THE MAHAR TEMPLE
The aborigine, apparently uninjured, climbed quickly into the skiff, and
seizing the spear with me helped to hold off the infuriated creature. Blood from
the wounded reptile was now crimsoning the waters about us and soon from the
weakening struggles it became evident that I had inflicted a death wound upon
it. Presently its efforts to reach us ceased entirely, and with a few convulsive
movements it turned upon its back quite dead.
And then there came to me a sudden realization of the predicament in which I
had placed myself. I was entirely within the power of the savage man whose skiff
I had stolen. Still clinging to the spear I looked into his face to find him
scrutinizing me intently, and there we stood for some several minutes, each
clinging tenaciously to the weapon the while we gazed in stupid wonderment at
What was in his mind I do not know, but in my own was merely the question as
to how soon the fellow would recommence hostilities.
Presently he spoke to me, but in a tongue which I was unable to translate. I
shook my head in an effort to indicate my ignorance of his language, at the same
time addressing him in the bastard tongue that the Sagoths use to converse with
the human slaves of the Mahars.
To my delight he understood and answered me in the same jargon.
"What do you want of my spear?" he asked.
"Only to keep you from running it through me," I replied.
"I would not do that," he said, "for you have just saved my
life," and with that he released his hold upon it and squatted down in the
bottom of the skiff.
"Who are you," he continued, "and from what country do you
I too sat down, laying the spear between us, and tried to explain how I came
to Pellucidar, and wherefrom, but it was as impossible for him to grasp or
believe the strange tale I told him as I fear it is for you upon the outer crust
to believe in the existence of the inner world. To him it seemed quite
ridiculous to imagine that there was another world far beneath his feet peopled
by beings similar to himself, and he laughed uproariously the more he thought
upon it. But it was ever thus. That which has never come within the scope of our
really pitifully meager world-experience cannot be--our finite minds cannot
grasp that which may not exist in accordance with the conditions which obtain
about us upon the outside of the insignificant grain of dust which wends its
tiny way among the bowlders of the universe--the speck of moist dirt we so
proudly call the World.
So I gave it up and asked him about himself. He said he was a Mezop, and that
his name was Ja.
"Who are the Mezops?" I asked. "Where do they live?"
He looked at me in surprise.
"I might indeed believe that you were from another world," he said,
"for who of Pellucidar could be so ignorant! The Mezops live upon the
islands of the seas. In so far as I ever have heard no Mezop lives elsewhere,
and no others than Mezops dwell upon islands, but of course it may be different
in other far-distant lands. I do not know. At any rate in this sea and those
near by it is true that only people of my race inhabit the islands.
"We are fishermen, though we be great hunters as well, often going to
the mainland in search of the game that is scarce upon all but the larger
islands. And we are warriors also," he added proudly. "Even the
Sagoths of the Mahars fear us. Once, when Pellucidar was young, the Sagoths were
wont to capture us for slaves as they do the other men of Pellucidar, it is
handed down from father to son among us that this is so; but we fought so
desperately and slew so many Sagoths, and those of us that were captured killed
so many Mahars in their own cities that at last they learned that it were better
to leave us alone, and later came the time that the Mahars became too indolent
even to catch their own fish, except for amusement, and then they needed us to
supply their wants, and so a truce was made between the races. Now they give us
certain things which we are unable to produce in return for the fish that we
catch, and the Mezops and the Mahars live in peace.
"The great ones even come to our islands. It is there, far from the
prying eyes of their own Sagoths, that they practice their religious rites in
the temples they have builded there with our assistance. If you live among us
you will doubtless see the manner of their worship, which is strange indeed, and
most unpleasant for the poor slaves they bring to take part in it."
As Ja talked I had an excellent opportunity to inspect him more closely. He
was a huge fellow, standing I should say six feet six or seven inches, well
developed and of a coppery red not unlike that of our own North American Indian,
nor were his features dissimilar to theirs. He had the aquiline nose found among
many of the higher tribes, the prominent cheek bones, and black hair and eyes,
but his mouth and lips were better molded. All in all, Ja was an impressive and
handsome creature, and he talked well too, even in the miserable makeshift
language we were compelled to use.
