The sight of those three great beasts barring our way was just about as discouraging as anything I have ever encountered. Of course I had my pistol; but the rays don't always kill immediately any more than bullets do, and even if I should succeed in killing them the delay would permit the women to overtake us. I could hear them shouting, and I was afraid their voices might reach one of the hunting parties; so, all in all, I was in a tough spot. Fortunately, they hadn't come out of The Narrow Canyon yet; and I thought I saw a possible chance of eluding them and the tharbans. We were close to a group of trees the dense foliage of which would form an excellent hiding place; so I hoisted Duare to a lower branch and swung up after her. Climbing well up, we waited. Through the foliage we could look out, though I doubted that anyone could see us.
The three tharbans had witnessed our ruse and were coming toward the tree, but when the running warrior women hove into sight out of the mouth of The Narrow Canyon the beasts paid no more attention to us, but turned their attention to the women instead. The sight of the tharbans brought the women to a sudden stop. I saw them looking around for us; and then, as the tharbans advanced, they retreated into The Narrow Canyon. The three beasts followed them, and the moment that all were out of sight Duare and I dropped to the ground and continued on toward the ship.
We could hear the roars and growls of the tharbans and the shouts of the women growing fainter in the distance as we almost ran in our eagerness to reach the anotar. What had appeared a few moments before almost a catastrophe had really proved our salvation, for now we had no need to fear pursuit from the village. My only immediate concern now was the ship, and I can tell you that I breathed a sigh of relief when we came in sight of it and I saw that it was intact. Five mmutes later we were in the air, and the adventure of Houtomai was a thing of the past. Yet, how near it had come to meaning death for me and a life of slavery for Duare! If the warrior women had taken but an extra moment to make sure that I was dead how very different the outcome would have been. I shall always think that fear of the ship, a thing so strange to them, caused them to hurry away. Duare says that they talked much about the ship on the way back to the village and that it was evident that they were troubled by it, not being quite sure that it was not some strange beast that might pursue them.
We had much to talk about as I circled in search of game, that I might make another kill; for I had not eaten for two days, and Duare only a few mean scraps while she was the slave of Bund. Duare kept looking at me and touching me to make sure that I was alive, so certain had she been that the Samaryans had killed me.
"I should not have lived long, Carson, if you hadn't come," she said, "with you dead, I didn't care to live--certainly not in slavery. I was only waiting for an opportunity to destroy myself."
I located a herd of antelope-like animals and made my kill much as I had the previous day, but this time Duare kept vigilant lookout while I attended to the butchering; then we flew to the island where Lula and I had stopped while I transformed myself into a brunette. This time I reversed the operation, after we had cooked and eaten some of our meat. Once again we were happy and contented. Our recent troubles now seemed very remote, so quickly does the spirit of man rebound from depression and push black despair into the limbo of forgetfulness.
Duare was much concerned about my wounds and insisted on bathing them herself. The only danger, of course, was from infection; and we had no means of disinfecting them. Naturally there was much less danger than there would have been on Earth, where overpopulation and increased means of transportation have greatly spread and increased the numbers of malignant bacteria. Also, the longevity serum with which I had been inoculated by Danus shortly after my arrival upon Amtor gave me considerable immunity. All in all, I was not much concerned; but Duare was like a hen with one chicken. She had finally given in to her natural inclinations; and, having admitted her love, she was lavishing on its object the devotion and solicitude which raise love to its purest and most divine heights.
We were both of us pretty well done in by all that we had been through, and so we decided to remain at the island until the following day at least. I was quite sure that there were no men and no dangerous beasts there, and for the first time in many months we could utterly relax without concern about the safety of ourself or that of the other. Those were the most perfect twenty-four hours I had ever spent.
The next day we took off from our little island with real regret and flew south along the valley of The River of Death down toward the ocean into which we knew it must empty. But what ocean? What lay beyond it? Where in all this vast world could we go?
"Perhaps we can find another little island somewhere," Duare suggested, "and live there always, just you and I alone."
