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Title: The Garden of Fear
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1000141.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: March 2010
Date most recently updated: March 2010

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Garden of Fear
Author: Robert E. Howard

* * *

Once I was Hunwulf, the Wanderer. I cannot explain my knowledge of
this fact by any occult or esoteric means, nor shall I try. A man
remembers his past life; I remember my past _lives_. Just as a
normal individual recalls the shapes that were him in childhood,
boyhood and youth, so I recall the shapes that have been James
Allison in forgotten ages. Why this memory is mine I cannot say,
any more than I can explain the myriad other phenomena of nature
which daily confront me and every other mortal. But as I lie
waiting for death to free me from my long disease, I see with a
clear, sure sight the grand panorama of lives that trail out behind
me. I see the men who have been me, and I see the beasts that have
been me.

For my memory does not end at the coming of Man. How could it, when
the beast so shades into Man that there is no clearly divided line
to mark the boundaries of bestiality? At this instant I see a dim
twilight vista, among the gigantic trees of a primordial forest
that never knew the tread of a leather-shod foot. I see a vast,
shaggy, shambling bulk that lumbers clumsily yet swiftly, sometimes
upright, sometimes on all fours. He delves under rotten logs for
grubs and insects, and his small ears twitch continually. He lifts
his head and bares yellow fangs. He is primordial, bestial,
anthropoid; yet I recognize his kinship with the entity now called
James Allison. Kinship? Say rather oneness. I am he; he is I. My
flesh is soft and white and hairless; his is dark and tough and
shaggy. Yet we were one, and already in his feeble, shadowed brain
are beginning to stir and tingle the man-thoughts and the man
dreams, crude, chaotic, fleeting, yet the basis for all the high
and lofty visions men have dreamed in all the following ages.

Nor does my knowledge cease there. It goes back, back, down
immemorial vistas I dare not follow, to abysses too dark and awful
for the human mind to plumb. Yet even there I am aware of my
identity, my individuality. I tell you the individual is never
lost, neither in the black pit from which we once crawled, blind,
squalling and noisome, or in that eventual Nirvana in which we
shall one day sink--which I have glimpsed afar off, shining as a
blue twilight lake among the mountains of the stars.

But enough. I would tell you of Hunwulf. Oh, it was long, long ago!
How long ago I dare not say. Why should I seek for paltry human
comparisons to describe a realm indescribably, incomprehensibly
distant? Since that age the earth had altered her contours not once
but a dozen times, and whole cycles I of mankind have completed
their destinies.

I was Hunwulf, a son of the golden-haired Aesir, who, from the icy
plains of shadowy Asgard, sent I blue-eyed tribes around the world
in century-long drifts to leave their trails in strange places. On
one of those southward drifts I was born, for I never saw the
homeland of my people, where the bulk of the Nordheimer still dwelt
in their horse-hide tents among the snows.

I grew to manhood on that long wandering, to the fierce, sinewy,
untamed manhood of the Aesir, who knew no gods but Ymir of the
frost-rimmed beard, and whose axes are stained with the blood of
many nations. My thews were like woven steel cords. My yellow hair
fell in a lion-like mane to my mighty shoulders. My loins were girt
with leopard skin. With either hand I could wield my heavy
flint-headed axe. Year by year my tribe drifted southward,
sometimes swinging in long arcs to east or west, sometimes
lingering for months or years in fertile valleys or plains where
the grass-eaters swarmed, but always forging slowly and inevitably
southward. Sometimes our way led through vast and breathless
solitudes that had never known a human cry; sometimes strange
tribes disputed our course, and our trail passed over bloodstained
ashes of butchered villages. And amidst this wandering, hunting and
slaughtering, I came to full manhood and the love of Gudrun.

What shall I say of Gudrun? How describe color to the blind? I can
say that her skin was whiter than milk, that her hair was living
gold with the flame of the sun caught in it, that the supple beauty
other body would shame the dream that shaped the Grecian goddesses.
But I cannot make you realize the fire and wonder that was Gudrun.
You have no basis for comparison; you know womanhood only by the
women of your epoch, who, beside her are like candles beside the
glow of the full moon. Not for a millennium of millenniums have
women like Gudrun walked the earth. Cleopatra, Thais, Helen of
Troy, they were but pallid shadows of her beauty, frail mimicries
of the blossom that blooms to full glory only in the primordial.

