I will buy my life from Orkhan Bahadur. Aye,
this treasure shall gain me much honor with him, now the other _emirs_
are dead--"

He halted, crouching and glaring, the reddened knife quivering in
his hairy fist. O'Donnell had swept aside the tapestry and stepped
into the open. _"Y'Allah!"_ ejaculated the Afridi. "The dog-Kurd!"

"Look more closely, Yar Akbar," answered O'Donnell grimly,
throwing back his _kafiyeh_ and speaking in English. "Do you not
remember the Gorge of Izz ed din and the scout trapped there by your
treachery? One man escaped, you dog of the Khyber."

Slowly a red flame grew in Yar Akbar's eyes.

"El Shirkuh!" he muttered, giving O'Donnell his Afghan name--the
Mountain Lion. Then, with a howl that rang to the domed roof, he
launched himself through the air, his three-foot knife gleaming.

O'Donnell did not move his feet. A supple twist of his torso
avoided the thrust, and the furiously driven knife hissed between left
arm and body, tearing his _khalat_. At the same instant O'Donnell's
left forearm bent up and under the lunging arm that guided the knife.
Yar Akbar screamed, spat on the _kindhjal's_ narrow blade. Unable to
halt his headlong rush, he caromed bodily against O'Donnell, bearing
him down.

They struck the floor together, and Yar Akbar, with a foot of
trenchant steel in his vitals, yet reared up, caught O'Donnell's hair
in a fierce grasp, gasped a curse, lifted his knife--and then his wild
beast vitality failed him, and with a convulsive shudder he rolled
clear and lay still in a spreading pool of blood.

O'Donnell rose and stared down at the bodies upon the floor, then
at the glittering heap on the jade slab. His soul yearned to it with
the fierce yearning that had haunted him for years. Dared he take the
desperate chance of hiding it under the very noses of the invading
Turkomans? If he could, he might escape, to return later, and bear it
away. He had taken more desperate chances before.

Across his mental vision flashed a picture of a slim dark stranger
who spoke a European tongue. It was lure of the Treasure which had led
Orkhan Bahadur out of his steppes; and the Treasure in his hands would
be as dangerous as it was in the hands of Shaibar Khan. The Power
represented by the dark stranger could deal with the Turkoman as
easily as with the Uzbek.

No; one Oriental adventurer with that treasure was as dangerous to
the peace of Asia as another. He dared not run the risk of Orkhan
Bahadurís finding that pile of gleaming wealth--sweat suddenly broke out
on O'Donnell's body as he realized, for once in his life, a driving
power mightier than his own desire. The helpless millions of India
were in his mind as, cursing sickly, he gripped the gold bar and
heaved it!

With a grinding boom something gave way, the jade slab moved,
turned, tilted, and disappeared, and with it vanished, in a final
iridescent burst of dazzling splendor, the treasure of Khuwarezm. Far
below came a sullen splash, and the sound of waters roaring in the
darkness; then silence, and where a black hole had gaped there showed
a circular slab of the same substance as the rest of the floor.

O'Donnell hurried from the chamber. He did not wish to be found
where the Turkomans might connect him with the vanishing of the
Treasure they had battled to win. Let them think, if they would, that
Shaibar Khan and Yar Akbar had disposed of it somehow, and slain one
another. As he emerged from the palace into an outer court, lean
warriors in sheepskin _kaftans_ and high fur caps were swarming in.
Cartridge belts crossed on their breasts, and _yataghans_ hung at
their girdles. One of them lifted a rifle and took deliberate aim at
O'Donnell.

Then it was struck aside, and a voice shouted:

"By Allah, it is my friend Ali el Ghazi!" There strode forward a
tall man whose _kalpak_ was of white lambskin, and whose _kaftan_ was
trimmed with ermine. O'Donnell recognized the man he had aided in the
alley.

"I am Orkhan Bahadur!" exclaimed the chief with a ringing laugh.
"Put up your sword, friend; Shahrazar is mine! The heads of the Uzbeks
are heaped in the market square! When I fled from their swords last
night, they little guessed my warriors awaited my coming in the
mountains beyond the pass! Now I am prince of Shahrazar, and thou art
my cup-companion. Ask what thou wilt, yea, even a share of the
Treasure of Khuwarezm--when we find it."

"When you find it!" O'Donnell mentally echoed, sheathing his
scimitar with a Kurdish swagger. The American was something of a
fatalist. He had come out of this adventure with his life at least,
and the rest was in the hands of Allah.

_"Alhamdolillah!"_ said O'Donnell, joining arms with his new cup-
companion.



THE END




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