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12. Hunted

I went fishing; and I caught some fish, but I couldn't forget how Narvon died. I shall never forget it. How could I forget his dying words. Coupled with what I had seen in his house, I knew the name that had died in his throat. I wondered if any of the Zanis there had guessed what I knew. Not only did I fish, but I did some reconnoitering and a great deal of thinking. I wondered what to do about Zerka. Should I risk Mintep's life to warn her, with considerable likelihood that I might be arrested with her? Really, there was but one answer. I must warn her, for she had befriended me. I sailed around close to the prison, for there were certain things I must know about the outside of the place. I knew all that was necessary about the inside. After satisfying myself on the points concerning which I had been in doubt, I came ashore, and went to my quarters in the barracks. Here I found an order relieving me of duty at the prison. I guess Torko had found me too soft for his purposes; or was there something else, something far more sinister behind it? I felt a net closing about me.

As I sat there in my quarters with this most unpleasant thought as my sole company, a guardsman came and announced that the commandant wished me to report to him at once. This, I thought, is the end. I am about to be arrested. I contemplated flight; but I knew how futile such an attempt would be, and so I went to the commandant's office and reported. "A dozen prisoners have been brought from the front at Sanara," he said. "I am detailing twelve officers to question them. We can get more out of them if they are questioned separately. Be very kind to the man you question. Give him wine and food. Tell him what a pleasant life a soldier may have serving with the armies of the Zanis, but get all the information you can out of him. When they have all been questioned, we shall turn them over to some private soldiers to entertain for a few days; then we shall send two of them back to the front and let them escape to tell about the fine treatment they received in Amlot. That will mean many desertions. The other ten will be shot."

The Zanis were full of cute little tricks like that. Well, I got my man and took him to my quarters. I plied him with food, wine, and questions. I wanted to know about Sanara on my own account, but I didn't dare let him know how much I knew about the city and conditions there. I had to draw him out without him suspecting me. It chanced that he was a young officer--a nice chap, well connected. He knew everyone and all the gossip of the court and the important families.

There were certain questions that it would be quite natural for any Zani to ask. Those relative to the defenses of the city and other military matters he answered glibly--so glibly that I knew he was lying, and I admired him for it. When I asked him about Muso, he talked freely. It was evident that he didn't like Muso.

"He's turned his woman out," he volunteered. "Her name is Illana. She is a fine woman. Everyone is very much incensed over it, but what can anyone do? He is jong. The woman he has selected in Illana's place does not want to take it. It is common talk that she loathes Muso; but he is jong, and if he orders her to come, she will have to come, because she has no man. He was killed here in Amlot. Muso sent him here on a dangerous mission. Everyone believes that he sent him to his death purposely."

I felt myself turning cold. The next question on my lips withered in my dry mouth. I made two attempts before I could utter an intelligible sound.

"Who was this man?" I asked.

"He was the man who used to fly over your lines and drop bombs on you," he replied. "His name was Carson of Venus--odd name."

I had asked my last question of that man. I took him out and turned him over to the soldiers who were to entertain the prisoners; then I hastened toward the quay. It was already dark, and the street I chose was not well lighted. That was the reason I chose it. I had almost reached the quay, when I ran into a detachment of the Zani Guard in command of an officer. The latter hailed me from the opposite side of the street; then he crossed toward me, leaving his detachment behind.

"I thought I recognized you," he said. It was Mantar. "I have an order for your arrest. They are scouring the city for you."

"I have been in my quarters. Why didn't they look there?"

"Torko said you had gone fishing."

"Why am I being arrested?" I asked.

"They think you are a Sanaran spy. A prisoner named Horjan informed on you. He said he found you hiding in his house just the day before you applied for a commission in the Guard."

"But Zerka?" I asked. "Won't they suspicion her? It was she who sponsored me."

"I had thought of that," he said.

"Well, what are you going to do with me?" I asked. "Are you going to turn me in?"