For Gudrun I forsook my tribe and my people, and went into the
wilderness, an exile and an outcast, with blood on my hands. She
was of my race, but not of my tribe: a waif whom we found as a
child wandering in a dark forest, lost from some wandering tribe of
our blood. She grew up in the tribe, and when she came to the full
ripeness of her glorious young womanhood, she was given to Heimdul
the Strong, the mightiest hunter of the tribe.

But the dream of Gudrun was madness in my soul, a flame that burned
eternally, and for her I slew Heimdul, crushing his skull with my
flint-headed axe ere he could bear her to his horse-hide tent. And
then follows our long flight from the vengeance of the tribe.
Willingly she went with me, for she loved me with the love of the
Aesir women, which is a devouring flame that destroys weakness. Oh,
it was a savage age, when life was grim and bloodstained, and the
weak died quickly. There was nothing mild or gentle about us, our
passions were those of the tempest, the surge and impact of battle,
the challenge of the lion. Our loves were as terrible as our hates.

And so I carried Gudrun from the tribe, and the killers were hot on
our trail. For a night and a day they pressed us hard, until we
swam a rising river, a roaring, foaming torrent that even the men
of the Aesir dared not attempt. But in the madness of our love and
recklessness we buffetted our way across, beaten and torn by the
frenzy of the flood, and reached the farther bank alive.

Then for many days we traversed upland forests haunted by tigers
and leopards, until we came to a great barrier of mountains, blue
ramparts climbing awesomely to the sky. Slope piled upon slope.

In those mountains we were assailed by freezing winds and hunger,
and by giant condors which swept down upon us with a thunder of
gigantic wings. In grim battles in the passes I shot away all my
arrows and splintered my flintheaded spear, but at last we crossed
the bleak backbone of the range and descending the southern slopes,
came upon a village of mud huts among the cliffs inhabited by a
peaceful, brown-skinned people who spoke a strange tongue and had
strange customs. But they greeted us with the sign of peace, and
brought us into their village, where they set meat and barley-bread
and fermented milk before us, and squatted in a ring about us while
we ate, and a woman slapped softly on a bowl-shaped tom-tom to do
us honor.

We had reached their village at dusk, and night fell while we
feasted. On all sides rose the cliffs and peaks shouldering
massively against the stars. The little cluster of mud huts and the
tiny fires were drowned and lost in the immensity of the night.
Gudrun felt the loneliness, the crowding desolation of that
darkness, and she pressed close to me, her shoulder against my
breast. But my axe was close at my hand, and I had never known the
sensation of fear.

The little brown people squatted before us, men and women, and
tried to talk to us with motions of their slender hands. Dwelling
always in one place, in comparative security, they lacked both the
strength and the uncompromising ferocity of the nomadic Aesir.
Their hands fluttered with friendly gestures in the firelight.

I made them understand that we had come from the north, had crossed
the backbone of the great mountain range, and that on the morrow it
was our intention to descend into the green tablelands which we had
glimpsed southward of the peaks. When they understood my meaning
they set up a great cry shaking their heads violently, and beating
madly on the drum. They were all so eager to impart something to
me, and all waving their hands at once, that they bewildered rather
than enlightened me. Eventually they did make me understand that
they did not wish me to descend the mountains. Some menace lay to
the south of the village, but whether of man or beast, I could not
learn.

It was while they were all gesticulating and my whole attention was
centered on their gestures, that the blow fell. The first
intimation was a sudden thunder of wings in my ears; a dark shape
rushed out of the night, and a great pinion dealt me a buffet over
the head as I turned. I was knocked sprawling, and in that instant
I heard Gudrun scream as she was torn from my side. Bounding up,
quivering with a furious eagerness to rend and slay, I saw the dark
shape vanish again into the darkness, a white, screaming, writhing
figure trailing from its talons.

Roaring my grief and fury I caught up my axe and charged into the
dark--then halted short, wild, desperate, knowing not which way to
turn.

The little brown people had scattered, screaming, knocking sparks
from their fires as they rushed over them in their haste to gain
their huts, but now they crept out fearfully, whimpering like
wounded dogs. They gathered around me and plucked at me with timid
hands and chattered in their tongue while I cursed in sick
impotency, knowing they wished to tell me something which I could
not understand.

