Then he led me with him to one of the rocks, and there, resting supinely against it, sat the Khan, still living but unable to move hand or foot. The madness had quite left his face and he looked at us with melancholy eyes, like the eyes of a sick child.
“You are brave men,” he said, slowly, “strong also, to have killed those hounds and broken my back. So it has come about as was foretold by the old Rat. After all, I should have hunted Atene, not you, though now she lives to avenge me, for her own sake, not mine. Yellow-beard, she hunts you too and with deadlier hounds than these, those of her thwarted passions. Forgive me and fly to the Mountain, Yellow-beard, whither I go before you, for there one dwells who is stronger than Atene.”
Then his jaw dropped and he was dead.
“He is gone,” I panted, “and the world hasn’t lost much.”
“Well, it didn’t give him much, did it, poor devil, so don’t let’s speak ill of him,” answered Leo, who had thrown himself exhausted to the ground. “Perhaps he was all right before they made him mad. At any rate he had pluck, for I don’t want to tackle such another.”
“How did you manage it?” I asked.
“Dodged in beneath his sword, closed with him, threw him and smashed him up over that lump of stone. Sheer strength, that’s all. A cruel business, but it was his life or mine, and there you are. It’s lucky I finished it in time to help you before that oven-mouthed brute tore your throat out. Did you ever see such a dog? It looks as large as a young donkey. Are you much hurt, Horace?”
“Oh, my forearm is chewed to a pulp, but nothing else, I think. Let us get down to the water; if I can’t drink soon I shall faint. Also the rest of the pack is somewhere about, fifty or more of them.”
“I don’t think they will trouble us, they have got the horses, poor beasts. Wait a minute and I will come.”
Then he rose, found the Khan’s sword, a beautiful and ancient weapon, and with a single cut of its keen edge, killed the second dog that I had wounded, which was still yowling and snarling at us. After this he collected the two spears and my knife, saying that they might be useful, and without trouble caught the Khan’s horse, which stood with hanging head close by, so tired that even this desperate fight had not frightened it away.
“Now,” he said, “up you go, old fellow. You are not fit to walk any farther;” and with his help I climbed into the saddle.
Then slipping the rein over his arm he led the horse, which walked stiffly, on to the river, that ran within a quarter of a mile of us, though to me, tortured as I was by pain and half delirious with exhaustion, the journey seemed long enough.