"I wish you would tell me the truth," he said. "I am your friend; and if what Zerka and I have suspected for long is true, I will help you."

I recalled that Zerka had told me I could trust this man implicitly. I was lost anyway. They had enough against me to torture and murder me. Here was a straw. I clutched it.

"I am Carson of Venus," I said. "I came here with a message for Spehon from Muso. It was stolen from me."

"Where were you going when I stopped you?" he asked.

"I was going back to Sanara, where my friends and my heart are," I told him.

"Can you get there?"

"I think I can."

"Then go. It is fortunate for you that none of my detail knew Vodo by sight. Good luck!" He turned and crossed the street, and I went on toward the quay. I heard him say to his kardogan. "He says that Vodo is in his quarters at the barracks. We shall go there."

I reached the quay without further incident, and found the same boat I had used for fishing earlier in the day and on several other occasions. It was a small boat with a single sail scarcely more than a canoe. As I put off, I heard the sound of running feet along the quay; and then I saw men approaching.

A voice cried, "Stop! Come back herel" but I set my sail and got under way; then I heard the staccato br-r-r of r-rays, and a voice crying, "Come back here, Vodo! You can't get away."

For reply I drew my own pistol and fired back at them. I knew that that would disconcert their aim and give me a better chance to escape with my life. Long after I could no longer see them, they stood there firing out into the night.

I thought of Mintep with regret, but there was something far more precious at stake than his life or that of any man. I cursed Muso for his duplicity, and prayed that I might reach Sanara in time. If I did not, I could at least kill him; and that I promised to do.

Presently I heard the sound of a launch behind me, and knew that I was being pursued. Inside the harbor the breeze was light and fitful. If I couldn't reach the open sea ahead of my pursuers, I should have to depend upon eluding them in the darkness. In this I might be successful, or I might not. I couldn't hope to outdistance a launch even with a good wind, and about my only hope was to escape detection until I was able to discern from the sound of the launch in which direction they were searching for me. I felt that they would naturally assume that I would head northeast up the coast in the direction of Sanara, whereas my destination lay southwest--the little island where I had grounded my ship. Nor was I mistaken, for presently I heard the sound of the launch receding to my left; and I knew that it was making for the open sea by way of the easterly side of the harbor's mouth. With a sigh of relief, I kept to my course; and presently rounded the headland at the west side of the harbor and turned into the open sea. The offshore breeze was no better than that which I had had in the harbor, but I continued to hug the shore because I had one last duty to perform in Amlot before I continued on my way.

I owed much to Zerka, and I could not leave without warning her of the danger which threatened her. I knew where her palace was situated on the shore of the ocean with its gardens running down to the water line. It would delay me no more than a few minutes to stop there and warn her. I felt that I could do no less. The conditions were ideal--low tide and an offshore wind.

Silently and smoothly my light craft skimmed the surface of the water, the faint luminosity of the Amtorian night revealing the shoreline as a black mass dotted with occasional lights that shown from the windows of the palaces of the rich and powerful. Even in the semi-darkness, I had no difficulty in locating Zerka's palace. I ran in as close as I could on the tack I was holding; then dropped my sail and paddled for the shore. Beaching my craft, I drew it well up toward the sea wall, where only a very high tide could have reached it; then I made my way up to the palace.

I knew that I was undergoing considerable risk, for, if Zerka were under suspicion, as I feared might be the case, she would doubtless be under surveillance. There might be watchers in the palace grounds, or even in the palace itself. For all I knew, Zerka might already be under arrest, for Narvon's dying confession was not cut off quickly enough to hide from me the identity of the accomplice he had almost named. Of course, I had already been suspicious of the truth. I did not think that the Zanis were, and so there was a possibility that they had not connected Zerka's name with that which the dying man had almost spoken. In any event, I must take this chance.