At last I suffered them to lead me back to the fire, and there the
oldest man of the tribe brought forth a strip of cured hide, a clay
pot of pigments, and a stick. On the hide he painted a crude
picture of a winged thing carrying a white woman--oh, it was very
crude, but I made out his meaning. Then all pointed southward and
cried out loudly in their own tongue; and I knew that the menace
they had warned me against was the thing that had carried off
Gudrun. Until then I supposed that it had been one of the great
mountain condors which had carried her away, but the picture the
old man drew, in black paint, resembled a winging man more than
anything else.

Then, slowly and laboriously, he began to trace something I finally
recognized as a map--oh, yes, even in those dim days we had our
primitive maps, though no modern man would be able to comprehend
them so greatly different was our symbolism.

It took a long time; it was midnight before the old man had
finished and I understood his tracings. But at last the matter was
made clear. If I followed the course traced on the map, down the
long narrow valley where stood the village, across a plateau, down
a series of rugged slopes and along another valley, I would come to
the place where lurked the being which had stolen my woman. At that
spot the old man drew what looked like a mis-shapen hut, with many
strange markings all about it in red pigments. Pointing to these,
and again to me, he shook his head, with those loud cries that
seemed to indicate peril among these people.

Then they tried to persuade me not to go, but afire with eagerness
I took the piece of hide and pouch of food they thrust into my
hands (they were indeed a strange people for that age), grasped my
axe and set off in the moonless darkness. But my eyes were keener
than a modern mind can comprehend, and my sense of direction was as
a wolfs. Once the map was fixed in my mind, I could have thrown it
away and come unerring to the place I sought but I folded it and
thrust it into my girdle.

I traveled at my best speed through the starlight, taking no heed
of any beasts that might be seeking their prey--cave bear or
saber-toothed tiger. At times I heard gravel slide under stealthy
padded paws; I glimpsed fierce yellow eyes burning in the darkness,
and caught sight of shadowy, skulking forms. But I plunged on
recklessly, in too desperate a mood to give the path to any beast
however fearsome.

I traversed the valley, climbed a ridge and came out on a broad
plateau, gashed with ravines and strewn with boulders. I crossed
this and in the darkness before dawn commenced my climb down the
treacherous slopes. They seemed endless, falling away in a long
steep incline until their feet were lost in darkness. But I went
down recklessly, not pausing to unsling the rawhide rope I carried
about my shoulders, trusting to my luck and skill to bring me down
without a broken neck.

And just as dawn was touching the peaks with a white glow, I
dropped into a broad valley, walled by stupendous cliffs. At that
point it was wide from east to west, but the cliffs converged
toward the lower end, giving the valley the appearance of a great
fan, narrowing swiftly toward the south.

The floor was level, traversed by a winding stream. Trees grew
thinly; there was no underbrush, but a carpet of tall grass, which
at that time of year were somewhat dry. Along the stream where the
green lush grew, wandered mammoths, hairy mountains of flesh and
muscle.

I gave them a wide berth, giants too mighty for me to cope with,
confident in their power, and afraid of only one thing on earth.
They bent forward their great ears and lifted their trunks
menacingly when I approached too near, but they did not attack me.
I ran swiftly among the trees, and the sun was not yet above the
eastern ramparts which its rising edged with golden flame, when I
came to the point where the cliffs converged. My night-long climb
had not affected my iron muscles. I felt no weariness; my fury
burned unabated. What lay beyond the cliffs I could not know; I
ventured no conjecture. I had room in my brain only for red wrath
and killing-lust.

The cliffs did not form a solid wall. That is, the extremities of
the converging palisades did not meet, leaving a notch or gap a few
hundred feet wide, and emerged into a second valley, or rather into
a continuance of the same valley which broadened out again beyond
the pass.

The cliffs slanted away swiftly to east and west, to form a giant
rampart that marched clear around the valley in the shape of a vast
oval. It formed a blue rim all around the valley without a break
except for a glimpse of the clear sky that seemed to mark another
notch at the southern end. The inner valley was shaped much like a
great bottle, with two necks.

The neck by which I entered was crowded with trees, which grew
densely for several hundred yards, when they gave way abruptly to a
field of crimson flowers. And a few hundred yards beyond the edges
of the trees, I saw a strange structure.

