|Chapter 8|| Almuric
written by Robert Ervin Howard
Much I learned of the ways of that terrible people, who have reigned over Almuric since ages beyond the memory of man. They might have been human once, long ago, but I doubt it. I believe they represented a separate branch on the tree of evolution, and that it is only an incredible freak of coincidence which cast them in a mold so similar to man, instead of the shapes of the abysmal, howling, blasphemous dwellers of Outer Darkness.
In many ways they seemed, superficially, human enough, but if one followed their lines of consciousness far enough, he would come upon phases inexplicable and alien to humanity. As far as pure intellect went, they were superior to the hairy Guras. But they lacked altogether the decency, honesty, courage, and general manliness of the apemen. The Guras were quick to wrath, savage and brutal in their anger; but there was a studied cruelty about the Yagas which made the others seem like mere rough children. The Yagas were merciless in their calmest moments; roused to anger, their excesses were horrible to behold.
They were a numerous horde, the warriors alone numbering some twenty thousand. There were more women than men, and with their slaves, of which each male and female Yaga possessed a goodly number, the city of Yugga was fully occupied. Indeed, I was surprised to learn of the multitudes of people who dwelt there, considering the comparative smallness of the rock Yuthla on which the city was built. But its space was greater vertically than horizontally. The castles and towers soared high into the air, and several tiers of chambers and corridors were sunk into the rock itself. When the Yagas felt themselves crowded for space, they simply butchered their slaves. I saw no children; losses in war were comparatively slight, and plagues and diseases unknown. Children were produced only at regular intervals, some three centuries apart. The last flock had come of age; the next brood was somewhere in the dim distance of the future.
The lords of Yugga did no sort of work, but passed their lives in sensual pleasures. Their knowledge and adeptness at debauchery would have shamed the most voluptuous libertine in later Rome. Their debauches were interrupted only by raids on the outer world in order to procure women slaves.
The town at the foot of the cliff was called Akka, the blue people Akki, or Akkas. They had been subject to the Yagas as far back as tradition extended. They were merely stupid work-animals, laboring in the irrigated fields of fruits and edible plants, and otherwise doing the will of their masters, whom they considered superior beings, if not veritable gods. They worshipped Yasmeena as a deity. Outside of continual toil, they were not mistreated. Their women were ugly and beastlike. The winged people had a keen asthetic sense, though their interest in the beauty of the lower orders was sadistic and altogether beastly. The Akkas never came into the upper city, except when there was work to be done there, too heavy for the women slaves. Then they ascended and descended by means of great silken ladders let down from the rock. There was no road leading up from below, since the Yagas needed none. The cliffs could not be scaled; so the winged people had no fear of an Akka uprising.
The Yaga women were likewise prisoners on the rock Yuthla. Their wings were carefully removed at birth. Only the infants destined to become queens of Yugga were spared. This was done in order to keep the male sex in supremacy, and indeed, I was never able to learn how, and at what distant date, the men of Yugga gained supremacy over their women; for, judging from Yasmeena, the winged women were superior to their mates in agility, endurance, courage and even in strength. Clipping their wings kept them from developing their full superiority.
Yasmeena was an example of what a winged woman could be. She was taller than the other Yaga females, who in turn were taller than the Gura women, and though voluptuously shaped, the steel thews of a wildcat lurked in her slender rounded limbs. She was young--all the women of Yugga looked young. The average life-span of the Yaga was nine hundred years. Yasmeena had reigned over Yugga for four hundred years. Three winged princesses of royal blood had contested with her for the right to rule, and she had slain each of them, fighting with naked hands in the regal octagonal chamber. As long as she could defend her crown against young claimants, she would rule.
The lot of the slaves in Yugga was hideous. None ever knew when she would be dismembered for the cooking-pot, and the lives of all were tormented by the cruel whims of their masters and mistresses. Yugga was as like Hell as any place could be. I do not know what went on in the palaces of the nobles and warriors, but I do know what took place daily in the palace of the Queen. There was never a day or night that those dusky walls did not re-echo screams of agony and piteous wails for mercy, mingled with vindictive maledictions, or lascivious laughter.
I never became accustomed to it, hard as I was physically and mentally. I think the only thing that kept me from going mad was the feeling that I must keep my sanity in order to protect Altha if I could. That was precious little; I was chained in my chamber; where the Kothan girl was, I had not the slightest idea, except that she was somewhere in the palace of Yasmeena, where she was protected from the lust of the winged men, but not from the cruelty of her mistress.
In Yugga I heard sounds and saw sights not to be repeated--not even to be remembered in dreams. Men and women, the Yagas were open and candid in their evil. Their utter cynicism banished ordinary scruples of modesty and common decency. Their bestialities were naked, unhidden and shameless. They followed their desires with one another, and practised their tortures on their wretched slaves with no attempt at concealment. Deeming themselves gods, they considered themselves above the considerations that guide ordinary humans. The women were more vicious than the men, if such a thing were possible. The refinements of their cruelties toward their trembling slaves cannot be even hinted at. They were versed in every art of torture, both mental and physical. But enough. I can but hint at what is unrepeatable.
Those days of captivity seem like a dim nightmare. I was not badly treated, personally. Each day I was escorted on a sort of promenade about the palace--something on the order of giving a confined animal exercise. I was always accompanied by seven or eight warriors armed to the teeth, and always wore my chains. Several times on these promenades I saw Altha, going about her duties, but she always averted her gaze and hurried by. I understood and made no attempt to speak to her. I had placed her in jeopardy already by speaking of her to Yasmeena. Better let the queen forget about her, if possible. Slaves were safest when the Queen of Yagg remembered them least.
Somewhere, somehow, I found in me power to throttle my red rage and blind fury. When my very brain reeled with the lust to break my chains and explode into a holocaust of slaughter, I held myself with iron grasp. And the fury ate inward into my soul, crystallizing my hate. So the days passed, until the night that Yasmeena again sent for me.