During our conversation Ja had taken the paddle and was propelling the skiff
with vigorous strokes toward a large island that lay some half-mile from the
mainland. The skill with which he handled his crude and awkward craft elicited
my deepest admiration, since it had been so short a time before that I had made
such pitiful work of it.
As we touched the pretty, level beach Ja leaped out and I followed him.
Together we dragged the skiff far up into the bushes that grew beyond the sand.
"We must hide our canoes," explained Ja, "for the Mezops of
Luana are always at war with us and would steal them if they found them,"
he nodded toward an island farther out at sea, and at so great a distance that
it seemed but a blur hanging in the distant sky. The upward curve of the surface
of Pellucidar was constantly revealing the impossible to the surprised eyes of
the outer-earthly. To see land and water curving upward in the distance until it
seemed to stand on edge where it melted into the distant sky, and to feel that
seas and mountains hung suspended directly above one's head required such a
complete reversal of the perceptive and reasoning faculties as almost to stupefy
No sooner had we hidden the canoe than Ja plunged into the jungle, presently
emerging into a narrow but well-defined trail which wound hither and thither
much after the manner of the highways of all primitive folk, but there was one
peculiarity about this Mezop trail which I was later to find distinguished them
from all other trails that I ever have seen within or without the earth.
It would run on, plain and clear and well defined to end suddenly in the
midst of a tangle of matted jungle, then Ja would turn directly back in his
tracks for a little distance, spring into a tree, climb through it to the other
side, drop onto a fallen log, leap over a low bush and alight once more upon a
distinct trail which he would follow back for a short distance only to turn
directly about and retrace his steps until after a mile or less this new pathway
ended as suddenly and mysteriously as the former section. Then he would pass
again across some media which would reveal no spoor, to take up the broken
thread of the trail beyond.
As the purpose of this remarkable avenue dawned upon me I could not but
admire the native shrewdness of the ancient progenitor of the Mezops who hit
upon this novel plan to throw his enemies from his track and delay or thwart
them in their attempts to follow him to his deep-buried cities.
To you of the outer earth it might seem a slow and tortuous method of
traveling through the jungle, but were you of Pellucidar you would realize that
time is no factor where time does not exist. So labyrinthine are the windings of
these trails, so varied the connecting links and the distances which one must
retrace one's steps from the paths' ends to find them that a Mezop often reaches
man's estate before he is familiar even with those which lead from his own city
to the sea.
In fact three-fourths of the education of the young male Mezop consists in
familiarizing himself with these jungle avenues, and the status of an adult is
largely determined by the number of trails which he can follow upon his own
island. The females never learn them, since from birth to death they never leave
the clearing in which the village of their nativity is situated except they be
taken to mate by a male from another village, or captured in war by the enemies
of their tribe.
After proceeding through the jungle for what must have been upward of five
miles we emerged suddenly into a large clearing in the exact center of which
stood as strange an appearing village as one might well imagine.
Large trees had been chopped down fifteen or twenty feet above the ground,
and upon the tops of them spherical habitations of woven twigs, mud covered, had
been built. Each ball-like house was surmounted by some manner of carven image,
which Ja told me indicated the identity of the owner.
Horizontal slits, six inches high and two or three feet wide, served to admit
light and ventilation. The entrances to the house were through small apertures
in the bases of the trees and thence upward by rude ladders through the hollow
trunks to the rooms above. The houses varied in size from two to several rooms.
The largest that I entered was divided into two floors and eight apartments.
All about the village, between it and the jungle, lay beautifully cultivated
fields in which the Mezops raised such cereals, fruits, and vegetables as they
required. Women and children were working in these gardens as we crossed toward
the village. At sight of Ja they saluted deferentially, but to me they paid not
the slightest attention. Among them and about the outer verge of the cultivated
area were many warriors. These too saluted Ja, by touching the points of their
spears to the ground directly before them.
Ja conducted me to a large house in the center of the village--the house with
eight rooms--and taking me up into it gave me food and drink. There I met his
mate, a comely girl with a nursing baby in her arms. Ja told her of how I had
saved his life, and she was thereafter most kind and hospitable toward me, even
permitting me to hold and amuse the tiny bundle of humanity whom Ja told me
would one day rule the tribe, for Ja, it seemed, was the chief of the community.