I went directly to the great doors that opened onto the terrace overlooking the gardens and the sea. On Amtor there are no doorbells, nor do people knock on doors--they whistle. Each individual has his own distinctive notes, sometimes simple, sometimes elaborate. At entrance doorways there are speaking tubes into which one whistles, and it was with some perturbation that I now whistled into the mouthpiece of the tube at the great doors of the toganja's palace.

I waited for several minutes. I heard no sound within the building. The silence was ominous. I was, nevertheless, about to repeat my whistle when the door swung partly open, and Zerka stepped out onto the terrace. Without a word, she took my hand and hurried me down into the garden where trees and shrubbery cast black shadows. There was a bench there, and she drew me down on it.

"Are you mad?" she whispered. "They were just here looking for you. The doors on the avenue had scarcely closed behind them when I heard your whistle. How did you get here? If you can get away again, you must leave at once. There are probably spies among my servants. Oh, why did you come?"

"I came to warn you."

"Warn me? Of what?"

"I saw Narvon tortured," I said.

I felt her stiffen. "And?"

"Mephis was trying to wring the names of his accomplices from him."

"Did--did he speak?" she asked breathlessly.

"He said, 'The Toganja'; and died with the beginning of her name on his lips. I do not know that Mephis suspected, for he had not seen what I had in the house of Narvon; but I feared that he might suspect, and so I came here to take you to Sanara with me."

She pressed my hand. "You are a good friend," she said. "I knew that you would be, and it was first proved to me when you prevented that kardogan from searching the back room of Narvon's house; now you have proved it again. Yes, you are a very good friend, Carson of Venus."

That name on her lips startled me. "How did you know?" I asked. "When did you find out?"

"The morning after we dined together that first time in the evening of the day that you entered Amlot."

"But how?" I insisted.

She laughed softly. "We are all suspicious here in Amlot, suspicious of everyone. We are always searching for new friends, expecting new enemies. The instant that I saw you in that restaurant I knew that you were not of Amlot, probably not of Korva; but if you were of Korva, the chances were excellent that you were a spy from Sanara. I had to find out. Oh, how many times I have laughed when I recalled your stories of Vodaro. Why, you didn't know the first thing about that country."

"But how did you find out about me?" I demanded.

"I sent an emissary to your room in the travellers' house to search your belongings while you slept. He brought me Muso's message to Spehon."

"Oh, so that is why that was never used against me," I exclaimed. "It has had me worried ever since it disappeared, as you may well imagine."

"I wanted to tell you, but I couldn't. You have no idea how careful we have to be."

"You were very careless in going to the house of Narvon," I said.

"We hadn't the slightest reason to believe that Narvon was suspected. Now that I know how loyal you are, I don't mind telling you that we are planning a counterrevolution that will overthrow the Zanis and restore Kord to the throne."

"That can never be done," I said.

"Why?" she demanded.

"Kord is dead."

She was horrified. "You are sure?" she asked.

"I saw Mephis assassinate him." I told her the story briefly.

She shook her head sadly. "There is so much less to fight for now," she said. "Muso might easily be as bad as Mephis."

"Muso is a traitor to his own country," I said. "That message I brought you proves it clearly. I wish that I had it now to take back to Sanara with me. The army would rise against him; and with Kord dead, the people would rally around the man they love and make him jong."

"Who is that?" she asked.

"Taman," I said.

"Taman! But Taman is dead."

"Taman dead? How do you know?" My heart sank at the thought. Duare and I would have no powerful friend in Sanara.

"We heard some time ago from a captured Sanaran officer that Muso had sent him to Amlot on a dangerous mission and that he had never returned to Sanara. It was a foregone conclusion that he must be dead."

I breathed a sigh of relief. "He was returned safely to Sanara before I left there; and unless he has been killed since I came to Amlot, he is still alive."

"You shall have the message," she said. "I kept it. But how do you expect to escape from Amlot and get back through the Zani lines in safety?"

"Do you forget that Carson of Venus is the mistal that flies over Zani troops and drops bombs on them?" I asked.

"But the thing you fly in? You haven't that here?"

