The Ape-men of Xlotli
To himself Kirby chuckled. Such real entreaty filled the Duca’s voice that there seemed no danger of further treachery from him at the moment.
With a grin, Kirby took Naida’s hand and led her down the steps, unbolting each bronze gate but the last.
“What do you want?” he asked in a cool voice a moment later, when he stopped on the final step and faced the Duca from behind the protection of the final gate.
Clearly the parley was going to be a blunt one.
“I want you to leave our world,” the Duca rumbled promptly.
He was drawn up in a posture intended to display dignity. But his left cheek, where Kirby had hammered him, was pulpy and discolored, and somehow he seemed to Kirby more than ever merely human.
“Under what conditions am I to leave?”
“If you will vacate my tower at once,” the Duca said with a flush of eagerness which he could not conceal, “I will permit Naida and one of my caciques to escort you back to the Valley of the Geyser. I will also give you directions by which you may travel in safety from there to the outer world.”
Kirby, wanting more details, made himself seem thoughtful.
“And what will happen to me, and to the girls, if I decline?”
Encouraged, the Duca made an impressive gesture.
“You will be left in the tower to die of starvation. Mine is not a complicated offer. It should require no complicated decision. What is your answer?”
Kirby dropped his carefully assumed mask of thought.
“My answer is this,” he lashed out. “I will not leave! The tower is ours, and we will hold it until you have accepted Naida’s peace terms on your priestly oath!”
“But if you stay in the tower you will starve!” thundered the Duca.
“No, we won’t starve! We won’t starve because we eat the food of Ducas!”
In silence, Kirby took from his pocket a strip of the sacred Peyote and bit off one end of it. Suddenly the hush in the amphitheatre became complete. As he watched Kirby chewing, the Duca gasped and choked.
“Moreover,” Kirby announced with slow emphasis, “I have taken possession of the weapons which you took from men of the upper world, and which have already sent men of your race to their death. I have no wish to kill either you or your caciques, but if you do not presently discuss peace with me, you will certainly find yourself embroiled in a struggle more bitter than the mild one of this morning.”
With that said, he swung on his heel, and taking Naida’s hand again, started with her up the steps.
“I have nothing more to say,” he called over his shoulder to a Duca whose white haired majesty had been stripped from him.
“We’re getting on,” he whispered to Naida a moment later. “The best thing for us is just to sit still now, and wait.”
With the questions he wanted to ask Naida about her world becoming insistent, he found himself, as a matter of fact, glad for the prospect of further respite. As both of them rejoined the girls in the Duca’s prayer chamber, the first thing he did was to take from his tunic the cylinder of gold which he had found in the canyon.
“What is this, Naida?” he asked, hoping to start talk that would make all of them forget the Duca and politics, and at the same time help him to learn much that he wished to know.
But a queer thing happened. Naida’s reaction to the carven gold was as unexpected as it was marked.
“Oh!“ she cried in a voice which suddenly trembled with surprise, with blank dismay. Somehow, the cylinder of gold brought to her face things which not even the Serpent’s head of the diamond had evoked.
The prospect of a long session of talk began to fade out in Kirby’s mind.
“But Naida, whatever is there about this fragment of gold to startle you as it does?”
By this time all of the thirty-odd other girls had come flocking about them, and all were staring at the cylinder as fascinatedly as Naida.
“Do you see what he has there?” Naida finally asked, ignoring Kirby in her continued excitement.
“Do we see?” answered the girl she had addressed. “Naida, surely it is the carving which was lost!”
Naida was quivering with feeling now.
“Do you realize what it means to our cause that it should have been returned to us in this way?”
The girl to whom she had spoken, and the others, simply looked at her, but in one face after another presently dawned awe and joy.
Kirby stood still, puzzled and interested, until at last Naida was recovered enough to speak to him.
“Where did you get this thing which you call ‘a fragment of gold’?” she asked in a hushed voice.
“I found it,” Kirby answered, “lying beside the skeleton of an upper-world man, while I was ascending the canyon which brought me to the Valley of the Geyser.”
“And you do not know what the cylinder is? But no, of course you could not.”
“What is it, Naida?”
Naida glanced at her friends, then laid her hand on Kirby’s.
“Next to the great diamond, it is the most cherished possession of our race. In some respects it is even more holy than the Serpent’s head. The cylinder happens to be the first work in gold which was ever produced by our people. It was made when the race was new. It was because our first wise men had found they could create things of beauty like this cylinder, that they decided to attempt the creation of the Serpent’s head, which is supposed to have brought all of our blessings upon us.”
Kirby thought he was beginning to understand the excitement which his introduction of the cylinder had created. He also thought he could see what Naida had meant by implying that the cylinder could be made to aid their cause.
“Tell me,” he asked in a mood approaching reverence, “how the cylinder came to be lying beside a dead man’s bones.”