I must speak of what I saw not alone as Hunwulf, but as James
Allison as well. For Hunwulf only vaguely comprehended the things
he saw, and, as Hunwulf, he could not describe them at all. I, as
Hunwulf, knew nothing of architecture. The only man-built dwelling
I had ever seen had been the horse-hide tents of my people, and the
thatched mud huts of the barley people--and other people equally
primitive.

So as Hunwulf I could only say that I looked upon a great hut the
construction of which was beyond my comprehension. But I, James
Allison, know that it was a tower, some seventy feet in height, of
a curious green stone, highly polished, and of a substance that
created the illusion of semi-translucency. It was cylindrical, and,
as near as I could see, without doors or windows. The main body of
the building was perhaps sixty feet in height, and from its center
rose a smaller tower that completed its full stature. This tower,
being much inferior in girth to the main body of the structure, and
thus surrounded by a sort of gallery, with a crenellated parapet,
and was furnished with both doors, curiously arched, and windows,
thickly barred as I could see, even from where I stood.

That was all. No evidence of human occupancy. No sign of life in
all the valley. But it was evident that this castle was what the
old man of the mountain village had been trying to draw, and I was
certain that in it I would find Gudrun--if she still lived.

Beyond the tower I saw the glimmer of a blue lake into which the
stream, following the curve of the western wall, eventually flowed.
Lurking amid the trees I glared at the tower and at the flowers
surrounding it on all sides, growing thick along the walls and
extending for hundreds of yards in all directions. There were trees
at the other end of the valley, near the lake; but no trees grew
among the flowers.

They were not like any plants I had ever seen. They grew close
together, almost touching each other. They were some four feet in
height, with only one blossom on each stalk, a blossom larger than
a man's head, with broad, fleshy petals drawn close together. These
petals were a livid crimson, the hue of an open wound. The stalks
were thick as a man's wrist, colorless, almost transparent. The
poisonously green leaves were shaped like spearheads, drooping on
long snaky stems. Their whole aspect was repellent, and I wondered
what their denseness concealed.

For all my wild-born instincts were roused in me. I felt lurking
peril, just as I had often sensed the ambushed lion before my
external senses recognized him. I scanned the dense blossoms
closely, wondering if some great serpent lay coiled among them. My
nostrils expanded as I quested for a scent, but the wind was
blowing away from me. But there was something decidedly unnatural
about that vast garden. Though the north wind swept over it, not a
blossom stirred, not a leaf rustled; they hung motionless, sullen,
like birds of prey with drooping heads, and I had a strange feeling
that they were watching me like living things.

It was like a landscape in a dream: on either hand the blue cliffs
lifting against the cloud-fleeced sky; in the distance the dreaming
lake; and that fantastic green tower rising in the midst of that
livid crimson field.

And there was something else: in spite of the wind that was blowing
away from me, I caught a scent, a charnel-house reek of death and
decay and corruption that rose from the blossoms.

Then suddenly I crouched closer in my covert. There was life and
movement on the castle. A figure emerged from the tower, and coming
to the parapet, leaned upon it and looked out across the valley. It
was a man, but such a man as I had never dreamed of, even in
nightmares.

He was tall, powerful, black with the hue of polished ebony; but
the feature which made a human nightmare of him was the batlike
wings which folded on his shoulders. I knew they were wings: the
fact was obvious and indisputable.

I, James Allison, have pondered much on that phenomenon which I
witnessed through the eyes of Hunwulf. Was that winged man merely a
freak, an isolated example of distorted nature, dwelling in
solitude and immemorial desolation? Or was he a survival of a
forgotten race, which had risen, reigned and vanished before the
coming of man as we know him? The little brown people of the hills
might have told me, but we had no speech in common. Yet I am
inclined to the latter theory. Winged men are not uncommon in
mythology; they are met with in the folklore of many nations and
many races. As far back as man may go in myth, chronicle and
legend, he finds tales of harpies and winged gods, angels and
demons. Legends are distorted shadows of pre-existent realities, I
believe that once a race of winged black men ruled a pre-Adamite
world, and that I, Hunwulf, met the last survivor of that race in
the valley of the red blossoms.

These thoughts I think as James Allison, with my modern knowledge
which is as imponderable as my modern ignorance.