I didn't have the heart to tell her that in a few months we'd probably be wanting to knife one another. I was really in a quandry. It was impossible that we return to Vepaja. I knew now definitely that Duare would rather die than be separated from me; and there was no question but that I should be executed the moment Mintep, her father, got his hands on me. My only reason for planning to take Duare back to Vepaja had been my sincere belief that, no matter what became of me, she would be happier there eventually and certainly much safer than roaming around this savage world with a man absolutely without a country; but now I knew differently. I knew that either of us would rather be dead than permanently separated from the other.
"We'll make a go of it some way," I told her, "and if there's a spot on Amtor where we can find peace and safety we'll locate it."
"We have fifty years before the anotar falls to pieces," said Duare, with a laugh.
We had flown but a short time before I saw what appeared to be a large body of water dead ahead, and such it soon proved to be. We had come to the ocean at last.
"Let's go out over it and look for our island," said Duare.
"We'd better stock up with food and water firstly." I suggested.
I had wrapped the remainder of our meat in the large, waxy leaves I had found growing on the little island; and was sure that it would keep for several days, but of course we didn't want to eat it raw; and as we couldn't cook it while flying, there was nothing to do but land and cook the meat. I also wanted to gather some fruits and nuts and a tuber that grows almost everywhere on Amtor and is quite palatable and nutritious--palatable even when eaten raw.
I found an open flat that extended back from The River of Death for several miles. It was forest bordered on one side, and a little river ran through it down to the larger stream from mountains to the east. I made a landing near the forest in the hope that I would find such fruits and nuts as I desired, nor was I disappointed. After gathering them, I loaded some firewood into the rear cockpit and taxied over beside the small stream. Here we were in the open where we could see the surrounding country in all directions and therefore in no danger of being surprised by either man or beast. I built a fire and cooked our meat while Duare kept watch. I also filled the water tank with which I had equipped the ship at the time it was built. We now had food and water sufficient for several days, and filled with the spirit of exploration we took off and headed out to sea, passing over the great delta of The River of Death, a river that must rival the Amazon.
From the first, Duare had been keenly interested in the navigation of the ship. I had explained the purpose and operation of the controls, but she had not actually flown the anotar herself. Now I let her try it, for I knew that she must learn to fly against the possibility of our being in the air for long periods such as might be necessitated by a trans-oceanic flight. I would have to have sleep, and this would not be possible in the air unless Duare could fly the ship. Now, flying a ship in the air under ordinary weather conditions is not even so difficult as walking; so it required only a few minutes to establish her confidence and give her something of the feel of the ship. I knew that practice would give her smoothness, and I had her fly at an altitude that would permit me to come to the rescue if she got in any trouble.
We flew all that night with Duare at the controls about a third of the time, and when morning broke I sighted land. As far as I could see to the east and west the boles and foliage of great trees rose thousands of feet to disappear in the inner cloud envelope which floats forever over the entire expanse of Amtor, a second defense to the outer cloud envelope against the intense heat of the sun that would otherwise burn the surface of the planet to a crisp.
"That aspect looks familiar," I said to Duare when she awoke.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I think it is Vepaja. We'll skirt the coast, and if I'm right we will see the natural harbor where the Sofal and the Sovong lay at anchor the day that you were kidnaped and Kamlot and I were captured by the klangan. I'm sure I shall recognize it."
Duare said nothing. She was silent for a long time as we flew along the coast. Presently I saw the harbor.
"There it is," I said. "This is Vepaja, Duare."
"Vepaja," she breathed.
"We are here, Duare. Do you want to stay?"
She shook her head. "Not without you." I leaned toward her and kissed her.
"Where then?" I asked.
"Oh, let's just keep on going. One direction's as good as another."
The ship, at the time, was flying perhaps a couple of points north of west; so I simply maintained that course. The world ahead of us was absolutely unknown, as far as we were concerned; and as this course would keep us away from the antarctic regions and well into the northern part of the south temperate zone, it seemed as good a course to hold as any. In the opposite direction lay the stronghold of the Thorists, where we could hope to find only captivity and death.
