Long had been her tale in the telling, and too long, perhaps, have I been in the repeating — but not every day are the mists rolled away to reveal undreamed secrets of earth-youth. And I have set it down here, adding nothing, taking nothing from it; translating liberally, it is true, but constantly striving, while putting it into idea-forms and phraseology to be readily understood by my readers, to keep accurately to the spirit. And this, I must repeat, I have done throughout my narrative, wherever it has been necessary to record conversation with the Murians.
Rising, I found I was painfully stiff — as muscle-bound as though I had actually trudged many miles. Larry, imitating me, gave an involuntary groan.
“Faith, mavourneen,” he said to Lakla, relapsing unconsciously into English, “your roads would never wear out shoe-leather, but they’ve got their kick, just the same!”
She understood our plight, if not his words; gave a soft little cry of mingled pity and self-reproach; forced us back upon the cushions.
“Oh, but I’m sorry!” mourned Lakla, leaning over us. “I had forgotten — for those new to it the way is a weary one, indeed —”
She ran to the doorway, whistled a clear high note down the passage. Through the hangings came two of the frog-men. She spoke to them rapidly. They crouched toward us, what certainly was meant for an amiable grin wrinkling the grotesque muzzles, baring the glistening rows of needle-teeth. And while I watched them with the fascination that they never lost for me, the monsters calmly swung one arm around our knees, lifted us up like babies — and as calmly started to walk away with us!
“Put me down! Put me down, I say!” The O’Keefe’s voice was both outraged and angry; squinting around I saw him struggling violently to get to his feet. The Akka only held him tighter, booming comfortingly, peering down into his flushed face inquiringly.
“But, Larry — darlin’!”— Lakla’s tones were — well, maternally surprised —“you’re stiff and sore, and Kra can carry you quite easily.”
“I WON’T be carried!” sputtered the O’Keefe. “Damn it, Goodwin, there are such things as the unities even here, an’ for a lieutenant of the Royal Air Force to be picked up an’ carted around like a — like a bundle of rags — it’s not discipline! Put me down, ye omadhaun, or I’ll poke ye in the snout!” he shouted to his bearer — who only boomed gently, and stared at the handmaiden, plainly for further instructions.
“But, Larry — dear!”— Lakla was plainly distressed —“it will HURT you to walk; and I don’t WANT you to hurt, Larry — darlin’!”
“Holy shade of St. Patrick!” moaned Larry; again he made a mighty effort to tear himself from the frog-man’s grip; gave up with a groan. “Listen, alanna!” he said plaintively. “When we get to Ireland, you and I, we won’t have anybody to pick us up and carry us about every time we get a bit tired. And it’s getting me in bad habits you are!”
“Oh, YES, we will, Larry!” cried the handmaiden, “because many, oh, many, of my Akka will go with us!”
“Will you tell this — BOOB! — to put me down!” gritted the now thoroughly aroused O’Keefe. I couldn’t help laughing; he glared at me.
“Bo-oo-ob?” exclaimed Lakla.
“Yes, boo-oo-ob!” said O’Keefe, “an’ I have no desire to explain the word in my present position, light of my soul!”
The handmaiden sighed, plainly dejected. But she spoke again to the Akka, who gently lowered the O’Keefe to the floor.
“I don’t understand,” she said hopelessly, “if you want to walk, why, of course, you shall, Larry.” She turned to me.
“Do you?” she asked.
“I do not,” I said firmly.
“Well, then,” murmured Lakla, “go you, Larry and Goodwin, with Kra and Gulk, and let them minister to you. After, sleep a little — for not soon will Rador and Olaf return. And let me feel your lips before you go, Larry — darlin’!” She covered his eyes caressingly with her soft little palms; pushed him away.
“Now go,” said Lakla, “and rest!”
Unashamed I lay back against the horny chest of Gulk; and with a smile noticed that Larry, even if he had rebelled at being carried, did not disdain the support of Kra’s shining, black-scaled arm which, slipping around his waist, half-lifted him along.
They parted a hanging and dropped us softly down beside a little pool, sparkling with the clear water that had heretofore been brought us in the wide basins. Then they began to undress us. And at this point the O’Keefe gave up.
“Whatever they’re going to do we can’t stop ’em, Doc!” he moaned. “Anyway, I feel as though I’ve been pulled through a knot-hole, and I don’t care — I don’t care — as the song says.”
When we were stripped we were lowered gently into the water. But not long did the Akka let us splash about the shallow basin. They lifted us out, and from jars began deftly to anoint and rub us with aromatic unguents.
I think that in all the medley of grotesque, of tragic, of baffling, strange and perilous experiences in that underground world none was more bizarre than this — valeting. I began to laugh, Larry joined me, and then Kra and Gulk joined in our merriment with deep batrachian cachinnations and gruntings. Then, having finished apparelling us and still chuckling, the two touched our arms and led us out, into a room whose circular sides were ringed with soft divans. Still smiling, I sank at once into sleep.