I, Hunwulf, indulged in no such speculations. Modern skepticism was
not a part of my nature, nor did I seek to rationalize what seemed
not to coincide with a natural universe. I acknowledged no gods but
Ymir and his daughters, but I did not doubt the existence--as
demons--of other deities, worshipped by other races. Supernatural
beings of all sorts fitted into my conception of life and the
universe. I no more doubted the existence of dragons, ghosts,
fiends and devils than I doubted the existence of lions and
buffaloes and elephants. I accepted this freak of nature as a
supernatural demon and did not worry about its origin or source.
Nor was I thrown into a panic of superstitious fear. I was a son of
Asgard, who feared neither man nor devil, and I had more faith in
the crushing power of my flint axe than in the spells of priests or
the incantations of sorcerers.

But I did not immediately rush into the open and charge the tower.
The wariness of the wild was mine, and I saw no way to climb the
castle. The winged man needed no doors on the side, because he
evidently entered at the top, and the slick surface of the walls
seemed to defy the most skillful climber. Presently a way of
getting upon the tower occurred to me, but I hesitated, waiting to
see if any other winged people appeared, though I had an
unexplainable feeling that he was the only one of his kind in the
valley--possibly in the world. While I crouched among the trees and
watched, I saw him lift his elbows from the parapet and stretch
lithely, like a great cat. Then he strode across the circular
gallery and entered the tower. A muffled cry rang out on the air
which caused me to stiffen, though even so I realized that it was
not the cry of a woman. Presently the black master of the castle
emerged, dragging a smaller figure with him--a figure which writhed
and struggled and cried out piteously. I saw that it was a small
brown man, much like those of the mountain village. Captured, I did
not doubt, as Gudrun had been captured.

He was like a child in the hands of his huge foe. The black man
spread broad wings and rose over the parapet, carrying his captive
as a condor might carry a sparrow. He soared out over the field of
blossoms, while I crouched in my leafy retreat, glaring in
amazement.

The winged man, hovering in mid-air, voiced a strange weird cry;
and it was answered in horrible fashion. A shudder of awful life
passed over the crimson field beneath him. The great red blossoms
trembled, opened, spreading their fleshy petals like the mouths of
serpents. Their stalks seemed to elongate, stretching upward
eagerly. Their broad leaves lifted and vibrated with a curious
lethal whirring, like the singing of a rattlesnake. A faint but
flesh-crawling hissing sounded over all the valley. The blossoms
gasped, straining upward. And with a fiendish laugh, the winged man
dropped his writhing captive.

With a scream of a lost soul the brown man hurtled downward,
crashing among the flowers. And with a rustling hiss, they were on
him. Their thick flexible stalks arched like the necks of serpents,
their petals closed on his flesh. A hundred blossoms clung to him
like the tentacles of an octopus, smothering and crushing him down.
His shrieks of agony came muffled; he was completely hidden by the
hissing, threshing flowers. Those beyond reach swayed and writhed
furiously as if seeking to tear up their roots in their eagerness
to join their brothers. All over the field the great red blossoms
leaned and strained toward the spot where the grisly battle went
on. The shrieks sank lower and lower and lower, and ceased. A dread
silence reigned over the valley. The black man flapped his way
leisurely back to the tower, and vanished within it.

Then presently the blossoms detached themselves one by one from
their victim who lay very white and still. Aye, his whiteness was
more than that of death; he was like a wax image, a staring effigy
from which every drop of blood had been sucked. And a startling
transmutation was evident in the flowers directly about him. Their
stalks no longer colorless; they were swollen and dark red, like
transparent bamboos filled to the bursting with fresh blood.

Drawn by an insatiable curiosity, I stole from the trees and glided
to the very edge of the red field. The blossoms hissed and bent
toward me, spreading their petals like the hood of a roused cobra.
Selecting one farthest from its brothers, I severed the stalk with
a stroke of my axe, and the thing tumbled to the ground, writhing
like a beheaded serpent.

When its struggles ceased I bent over it in wonder. The stalk was
not hollow as I had supposed--that is, hollow like a dry bamboo. It
was traversed by a network of thread-like veins, some empty and
some exuding a colorless sap. The stems which held the leaves to
the stalk were remarkably tenacious and pliant, and the leaves
themselves were edged with curved spines, like sharp hooks.

Once those spines were sunk in the flesh, the victim would be
forced to tear up the whole plant by the roots if he escaped.