We had eaten and rested, and I had slept, much to Ja's amusement, for it
seemed that he seldom if ever did so, and then the red man proposed that I
accompany him to the temple of the Mahars which lay not far from his village.
"We are not supposed to visit it," he said; "but the great ones
cannot hear and if we keep well out of sight they need never know that we have
been there. For my part I hate them and always have, but the other chieftains of
the island think it best that we continue to maintain the amicable relations
which exist between the two races; otherwise I should like nothing better than
to lead my warriors amongst the hideous creatures and exterminate
them--Pellucidar would be a better place to live were there none of them."
I wholly concurred in Ja's belief, but it seemed that it might be a difficult
matter to exterminate the dominant race of Pellucidar. Thus conversing we
followed the intricate trail toward the temple, which we came upon in a small
clearing surrounded by enormous trees similar to those which must have
flourished upon the outer crust during the carboniferous age.
Here was a mighty temple of hewn rock built in the shape of a rough oval with
rounded roof in which were several large openings. No doors or windows were
visible in the sides of the structure, nor was there need of any, except one
entrance for the slaves, since, as Ja explained, the Mahars flew to and from
their place of ceremonial, entering and leaving the building by means of the
apertures in the roof.
"But," added Ja, "there is an entrance near the base of which
even the Mahars know nothing. Come," and he led me across the clearing and
about the end to a pile of loose rock which lay against the foot of the wall.
Here he removed a couple of large bowlders, revealing a small opening which led
straight within the building, or so it seemed, though as I entered after Ja I
discovered myself in a narrow place of extreme darkness.
"We are within the outer wall," said Ja. "It is hollow. Follow
The red man groped ahead a few paces and then began to ascend a primitive
ladder similar to that which leads from the ground to the upper stories of his
house. We ascended for some forty feet when the interior of the space between
the walls commenced to grow lighter and presently we came opposite an opening in
the inner wall which gave us an unobstructed view of the entire interior of the
The lower floor was an enormous tank of clear water in which numerous hideous
Mahars swam lazily up and down. Artificial islands of granite rock dotted this
artificial sea, and upon several of them I saw men and women like myself.
"What are the human beings doing here?" I asked.
"Wait and you shall see," replied Ja. "They are to take a
leading part in the ceremonies which will follow the advent of the queen. You
may be thankful that you are not upon the same side of the wall as they."
Scarcely had he spoken than we heard a great fluttering of wings above and a
moment later a long procession of the frightful reptiles of Pellucidar winged
slowly and majestically through the large central opening in the roof and
circled in stately manner about the temple.
There were several Mahars first, and then at least twenty awe-inspiring
pterodactyls--thipdars, they are called within Pellucidar. Behind these came the
queen, flanked by other thipdars as she had been when she entered the
amphitheater at Phutra.
Three times they wheeled about the interior of the oval chamber, to settle
finally upon the damp, cold bowlders that fringe the outer edge of the pool. In
the center of one side the largest rock was reserved for the queen, and here she
took her place surrounded by her terrible guard.
All lay quiet for several minutes after settling to their places. One might
have imagined them in silent prayer. The poor slaves upon the diminutive islands
watched the horrid creatures with wide eyes. The men, for the most part, stood
erect and stately with folded arms, awaiting their doom; but the women and
children clung to one another, hiding behind the males. They are a noble-looking
race, these cave men of Pellucidar, and if our progenitors were as they, the
human race of the outer crust has deteriorated rather than improved with the
march of the ages. All they lack is opportunity. We have opportunity, and little
Now the queen moved. She raised her ugly head, looking about; then very
slowly she crawled to the edge of her throne and slid noiselessly into the
water. Up and down the long tank she swam, turning at the ends as you have seen
captive seals turn in their tiny tanks, turning upon their backs and diving
below the surface.
Nearer and nearer to the island she came until at last she remained at rest
before the largest, which was directly opposite her throne. Raising her hideous
head from the water she fixed her great, round eyes upon the slaves. They were
fat and sleek, for they had been brought from a distant Mahar city where human
beings are kept in droves, and bred and fattened, as we breed and fatten beef
The queen fixed her gaze upon a plump young maiden. Her victim tried to turn
away, hiding her face in her hands and kneeling behind a woman; but the reptile,
with unblinking eyes, stared on with such fixity that I could have sworn her
vision penetrated the woman, and the girl's arms to reach at last the very
center of her brain.
