"Erlik! What have they done to you?" cried Subotai, leaping from his horse and tying the reins to a low branch of the blasted tree. Conan growled a reply, but so dry was his throat that no articulate sound issued forth.
With shaking hands, Subotai fumbled in his saddle bag and found an implement, a tweezer of the sort used to pull stones from the hooves of horses. Tucking it into his belt, he clambered up the tree trunk to the place where the Cimmerian hung. In frantic haste, he struggled to extract the nails from Conan's hands, hands that were swollen to twice their normal size. While the barbarian bit his lip to stifle his groans, Subotai wrenched and strained, until the sails came free.
Then, dropping the tweezer, the Hyrkanian sawed with his dagger at the ropes that bound Conan's legs; and, when those bonds were loosened, he slashed at the binding around his friend's arms.
"Hook an elbow over the branch, if you can," he advised. "You don't want to fall to the ground."
At length the last rope was severed: and Conan, supported by the small thief, slid limply down. Propped against the tree trunk, the injured man silently endured the torment as Subotai rubbed his bruised and sunburned limbs to restore the circulation. Proffering a leathern flask of water, he said: "Rinse your mouth out first and spit. Then take a few small sips. If you drink as much as you'd like to, it will sicken you or worse. I've seen men die that way."
"I know," grunted the Cimmerian. "Have you aught to eat?"
"First let me start a signal fire, to fetch Valeria. We've been hunting for you. A fortuneteller said that you would be south of the Mountain of Power, but he could not tell us more."
The Hyrkanian gathered twigs from the litter at the foot of the dead tree, broke off a couple of small branches, and with flint and steel soon had a brisk fire going. Then, searching the neighborhood, he discovered a few faded blades of grass that, added to the blaze, caused a billowing cloud of smoke. That done, Subotai picked up the dead vulture and, squatting down, began to pluck the bird.
"What in Crom's name are you doing?" muttered Conan.
"Taking the feathers off," replied the small thief.
"You do not mean to cook that thing!"
"Why not? Flesh is flesh, and we're both hungry."
Conan controlled his desire to retch, andgrumbled: "If I am to sup, you will have to feed me. My hands are useless."
Subotai nodded and bent over his small fire. Soon pieces of broiling vulture meat impaled on a sharpened stick were merrily spattering fat into the fire, and the delicious smell of cooking filled the air. After his spare but welcome meal, Conan sighed. Then, with his back against the Tree of Woe, he fell asleep.