The petals were each as broad as my hand, and as thick as a prickly
pear, and on the inner side covered with innumerable tiny mouths,
not larger than the head of a pin. In the center, where the pistil
should be, there was a barbed spike, of a substance like thorn, and
narrow channels between the four serrated edges.

From my investigations of this horrible travesty of vegetation, I
looked up suddenly, just in time to see the winged man appear again
on the parapet. He did not seem particularly surprised to see me.
He shouted in his unknown tongue and made a mocking gesture, while
I stood statue-like, gripping my axe. Presently he turned and
entered the tower as he had done before; and as before, he emerged
with a captive. My fury and hate were almost submerged by the flood
of joy that Gudrun was alive.

In spite of her supple strength, which was that of a she-panther,
the black man handled Gudrun as easily as he had handled the brown
man. Lifting her struggling white body high above his head, he
displayed her to me and yelled tauntingly. Her golden hair streamed
over her white shoulders as she fought vainly, crying to me in the
terrible extremity of her fright and horror. Not lightly was a
woman of the Aesir reduced to cringing terror. I measured the
depths of her captor's diabolism by her frenzied cries.

But I stood motionless. If it would have saved her, I would have
plunged into that crimson morass of hell, to be hooked and pierced
and sucked white by those fiendish flowers. But that would help her
none. My death would merely leave her without a defender. So I
stood silent while she writhed and whimpered, and the black man's
laughter sent red waves of madness surging across my brain. Once he
made as if to cast her down among the flowers, and my iron control
almost snapped and sent me plunging into that red sea of hell. But
it was only a gesture. Presently he dragged her back to the tower
and tossed her inside. Then he turned back to the parapet, rested
his elbows upon it, and fell to watching me. Apparently he was
playing with us as a cat plays with a mouse before he destroys it.

But while he watched, I turned my back and strode into the forest.
I, Hunwulf, was not a thinker, as modern men understand the term. I
lived in an age where emotions were translated by the smash of a
flint axe rather than by emanations of the intellect. Yet I was not
the senseless animal the black man evidently supposed me to be. I
had a human brain, whetted by the eternal struggle for existence
and supremacy.

I knew I could not cross that red strip that banded the castle,
alive. Before I could take a half dozen steps a score of barbed
spikes would be thrust into my flesh, their avid mouths sucking the
flood from my veins to feed their demoniac lust. Even my tigerish
strength would not avail to hew a path through them.

The winged man did not follow. Looking back, I saw him still
lounging in the same position. When I, as James Allison, dream
again the dreams of Hunwulf, that, image is etched in my mind, that
gargoyle figure with elbows propped on the parapet, like a medieval
devil brooding on the battlements of hell.

I passed through the straits of the valley and came into the vale
beyond where the trees thinned and the mammoths lumbered along the
stream. Beyond the herd I stopped and drawing a pair of flints into
my pouch, stooped and struck a spark in the dry grass. Running
swiftly from chosen place to place, I set a dozen fires, in a great
semi-circle. The north wind caught them, whipped them into eager
life, drove them before it. In a few moments a rampart of flame was
sweeping down the valley.

The mammoths ceased their feeding, lifted their great ears and
bellowed alarm. In all the world they feared only fire. They began
to retreat southward, the cows herding the calves before them,
bulls trumpeting like the blast of Judgement Day. Roaring like a
storm the fire rushed on, and the mammoths broke and stampeded, a
crushing hurricane of flesh, a thundering earthquake of hurtling
bone and muscle. Trees splintered and went down before them, the
ground shook under their headlong tread. Behind them came the
racing fire and on the heels of the fire came I, so closely that
the smouldering earth burnt the moose-hide sandals off my feet.

Through the narrow neck they thundered, levelling the dense
thickets like a giant scythe. Trees were torn up by the roots; it
was as if a tornado had ripped through the pass.

With a deafening thunder of pounding feet and trumpeting, they
stormed across the sea of red blossoms. Those devilish plants might
have even pulled down and destroyed a single mammoth; but under the
impact of the whole herd, they were no more than common flowers.
The maddened titans crashed through and over them, battering them
to shreds, hammering, stamping them into the earth which grew soggy
with their juice.

