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16. Despair

For a few minutes I plumbed the depths of despair, and then I thought of the torture chamber and how much worse things might have been for us, especially for Zerka and Mantar. Had I not stopped at her palace the night before, both of them would now be dead. They must have been thinking this same thing, too, for they were very gay and happy. Yet our position was far from being an enviable one. We were without food, water, or weapons, in a none too substantial boat, off an enemy shore; and Sanara was five hundred miles away and possibly in the hands of another enemy. But worst of all, for me, Duare was in equal danger. She would not dare return to Sanara until she knew that Muso had been deposed. If he were never deposed, what was she to do? Where could she go? And all the time she must be thinking that I was dead. I was that much better off, at least; I was sure she lived. Of course, she had her father; but I knew that that would scarcely compensate for the loss of the man she loved, nor would her father be able to protect her as well as I. He would have been all right as a protector back in his own kingdom, with his warriors and his other loyal subjects about him, but I had learned to take care of Duare under conditions far different. Of course, I hadn't always made such a good job of it; but in the end, I had come through all right.

As the anotar disappeared in the distance I made sail again and turned up the coast in the direction of Sanara

"Where are we going?" asked Zerka.

I told her.

She nodded in approval. "I only asked out of curiosity," she said. "Wherever you wish to go suits me. Thanks to you, we are alive. We can ask no more."

"Perhaps we are as well off anyway," I said. "It might have been pretty nearly impossible to crowd seven people into the anotar."

We sailed up the coast all that night under a fresh breeze, and in the morning I came in close and we watched for signs of fresh water. At last we saw a stream falling over a low cliff into the ocean, and I made for a strip of yellow sand where a long, low surf broke lazily.

We were all suffering from thirst, which is the only excuse I had for landing in such a spot. Fortunately the boat drew little water, and we were able to paddle it in to a point where we could wade. I held it there, while Zerka and Mantar slaked their thirst; then I went and drank my fill. We had nothing in which to carry water; so we put off again immediately, hoping we might find a more suitable spot where we might make a temporary camp and endeavor to improvise some sort of equipment. About the middle of the day, we found such a place--a little cove into which a stream of fresh water emptied, and about which grew a variety of trees and plants. Among the latter was a huge arborescent grass nearly a foot in diameter, with hard, smooth outer wood and a pithy core. We managed to break one of these down; and, after building a fire, we burned out one section. The sections were formed by well marked joints or nodes, at which the inner cavity was closed by a strong diaphragm. Our efforts resulted in a receptable about three feet high and a foot in diameter, in which we could carry fresh water. So successful was this first attempt that we made two more of them.

In the wood we found nuts and fruits; so that now all we lacked were weapons. If we had had a knife we might have fulfilled this want, as we could have made bows, arrows, and spears from the hard, outer wood of this bamboolike plant. Mantar and I discussed this most important matter, for we knew that if we were ever compelled to remain on shore for any length of time we might need weapons sorely. We certainly should, if we were to have meat to eat. We searched the beach together, and finally found several pieces of sharp-edged stones and shells. With this meager encouragement, we decided to camp where we were until we had contrived some sort of weapons.

I shall not bore you with a recital of our methods. Suffice it to say that our technique was wholly primitive; but with fire and using our sharp-edged tools as wedges and scrapers, we managed to hack out spears, bows, arrows and sharp- pointed wooden knives. We also made two long harpoons for spearing fish; then, with a supply of fresh water and quantities of nuts and tubers, we set out again upon our long journey toward Sanara.

Fortune favored us, for the wind held; and though we had a few stiff blows, the seas were never such as we could not weather. This was fortunate for us, as we did not want to be forced ashore if we could avoid it. We often ran rather close in, and at such times it was not unusual for us to see savage beasts along the shore. No monsters of the sea attacked us. In fact, we saw but a couple that might have proved dangerous; and we left these strictly alone. With our harpoons we were able to vary our diet of nuts and tubers with excellent fish, which we ran ashore and cooked as quickly as we could find a suitable place after catching them.

Had I not had my mind filled almost entirely with thoughts of Duare and worries concerning her, I might have enjoyed this adventure exceedingly; but as it was I chafed at every delay, even to the point of begrudging the time it took to cook food or take on fresh water.

On the night of the sixth day out, we were sailing smoothly along a low coast, when I saw clearly in the night sky the flare of a blue rocket against the lower surface of the inner cloud envelope. It was followed in a moment by another and then another. The enemy were springing the trap that was to snare Muso! I wondered if this were the first, the second, or the third night. We might have been too far away before this to have seen them. It made no difference, as it might be two more days before we could hope to reach the coast near Sanara.