How long I slumbered I do not know. A low and thunderous booming coming through the deep window slit, reverberated through the room and awakened me. Larry yawned; arose briskly.
“Sounds as though the bass drums of every jazz band in New York were serenading us!” he observed. Simultaneously we sprang to the window; peered through.
We were a little above the level of the bridge, and its full length was plain before us. Thousands upon thousands of the Akka were crowding upon it, and far away other hordes filled like a glittering thicket both sides of the cavern ledge’s crescent strand. On black scale and orange scale the crimson light fell, picking them off in little flickering points.
Upon the platform from which sprang the smaller span over the abyss were Lakla, Olaf, and Rador; the handmaiden clearly acting as interpreter between them and the giant she had called Nak, the Frog King.
“Come on!” shouted Larry.
Out of the open portal we ran; over the World Heart Bridge — and straight into the group.
“Oh!” cried Lakla, “I didn’t want you to wake up so soon, Larry — darlin’!”
“See here, mavourneen!” Indignation thrilled in the Irishman’s voice. “I’m not going to be done up with baby-ribbons and laid away in a cradle for safe-keeping while a fight is on; don’t think it. Why didn’t you call me?”
“You needed rest!” There was indomitable determination in the handmaiden’s tones, the eternal maternal shining defiant from her eyes. “You were tired and you hurt! You shouldn’t have got up!”
“Needed the rest!” groaned Larry. “Look here, Lakla, what do you think I am?”
“You’re all I have,” said that maiden firmly, “and I’m going to take care of you, Larry — darlin’! Don’t you ever think anything else.”
“Well, pulse of my heart, considering my delicate health and general fragility, would it hurt me, do you think, to be told what’s going on?” he asked.
“Not at all, Larry!” answered the handmaiden serenely. “Yolara went through the Portal. She was very, VERY angry —”
“She was all the devil’s woman that she is!” rumbled Olaf.
“Rador met the messenger,” went on the Golden Girl calmly. “The ladala are ready to rise when Lugur and Yolara lead their hosts against us. They will strike at those left behind. And in the meantime we shall have disposed my Akka to meet Yolara’s men. And on that disposal we must all take counsel, you, Larry, and Rador, Olaf and Goodwin and Nak, the ruler of the Akka.”
“Did the messenger give any idea when Yolara expects to make her little call?” asked Larry.
“Yes,” she answered. “They prepare, and we may expect them in-” She gave the equivalent of about thirty-six hours of our time.
“But, Lakla,” I said, the doubt that I had long been holding finding voice, “should the Shining One come — with its slaves — are the Three strong enough to cope with it?”
There was troubled doubt in her own eyes.
“I do not know,” she said at last, frankly. “You have heard their story. What they promise is that they will help. I do not know — any more than do you, Goodwin!”
I looked up at the dome beneath which I knew the dread Trinity stared forth; even down upon us. And despite the awe, the assurance, I had felt when I stood before them I, too, doubted.
“Well,” said Larry, “you and I, uncle,” he turned to Rador, “and Olaf here had better decide just what part of the battle we’ll lead —”
“Lead!” the handmaiden was appalled. “YOU lead, Larry? Why you are to stay with Goodwin and with me — up there, there we can watch.”
“Heart’s beloved,” O’Keefe was stern indeed. “A thousand times I’ve looked Death straight in the face, peered into his eyes. Yes, and with ten thousand feet of space under me an’ bursting shells tickling the ribs of the boat I was in. An’ d’ye think I’ll sit now on the grandstand an’ watch while a game like this is being pulled? Ye don’t know your future husband, soul of my delight!”
And so we started toward the golden opening, squads of the frog-men following us soldierly and disappearing about the huge structure. Nor did we stop until we came to the handmaiden’s boudoir. There we seated ourselves.
“Now,” said Larry, “two things I want to know. First — how many can Yolara muster against us; second, how many of these Akka have we to meet them?”
Rador gave our equivalent for eighty thousand men as the force Yolara could muster without stripping her city. Against this force, it appeared, we could count, roughly, upon two hundred thousand of the Akka.
“And they’re some fighters!” exclaimed Larry. “Hell, with odds like that what’re you worrying about? It’s over before it’s begun.”
“But, Larree,” objected Rador to this, “you forget that the nobles will have the Keth — and other things; also that the soldiers have fought against the Akka before and will be shielded very well from their spears and clubs — and that their blades and javelins can bite through the scales of Nak’s warriors. They have many things —”
“Uncle,” interjected O’Keefe, “one thing they have is your nerve. Why, we’re more than two to one. And take it from me —”
Without warning dropped the tragedy!
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11