I trembled for an instant, fearing the brutes would not turn aside
for the castle, and dubious of even it being able to withstand that
battering ram concussion. Evidently the winged man shared my fears,
for he shot up from the tower and raced off through the sky toward
the lake. But one of the bulls butted head-on into the wall, was
shunted off the smooth curving surface, caromed into the one next
to him, and the herd split and roared by the tower on either hand,
so closely their hairy sides rasped against it. They thundered on
through the red field toward the distant lake.

The fire, reaching the edge of the trees, was checked; the smashed
sappy fragments of the red flowers would not burn. Trees, fallen or
standing, smoked and burst into flame, and burning branches
showered around me as I ran through the trees and out into the
gigantic swath the charging herd had cut through the livid field.

As I ran I shouted to Gudrun and she answered me. Her voice was
muffled and accompanied by a hammering on something. The winged man
had locked her in a tower.

As I came under the castle wall, treading on remnants of red petals
and snaky stalks, I unwound my rawhide rope, swung it, and sent its
loop shooting upward to catch on one of the merlons of the
crenellated parapet. Then I went up it, hand over hand, gripping
the rope between my toes, bruising my knuckles and elbows against
the sheer wall as I swung about.

I was within five feet of the parapet when I was galvanized by the
beat of wings about my head. The black man shot out of the air and
landed on the gallery. I got a good look at him as he leaned over
the parapet. His features were straight and regular; there was no
suggestion of the negroid about him. His eyes were slanted slits,
and his teeth gleamed in a savage grin of hate and triumph. Long,
long he had ruled the valley of the red blossoms, levelling tribute
of human lives from the miserable tribes of the hills, for writhing
victims to feed the carnivorous half-bestial flowers which were his
subjects and protectors. And now I was in his power, my fierceness,
and craft gone for naught. A stroke of the crooked dagger in his
hand and I would go hurtling to my death. Somewhere Gudrun, seeing
my peril, was screaming like a wild thing, and then a door crashed
with a splintering of wood.

The black man, intent upon his gloating, laid the keen edge of his
dagger on the rawhide strand--then a strong white arm locked about
his neck from behind, and he was jerked violently backward. Over
his shoulder I saw the beautiful face of Gudrun, her hair standing
on end, her eyes dilated with terror and fury.

With a roar he turned in her grasp, tore loose her clinging arms
and hurled her against the tower with such force that she lay half
stunned. Then he turned again to me, but in that instant I had
swarmed up and over the parapet, and leaped upon the gallery,
unslinging my axe.

For an instant he hesitated, his wings half-lifted, his hand
poising on his dagger, as if uncertain whether to fight or take to
the air. He was a giant in stature, with muscles standing out in
corded ridges all over him, but he hesitated, as uncertain as a man
when confronted by a wild beast.

I did not hesitate. With a deep-throated roar I sprang, swinging my
axe with all my giant strength. With a strangled cry he threw up
his arms; but down between them the axe plunged and blasted his
head to red ruin.

I wheeled toward Gudrun; and struggling to her knees, she threw her
white arms about me in a desperate clasp of love and terror,
staring awedly to where lay the winged lord of the valley, the
crimson pulp that had been his head drowned in a puddle of blood
and brains.

I had often wished that it were possible to draw these various
lives of mine together in one body, combining the experiences of
Hunwulf with the knowledge of James Allison. Could that be so,
Hunwulf would have gone through the ebony door which Gudrun in her
desperate strength had shattered, into that weird chamber he
glimpsed through the ruined panels, with fantastic furnishing, and
shelves heaped with rolls of parchment. He would have unrolled
those scrolls and pored over their characters until he deciphered
them, and read, perhaps, the chronicles of that weird race whose
last survivor he had just slain. Surely the tale was stranger than
an opium dream, and marvelous as the story of lost Atlantis.

But Hunwulf had no such curiosity. To him the tower, the ebony
furnished chamber and the rolls of parchment were meaningless,
inexplicable emanations of sorcery, whose significance lay only in
their diabolism. Though the solution of mystery lay under his
fingers, he was a far removed from it as James Allison, millenniums
yet unborn.

To me, Hunwulf, the castle was but a monstrous trap, concerning
which I had but one emotion, and that a desire to escape from it as
quickly as possible.

With Gudrun clinging to me I slid to the ground, then with a
dextrous flip I freed my rope and wound it; and after that we went
hand and hand along the path made by the mammoths, now vanishing in
the distance, toward the blue lake at the southern end of the
valley and the notch in the cliffs beyond it.



THE END



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