Straining his eyes in the gloom, he saw a hint of motion through the shrubs near the wall. Thither he glided, gripping his sword. He made no more noise than a panther stealing through the night, yet the man he was stalking heard. The Cimmerian had a dim glimpse of a huge bulk close to the wall, felt relief that it was at least human; then the fellow wheeled quickly with a gasp that sounded like panic, made the first motion of a forward plunge, hands clutching, then recoiled as the Cimmerian’s blade caught the starlight. For a tense instant neither spoke, standing ready for anything.
“You are no soldier,” hissed the stranger at last. “You are a thief like myself”
“And who are you?” asked the Cimmerian in a suspicious whisper.
“Taurus of Nemedia.”
The Cimmerian lowered his sword.
“I’ve heard of you. Men call you a prince of thieves.”
A low laugh answered him. Taurus was tall as the Cimmerian, and heavier; he was big-bellied and fat, but his every movement betokened a subtle dynamic magnetism, which was reflected in the keen eyes that glinted vitally, even in the starlight. He was barefooted and carried a coil of what looked like a thin, strong rope, knotted at regular intervals.
“Who are you?” he whispered.
“Conan, a Cimmerian,” answered the other. “I came seeking a way to steal Yara’s jewel, that men call the Elephant’s Heart.”
Conan sensed the man’s great belly shaking in laughter, but it was not derisive. “By Bel, god of thieves!” hissed Taurus. “I had thought only myself had courage to attempt that poaching. These Zamorians call themselves thieves—bah! Conan, I like your grit. I never shared an adventure with anyone, but by Bel, we’ll attempt this together if you’re willing.”
“Then you are after the gem, too?”
“What else? I’ve had my plans laid for months, but you, I think, have acted on sudden impulse, my friend.”
“You killed the soldier?”
“Of course. I slid over the wall when he was on the other side of the garden. I hid in the bushes; he heard me, or thought he heard something. When he came blundering over, it was no trick at all to get behind him and suddenly grip his neck and choke out his fool’s life. He was like most men, half blind in the dark. A good thief should have eyes like a cat.”
“You made one mistake,” said Conan.
Taurus’ eyes flashed angrily.
“I? I, a mistake? Impossible!”
“You should have dragged the body into the bushes.”
“Said the novice to the master of the art. They will not change the guard until past midnight. Should any come searching for him now, and find his body, they would flee at once to Yara, bellowing the news, and give us time to escape. Were they not to find it, they’d go beating up the bushes and catch us like rats in a trap.”
“You are right,” agreed Conan.
“So. Now attend. We waste time in this cursed discussion. There are no guards in the inner garden—human guards, I mean, though there are sentinels even more deadly. It was their presence which baffled me for so long, but I finally discovered a way to circumvent them.”
“What of the soldiers in the lower part of the tower?”
“Old Yara dwells in the chambers above. By that route we will come—and go, I hope. Never mind asking me how. I have arranged a way. We’ll steal down through the top of the tower and strangle old Yara before he can cast any of his accursed spells on us. At least we’ll try; it’s the chance of being turned into a spider or a toad, against the wealth and power of the world. All good thieves must know how to take risks.”
“I’ll go as far as any man,” said Conan, slipping off his sandals.
“Then follow me.” And turning, Taurus leaped up, caught the wall and drew himself up. The man’s suppleness was amazing, considering his bulk; he seemed almost to glide up over the edge of the coping. Conan followed him, and lying flat on the broad top, they spoke in wary whispers.
“I see no light,” Conan muttered. The lower part of the tower seemed much like that portion visible from outside the garden—a perfect, gleaming cylinder, with no apparent openings.
“There are cleverly constructed doors and windows,” answered Taurus, “but they are closed. The soldiers breathe air that comes from above.”
The garden was a vague pool of shadows, where feathery bushes and low spreading trees waved darkly in the starlight. Conan’s wary soul felt the aura of waiting menace that brooded over it. He felt the burning glare of unseen eyes, and he caught a subtle scent that made the short hairs on his neck instinctively bristle as a hunting dog bristles at the scent of an ancient enemy.
“Follow me,” whispered Taurus, “keep behind me, as you value your life.”