"It is not far away. I am praying that nothing has happened to it. That was the chance I had to take."

"You are so lucky that I am sure you will find it just as you left it. And, speaking of luck, how in the world did you ever get out of the city, with the entire Zani Guard looking for you? They are absolutely turning the city inside out, I am told."

"I was stopped by a detachment of the Guard on my way to the quay. Fortunately for me, it was commanded by Mantar. He is a good friend, thanks to you."

"He is one of us," she said.

"I suspected you both almost from the first, notwithstanding your Maltu Mephises and your Zani salutes."

"I was so sure of you that I was a little freer than usual. Somehow, I knew you were all right--you just couldn't have been a Zani at heart."

"We shouldn't be sitting here talking," I told her. "Go get Muso's message and a few of your belongings, and we'll be on our way to Sanara."

She shook her head. "I wish that I might," she said, "but I have a duty to perform before I leave Amlot."

"There is nothing more important than saving your life," I insisted.

"There is something more important to me than my life," she replied. "I am going to tell you what it is and why I must stay and what I am going to do--something that I have shared with only Mantar before. Mantar and my man were the closest of friends. They were officers in the same regiment of The Jong's Guard. When Mephis formed the Zani Party during the last disastrous war, my man was one of his bitterest foes. It was in the last battle of the war that my man was supposed to have been killed. His body was never found. But he was not killed in battle. A private soldier, who had been closely attached to Mantar, saw my man die, and he told Mantar the story of his end. He was tortured and murdered by a band of Zanis under direction of Mephis. When I learned this, I swore to kill Mephis; but I wished to wait until my act would be of service to my country. We are preparing for a sudden stroke at Zani power. When our forces are ready, the violent death of Mephis would throw the Zanis into at least temporary demoralization. I must be here to see that he dies a violent death at the proper time."

"But suppose you are suspected now and arrested? You can't carry out your plan then."

"If I am arrested, I shall still carry out my plan to kill Mephis," she said. "I shall certainly be taken before him for questioning and probably for torture; then I shall kill him. You must go now. I'll fetch Muso's message. Just a moment," and she was gone.

I felt a wave of melancholy surge through me as I sat there waiting for her to return. I knew that I should never see her again, for she was going to certain death, even if she succeeded in destroying Mephis. She was so beautiful and fine, such a loyal friend--it was tragic that she must die.

Presently she came back with Muso's message. "Here it is," she said. "I hope it puts Taman on the throne. I wish that I were to live to see that day."

Then she, too, knew that she would not! I think I loathed Mephis more that instant than I ever had before which is saying something which no superlative can express.

"I am coming back, Zerka," I said. "Perhaps I can aid you in the overthrow of the Zanis. A few bombs at the psychological moment might help your cause. Or maybe you will have changed your mind and decided to come away with me. Now listen carefully. Southwest of Amlot is a flat-topped mountain."

"Yes," she said, "it is called Borsan."

"Two rivers join just this side of it, and in the fork of the rivers there is a farm. It belongs to a man named Lodas."

"I know him well," she said. "He is one of us--a loyal soul."

"When I come back I shall circle over the farm of Lodas," I explained. "If I see a smoke-fire lighted in one of his fields, I shall know that I am to land for a message from you--or, better still, for you, I hope. If I see no smoke, I shall fly on to Amlot and circle the city. That will throw the city into a turmoil, I am sure. You will hear of it and see me. If you are alive, you will make one smoke-fire on your beach, here. If you would like to have me bomb the palace and the barracks, you will light two smoke-fires. If I see no smoke-fire, I shall know that you are dead; and then I shall bomb hell out of the Zanis."

"What is hell?" she asked.

"That is something peculiar to Earthmen," I laughed. "And now I must be going. Goodby, Zerka." I touched her hand with my lips.

"Goodby, Carson of Venus," she said. "I hope that you do come back and bomb hell out of the Zanis."

Edgar Rice Burroughs