The Ape-men of Xlotli
To be King amongst these people! A queer sensation tugged at Kirby’s heart as he descended the steps with Naida at his right, and all of her--and his--dainty and gracious friends following after. Yet, intense as his emotion was, never for a second was he able to doubt the evidence of his senses which told him that all of this was real. As they descended the black steps of the tower, Naida’s sweetness, her grace, the warm humanity of her, made him humble with gratitude for the extraordinary fortune which had come to him, an unromantic aviator born in Kansas.
Then they were standing in the brilliant light of the amphitheatre, and the Duca, surrounded by his caciques, was advancing to meet them.
It was not a long conference which followed. Kirby saw from the start that the Duca was indeed ready to come to terms. So treasured an object, it seemed, was the cylinder of gold, that the mere fact that Kirby possessed it made the Duca respect the possessor, whether he would or no. With this initial advantage, it did not take long to make demands and win acceptance.
It was agreed that some systematic campaign of extermination should be planned and carried out against the ape-men. Further, the project for eventually bringing other upper-world men to the realm was accepted. Most notable of all, it was agreed that while the Duca should retain a voice in the regulation of temporal affairs, Kirby should possess an absolute veto over his word.
Naida said there must be some formal ceremony to celebrate Kirby’s ascendency to power. To this the Duca consented, and established the date as a fortnight hence, and the place as the temple on the plateau beyond the plateau of the castle, where the Ducas had been invested with their robes of state from time immemorial. At the end, it was decided that little Elana should be left in the prayer chamber until a burial ceremony could be held on the morrow.
In less than an hour, Kirby, Naida, and the others withdrew from the amphitheatre to return to the regular dwelling places of the girls. Deep in his mind, Kirby did not know how sincere the Duca was, and fear lingered, somehow, but he put it aside for the present.
As they came out of the castle, proceeding in a gay procession across the drawbridge above the moat of beautiful aquatic plants, Kirby saw that the light from the glass sky was fading to a glow like that of spring twilight in the upper world. Naida answered his question about the phenomenon by saying that day and night in the cavern corresponded to the same period above. What quality of the glass sky gave out light, she did not know, but it seemed definite that the element was sensitive to the presence of light in the upper world, and when the sun sank there, the glow faded here.
A flower embroidered path led them around the castle to a group of little crystalline houses all overgrown with bougainvillea vines and honeysuckle. In front of the first, Naida paused, and while the others went on to the other houses, she looked at Kirby.
“It is Elana’s dwelling,” she said simply, “and it will be vacant now. Elana would want you to take it. Will you, please?”
The twilight was deepening swiftly. Kirby nodded reverently, then drew close to Naida.
He took her hand.
“I can stay here, I can consent to become, after a fashion, a King, only if you will reign with me as Queen. Will you, Naida? Will you love me as I have learned to love you during this single day in Paradise?”
She did not answer. But presently Kirby’s mind went blank for sheer joy. For then Naida raised her face, and he kissed her lips.
It made no difference then that, despite the day’s victory, Kirby could see trouble ahead, and feared, rather than rejoiced at, the Duca’s too easy acceptance of terms. The future could take care of itself. This moment in the dusk belonged to him and Naida.
The two weeks which passed for Kirby after that particular twilight sped quickly. During the first morning, all attended the ceremony which was held for Elana’s burial in the plot of gardened ground where lay her ancestors. Ensuing mornings were devoted to conferences in the amphitheatre with Duca and caciques.
After the fourth day Kirby, at Naida’s insistence, moved into splendid quarters in the castle--a suite of chambers across the amphitheatre from those in which the caciques dwelt. In practically forcing the move on Kirby, Naida won his consent finally by agreeing to have their wedding ceremony performed on the day of his coronation; then she would come to the castle with him.
The afternoons of that first fortnight before the wedding and coronation were spent in hunting and fishing. Also Kirby and Naida visited often the aged people of the race, who dwelt in crystalline, vine covered houses like those of the girls, but removed from them. Naida’s relatives were dead, but she had relatives there, and to all these aged ones, who sat living in the past, she did what she could to explain present developments in the affairs of the younger generation.
Last but not least, Kirby set aside certain hours each afternoon which he devoted to the formation of a rifle squad amongst the girls. Six rifles he had, and in turn he trained each of the girls in their use, having set up a range at the foot of the plateau cliffs. The results he gained made him feel that the day would come soon enough when he would dare launch an offensive against the ape-people; and especially pleasing was the sense of power over the Duca which he gained. The Duca showed no sign of treachery. Yet Kirby did not trust him. Never did he quite forget the misgivings which had lingered in his mind after the first conclave.
As for his relationship with Naida, that grew with every moment they could steal to spend with each other. And side by side with their growing knowledge of each other grew, for Kirby, an increasing store of knowledge of the realm.
He learned, amongst other things, what seemed the origin of the worship of the Serpent, Quetzalcoatl, amongst primitive Mexican races. The time had been when the People of the Temple had mingled freely with the races above them; and, that they might have ready means of egress to the world, they had built the tunnel through which Kirby had entered the Valley of the Geyser. Thus, going and coming as they did, they had spread their cult of the worship of Quetzalcoatl; and when, eventually, strife arose between the peoples of upper world and lower, and the People of the Temple withdrew to their realm, they left behind them the Serpent myth which was to live through countless centuries.