The next night we watched for a repetition of the rockets, the purpose of which I had explained to Zerka and Mantar; but nothing rewarded our vigil; and I was of the opinion that last night's rockets had completed the series of three nightly for three nights and that tonight Muso would walk into the trap that I had prepared for him. How I wished that I might be there to witness his undoing!

And now we encountered storms. The next day we were driven ashore by a wind of almost hurricane velocity. We managed to find a sheltered bay; and here we anchored, safe from the storm as well as from wild beasts and savage men. For three days we were storm-bound, and Sanara only one day's sail away! The delay was maddening, but there was nothing that we could do about it. Man made obstacles we might overcome, but not those interposed by the elements. During our enforced wait, we speculated upon our chances of gaining entry into Sanara through the Zani lines which encircled the city; and we were all forced to admit that they seemed rather remote, as, by all means, we must avoid being recaptured by the Zanis; so here was a man made obstacle quite as difficult of negotiation as any that the elements might raise. It appeared that we were stymied. However, we must go on, hoping for some fortuitous circumstance that would solve our difficulty.

In the evening of the third day, the storm suddenly abated; and, though the seas were still running high, we put out from our little harbor and set our course once more for Sanara. Perhaps it was a foolhardy thing to do, but the enforced delay and my anxiety to reach Sanara and be reunited with Duare had rendered me temeranous. The seas were like a great, grey army rushing, battalion after battalion, in their assault upon the shore; and we a tiny Argo between the Charybdis of the one and the Seylla of the other. Yet we came through without mishap, and dawn found us off the mouth of the river upon which Sanara lies a few miles from the coast.

"And now what are we to do?" asked Zerka.

I shook my head in despair. "Pray to Lady Luck," I said.

"The only plan that I can suggest that seems to contain even a germ of success," said Mantar, "is for me to get through the Zani lines at night and seek admission to the city. I am well known to many of the nobility and high officials. They would accept and believe me; and I should be safe even though Muso were still jong, which would not hold true with you, Carson. Once inside the city, it would be easy to arrange for your princess to fly out and pick up Zerka and you."

"If she is there," I amended. "lf Muso is still jong, she is not there."

"That is what I must ascertain," he replied.

"And what of Zerka?" I asked. "If you are in the city and Muso is jong, I cannot come in; then how shall we get Zerka in?"

"I shall be content to remain with you, Carson; so don't give me a thought," said Zerka.

"Whatever we do can't be done until after dark," I said; "so we shall have to cruise around until then. Maybe in the meantime we shall have evolved a better plan than Mantar's, which I do not like because it subjects him to too much risk."

It was very monotonous, cruising aimlessly about; and very tantalizing to be so near our goal and yet so far from reaching it. The seas had gone down, but enormous ground swells alternately lifted us to high crests and dropped us into deep hollows. Fishes swarmed about us--the sea was alive with them, and now and again some great monster of the deep passed close, like a giant submarine, as it voraciously gobbled the lesser creatures in its path. About the 8th hour Zerka voiced an exclamation of excitement and pointed toward the city; and as I looked, I saw the anotar above Sanara. It was evident that she had just risen from the city. That could mean but one thing to me; no, two--the first, that Duare lived; the second, that Muso no longer ruled as jong; for no one but Duare could fly the ship, and she would not have been in Sanara had Muso ruled the city.

As we watched, we saw that the plane was heading in our direction and we prepared to try to attract Duare's attention to us. I lowered the sails, lest it hide our efforts; and then I put one of our improvised water containers upside down over the end of the harpoon. As the ship approached, Mantar and I waved the crude signal back and forth.

From the time that she had left the city, Duare had been climbing; and had gained considerable altitude by the time she passed over us. We must have appeared very small to her. Perhaps she did not see us at all. She certainly gave no indication of it. I wondered why she was flying out over the ocean, and waited for her to circle back, hoping for better luck with our signalling next time. But she did not circle back--she continued straight upon her course into the southeast. In utter silence we watched until the ship became a little speck in the distance and finally disappeared.

My heart sank, for I knew the truth--Duare thought me dead and was flying back to Vepaja with her father! I should never see her again, for how could I reach Vepaja? and what would it avail me were I to? Mintep would have me destroyed before I could even so much as see my Duare. I was utterly unnerved as I sat there staring out across that lonely ocean after my lost love. I must have looked the picture of dejection that I felt. Zerka placed a hand upon mine. It was a gesture of sympathy and friendship which would have been negatived by words.