Slowly the reptile's head commenced to move to and fro, but the eyes never
ceased to bore toward the frightened girl, and then the victim responded. She
turned wide, fear-haunted eyes toward the Mahar queen, slowly she rose to her
feet, and then as though dragged by some unseen power she moved as one in a
trance straight toward the reptile, her glassy eyes fixed upon those of her
captor. To the water's edge she came, nor did she even pause, but stepped into
the shallows beside the little island. On she moved toward the Mahar, who now
slowly retreated as though leading her victim on. The water rose to the girl's
knees, and still she advanced, chained by that clammy eye. Now the water was at
her waist; now her armpits. Her fellows upon the island looked on in horror,
helpless to avert her doom in which they saw a forecast of their own.
The Mahar sank now till only the long upper bill and eyes were exposed above
the surface of the water, and the girl had advanced until the end of that
repulsive beak was but an inch or two from her face, her horror-filled eyes
riveted upon those of the reptile.
Now the water passed above the girl's mouth and nose--her eyes and forehead
all that showed--yet still she walked on after the retreating Mahar. The queen's
head slowly disappeared beneath the surface and after it went the eyes of her
victim--only a slow ripple widened toward the shores to mark where the two
For a time all was silence within the temple. The slaves were motionless in
terror. The Mahars watched the surface of the water for the reappearance of
their queen, and presently at one end of the tank her head rose slowly into
view. She was backing toward the surface, her eyes fixed before her as they had
been when she dragged the helpless girl to her doom.
And then to my utter amazement I saw the forehead and eyes of the maiden come
slowly out of the depths, following the gaze of the reptile just as when she had
disappeared beneath the surface. On and on came the girl until she stood in
water that reached barely to her knees, and though she had been beneath the
surface sufficient time to have drowned her thrice over there was no indication,
other than her dripping hair and glistening body, that she had been submerged at
Again and again the queen led the girl into the depths and out again, until
the uncanny weirdness of the thing got on my nerves so that I could have leaped
into the tank to the child's rescue had I not taken a firm hold of myself.
Once they were below much longer than usual, and when they came to the
surface I was horrified to see that one of the girl's arms was gone--gnawed
completely off at the shoulder--but the poor thing gave no indication of
realizing pain, only the horror in her set eyes seemed intensified.
The next time they appeared the other arm was gone, and then the breasts, and
then a part of the face--it was awful. The poor creatures on the islands
awaiting their fate tried to cover their eyes with their hands to hide the
fearful sight, but now I saw that they too were under the hypnotic spell of the
reptiles, so that they could only crouch in terror with their eyes fixed upon
the terrible thing that was transpiring before them.
Finally the queen was under much longer than ever before, and when she rose
she came alone and swam sleepily toward her bowlder. The moment she mounted it
seemed to be the signal for the other Mahars to enter the tank, and then
commenced, upon a larger scale, a repetition of the uncanny performance through
which the queen had led her victim.
Only the women and children fell prey to the Mahars--they being the weakest
and most tender--and when they had satisfied their appetite for human flesh,
some of them devouring two and three of the slaves, there were only a score of
full-grown men left, and I thought that for some reason these were to be spared,
but such was far from the case, for as the last Mahar crawled to her rock the
queen's thipdars darted into the air, circled the temple once and then, hissing
like steam engines, swooped down upon the remaining slaves.
There was no hypnotism here--just the plain, brutal ferocity of the beast of
prey, tearing, rending, and gulping its meat, but at that it was less horrible
than the uncanny method of the Mahars. By the time the thipdars had disposed of
the last of the slaves the Mahars were all asleep upon their rocks, and a moment
later the great pterodactyls swung back to their posts beside the queen, and
themselves dropped into slumber.
"I thought the Mahars seldom, if ever, slept," I said to Ja.
