Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure



 

The Tiger Trap
A Tale of Eastern Adventure

(Part 2)

By Talbot Pratt


With frantic, fumbling hands, Karim began to unwind the wrappings of his turban, praying there might still be time to save her.

He turned from the spectacle, forcing himself not to look, though her breathless cries flashed fire in his brain.

With the turban undone, he tore three long strips from the fabric, each twice the length of his arms.  The rajah observed his actions with a mystified set to his brow, but said nothing.  Karim gathered up one strip and tied an end to one of the throw-rings; then he tied the opposite end to a bar of the cage.  He passed the chakram between the bars and tossed it with a gentle flick of his wrist.

The ring instantly flew outward, planing on the air -- until pulled up by the tension of the strip.

Miraculously it hung suspended, weaving back and forth on the end of the strip like a fierce Arabian stallion jerking at its reins.  The rajah's frown deepened, a trace of concern mingling with his bewilderment.

Karim used another strip to secure a second ring to the cage.  Slipping the chakram between the bars, his blood froze as he saw a lunging tiger rip the final veil from Titli's body.  The next lunge would see those razor claws rend her satin skin.  He swallowed and tossed the ring toward her.

It too glided away as smoothly as a soaring saker -- then jerked to a halt at the end of the strip where it weaved furiously like the first.

Now two chakrams hung in the air, both jerking eagerly at the ends of their restraints -- but neither giving any hint as to whether it's aim was to free a tiger or the girl.

But there was no pause in Karim's actions.  He grabbed up the third ring, even as both tigers gathered to spring, their fiery eyes fixed covetously on the soft, naked prize in reach at last.

He tossed the chakram edgewise from within the cage speeding it wheeling between the bars.  Magically it levelled and rose on a gleaming, soaring arc.  It crossed the dungeon in an instant, cleanly slicing the gold rope upholding the girl even as the tigers uncoiled simultaneously, their twin roars shaking the very stones of the walls.

With a gasp of surprise, Titli tumbled forward, eager talons raking the air along her spine, her supple body bending like a windblown branch.  Then she landed heavily just out of reach of the confounded cats, who briefly batted at each other in disgust.

The chakram continued its unnatural flight, torch light winking from its rim as it curved gracefully back, straightening its course.  In a spray of blue sparks it sheered through two golden bars of the cage in its return to the startled hand of its master.

Karim caught the flashing metal even as the severed bars tumbled from the cage's frame.  He sprang through the gap and rushed to the begum who lay motionless as she had fallen, her wrists still bound.  Though her eyes were closed, the shallow rising of her chest told him she was alive.  He tucked the chakram in his kamar band, gathered her slender body in his arms and carried her swiftly to the doorway by which he had entered.

"Wait!"  In spite of himself, he paused at the curious strain to the rajah's voice.  "How?  How did you know which was the right chakram?  Whether they were aimed for the gold rope or the tigers' leashes, the result would have been the same.  I don't understand how you knew."

"The Chakram-i-Gulab seeks unerringly whatever target I choose,"  Karim explained,  "regardless of the accuracy of my aim.   For the first two I was not aiming at the gold rope but at the wall behind me.   When they both travelled straight, I knew the third was my chakram."

Slowly a wondering smile filled the rajah's eyes and he nodded admiringly.

"Excellent, merchant's son.  Excellent.  You have won her fairly.  Go now, you have my blessing.  Salaam!"

To Karim's amazement, the rajah salaamed deeply, touching his right hand to his forehead.

Too late Karim saw the small crossbow in the left hand.  He twisted a fraction of a second before silver licked in the air and a bolt shuddered home in the flesh of his shoulder.

Glaring up from beneath his turban, the rajah's smile instantly twisted with disgusted fury at his misspent shot.  He fumbled at his sash for another bolt.

Stumbling back through the doorway, Karim looked down at the silver bolt then back at the rajah.  A terrible flame slowly kindled behind his dark eyes.

"For Gopal," he whispered like a grisly spell.

With a flick of his hand, he cast the chakram loosely into the air.  The rajah threw up his arms before his face, crying out as the ring planed toward him -- but, at the last moment, it banked sharply, slicing through the two strips by which the other chakrams were confined.

Without looking back, Karim kicked shut the heavy door and knocked down the locking bar with his shoulder.  As he fled with the begum's supple body clutched preciously to his heaving chest, he heard two tigers roaring dimly in the echoing distance left behind -- both cats comfortably sated at last...



The End.




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The Tiger Trap is copyright 1998, Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)