Presently I hoisted the sails again and headed in for shore. As we approached it, and it became evident that I was going to enter the mouth of the river, Mantar spoke.

"What are you going to do?" he asked.

"I am going through the Zani lines and up to the city," I replied.

"Have you gone mad?" he demanded. "At night you might stand a chance of getting through; but in broad daylight, none. You'll be arrested; and even if no one at the front recognizes you, there'll be plenty in Amlot, where you'll surely be sent."

"I'll get through," I said, "or I won't; but I'll not go back to Amlot."

"You're desperate now, Carson," said Zerka. "Don't throw your life away uselessly. There may be happiness for you yet; why, your princess may even return from Vepaja."

"No," I said; "once she is there they will never permit her to leave again."

I ran the boat close to the river bank and leaped ashore. "Cruise around close by," I called to Mantar. "I'll get word to you, if it's humanly possible. Watch the city. If you see balloons go up by day or rockets by night, you'll know I've won through and that plans are being made to bring you and Zerka in. Goodbye!"

I had run the boat quite a distance up the river before landing; so the city was not far away as I set out on foot toward it. I made no effort to conceal myself, but walked boldly toward my goal. I should have been close behind the Zani lines, but I saw no sign of troops nor of any engines of war. Presently I came to where the Zanis had lain for so many months. The ground was littered with the rubbish of war. There were a few dead men lying where they had fallen, but no living thing was visible between me and the city. The siege had been raised, the Zanis were gone!

I turned and almost ran back to the river. Mantar and Zerka were drifting slowly down the stream toward the ocean. I shouted to them and beckoned them to return, and when they were within reach of my voice I told them that the Zanis had gone and that nothing lay between us and the city. They could scarcely believe the good news; and when they had taken me aboard, we sailed up the river toward Sanara. About a quarter of a mile from the city we came ashore and walked toward the nearest gate. From the city walls a number of warriors were watching us, and, I presume, with a great deal of suspicion, since Mantar and I still wore the Zani hairdress and apparel.

As we came closer to the gate, Mantar and I made the sign of peace; and as we stopped before it an officer hailed us.

"Ho, Zanis! What do you want at Sanara? to be shot as traitors?"

"We are not Zanis," I replied. "We want word with Taman."

"So," he laughed, "you are not Zanis! Oh, no, not at all. Do you think we of Sanara do not know Zanis when we see them?"

"I am Carson of Venus," I said. "Tell that to Taman."

At that he left the wall; and presently the gate swung open a little way, and he came out with a few warriors to have a closer look at us. As he did so, I recognized him; and he me. He was one of the officers who had flown with me on one of the occasions that I had bombed the Zani camp. I introduced him to Zerka and Mantar, for whom I vouched; and he told us to enter the city and that he would escort us personally to Taman.

"One question," I said, "before I come into Sanara."

"And what is that?" he asked.

"Is Muso still jong?"

He smiled. "I can understand that you might wish to know that," he said, "but I can assure you that Muso is no longer jong. The high council deposed him and created Taman jong."

It was with a feeling of relief that I re-entered the city of Sanara after the trying weeks of danger and uncertainty through which I had passed, and during which I had never known of any place upon this strange planet where I might abide in safety--not in Kooaad, where even my best friends would have been in duty bound to have killed me because I had dared love their princess and she me, not in Kapdor, the Thorist city of Noobol, where they had placed me in the room of the seven doors from which no man before had escaped alive; not in Kormor, Skor's city of the dead, from which I had stolen Duare and Nalte from under Skor's nose in his own palace; not in Havatoo, that Utopian city on the banks of the River of Death, from which I had rescued Duare from an inexplicable miscarriage of justice; not in Amlot, where the followers of Spehon would have torn me limb from limb. There was only Sanara. Had Muso still been jong here I should have been doomed to wander on in hopeless loneliness.

At last I had a city I might call my own, where I might establish a home and live in peace and contentment; but there was only relief, not joy, in contemplation of the fact, because Duare was not there to share it with me. So I re-entered Sanara in sorrow, and in the howdah of a great military gantor we were escorted through the avenues toward the palace of Taman. It was well, too, that we had a strong military escort, for the people who saw us pass thought that we were Zani prisoners; and would have made quick work of us had it not been for the soldiers. Even to the very gates of the palace of the jong they followed us, booing and cursing and flinging insults at us. The officer who escorted us tried to tell them that we were not Zanis, but his voice was drowned in the tumult.

Edgar Rice Burroughs