"They do many things in this temple which they do not do
elsewhere," he replied. "The Mahars of Phutra are not supposed to eat
human flesh, yet slaves are brought here by thousands and almost always you will
find Mahars on hand to consume them. I imagine that they do not bring their
Sagoths here, because they are ashamed of the practice, which is supposed to
obtain only among the least advanced of their race; but I would wager my canoe
against a broken paddle that there is no Mahar but eats human flesh whenever she
can get it."
"Why should they object to eating human flesh," I asked, "if
it is true that they look upon us as lower animals?"
"It is not because they consider us their equals that they are supposed
to look with abhorrence upon those who eat our flesh," replied Ja; "it
is merely that we are warm-blooded animals. They would not think of eating the
meat of a thag, which we consider such a delicacy, any more than I would think
of eating a snake. As a matter of fact it is difficult to explain just why this
sentiment should exist among them."
"I wonder if they left a single victim," I remarked, leaning far
out of the opening in the rocky wall to inspect the temple better. Directly
below me the water lapped the very side of the wall, there being a break in the
bowlders at this point as there was at several other places about the side of
My hands were resting upon a small piece of granite which formed a part of
the wall, and all my weight upon it proved too much for it. It slipped and I
lunged forward. There was nothing to save myself and I plunged headforemost into
the water below.
Fortunately the tank was deep at this point, and I suffered no injury from
the fall, but as I was rising to the surface my mind filled with the horrors of
my position as I thought of the terrible doom which awaited me the moment the
eyes of the reptiles fell upon the creature that had disturbed their slumber.
As long as I could I remained beneath the surface, swimming rapidly in the
direction of the islands that I might prolong my life to the utmost. At last I
was forced to rise for air, and as I cast a terrified glance in the direction of
the Mahars and the thipdars I was almost stunned to see that not a single one
remained upon the rocks where I had last seen them, nor as I searched the temple
with my eyes could I discern any within it.
For a moment I was puzzled to account for the thing, until I realized that
the reptiles, being deaf, could not have been disturbed by the noise my body
made when it hit the water, and that as there is no such thing as time within
Pellucidar there was no telling how long I had been beneath the surface. It was
a difficult thing to attempt to figure out by earthly standards--this matter of
elapsed time--but when I set myself to it I began to realize that I might have
been submerged a second or a month or not at all. You have no conception of the
strange contradictions and impossibilities which arise when all methods of
measuring time, as we know them upon earth, are non-existent.
I was about to congratulate myself upon the miracle which had saved me for
the moment, when the memory of the hypnotic powers of the Mahars filled me with
apprehension lest they be practicing their uncanny art upon me to the end that I
merely imagined that I was alone in the temple. At the thought cold sweat broke
out upon me from every pore, and as I crawled from the water onto one of the
tiny islands I was trembling like a leaf--you cannot imagine the awful horror
which even the simple thought of the repulsive Mahars of Pellucidar induces in
the human mind, and to feel that you are in their power--that they are crawling,
slimy, and abhorrent, to drag you down beneath the waters and devour you! It is
But they did not come, and at last I came to the conclusion that I was indeed
alone within the temple. How long I should be alone was the next question to
assail me as I swam frantically about once more in search of a means to escape.
Several times I called to Ja, but he must have left after I tumbled into the
tank, for I received no response to my cries. Doubtless he had felt as certain
of my doom when he saw me topple from our hiding place as I had, and lest he too
should be discovered, had hastened from the temple and back to his village.
I knew that there must be some entrance to the building beside the doorways
in the roof, for it did not seem reasonable to believe that the thousands of
slaves which were brought here to feed the Mahars the human flesh they craved
would all be carried through the air, and so I continued my search until at last
it was rewarded by the discovery of several loose granite blocks in the masonry
at one end of the temple.
A little effort proved sufficient to dislodge enough of these stones to
permit me to crawl through into the clearing, and a moment later I had scurried
across the intervening space to the dense jungle beyond.
Here I sank panting and trembling upon the matted grasses beneath the giant
trees, for I felt that I had escaped from the grinning fangs of death out of the
depths of my own grave. Whatever dangers lay hidden in this island jungle, there
could be none so fearsome as those which I had just escaped. I knew that I could
meet death bravely enough if it but came in the form of some familiar beast or
man--anything other than the hideous and uncanny Mahars.