As the long day wore away, nothing but illimitable ocean stretched monotonously before us. The ship functioned beautifully. It could not function otherwise, since into its construction had gone the best that the finest scientific minds of Havatoo could give. The design had been mine, as aircraft were absolutely undreamed of in Havatoo prior to my coming, but the materials, the motor, the fuel were exclusively Amtorian. For strength, durability, and lightness the first would be impossible of duplication on Earth; the motor was a marvel of ingenuity, compactness, power and durability combined with lightness of weight; the fuel I have already described. In design the ship was more or less of a composite of those with which I was familiar or had myself flown on Earth. It seated four, two abreast in an open front cockpit and two in a streamlined cabin aft; there were controls in both cockpits, and the ship could be flown from any of the four seats. As I have before stated, it was an amphibian.
During the long day I varied the monotony by instructing Duare in landings and take-offs, there being a gentle westerly breeze. We had to keep a sharp lookout at these times for the larger denizens of the sea, some of which might easily have wrecked the ship had their dispositions been as fearsome as their appearance.
As night fell, the vast Amtorian scene was bathed in the soft, mysterious, nocturnal light that benefieient Nature has vouchsafed a moonless planet. Seemingly as limitless as interstellar space, the endless sea rolled to the outer rim of our universe, glowing wanly. No land, no ship, no living thing impinged upon the awful serenity of the scene--only our silent-plane and we two infinitesimal atoms wandering aimlessly through space. Duare moved a little closer to me. Companionship was good in this infinite loneliness.
During the night the wind veered and blew from the south, and at dawn I saw cloud banks rolling in ahead of us. The air was much cooler. It was evident that we were getting the tail end of a south polar storm. I didn't like the looks of that fog. I had blind flying instruments on the instrument board; but, even so, who would care to fly blind in a world concerning the topography of which he knew nothing? Nor was I particularly keen to chance waiting the fog out on the surface of the sea. The chances are it would have been safe enough, but I had seen far too many leviathans cavorting about in the waters beneath us to incline me toward spending any more time on the surface of the water than was absolutely necessary. I determined to change our course and fly north ahead of the fog. It was then that Duare pointed ahead.
"Isn't that land?" she asked.
"It certainly has all the appearances of land," I said, after taking a long look.
"Maybe it is our island," she suggested laughingly.
We'll go and have a look at it before the fog rolls over it. We can always beat that fog if it gets too thick."
"Land will look pretty good again," said Duare.
"Yes," I agreed. "We've been looking at an awful lot of water."
As we approached the coast line we saw mountains in the distance and far to the northwest what appeared to be one of those giant tree forests such as cover almost the entire area of the island of Vepaja.
"Oh, there's a city!" exclaimed Duare.
"So it is--a seaport. Quite a good-sized city, too. I wonder what kind of people live there."
Duare shook her head. "I don't know. There is a land northwest of Vepaja that is called Anlap. I have seen it on the map. It lies partially in Trabol and partially in Strabol. The maps show it as an island, a very large island; but of course nobody knows. Strabol has never been thoroughly explored."
It seemed to me that none of Venus had ever been thoroughly explored, nor could I wonder. The most able men I had met here clung to the belief that it was a saucer-shaped world Boating on a molten sea. They thought that its greatest circumference lay at what I knew to be the south pole, and on their maps the equator was not even a dot. They never dreamed of the existence of another hemisphere. With maps based on such erroneous reasoning, everything was distorted; and because their maps were therefore useless, no navigator dared go far from familiar waters and seldom out of sight of land.
As we approached the city I saw that it was walled and heavily fortified, and closer inspection revealed the fact that it was being beleaguered by a large force. The hum of Amtorian guns came faintly to our ears. We saw the defenders on the walls; and, beyond the walls, we saw the enemy--long lines of men encircling the city, each lying behind his shield. These shields are composed of metal more or less impervious to both r-rays and T-rays; and their use must result in far more mobile attacking forces than could have been possible were the men facing earthly bullets; it practically amounted to each man carrying his own trench The troops could be maneuvered almost anywhere on the field of battle while under fire, with a minimum of casualties.
As we passed over the city, firing practically ceased on both sides. We could see thousands of faces upturned toward us, and I could imagine the wonder and amazement that the ship must have engendered in the minds of those thousands of soldiers and civilians, not one of whom could possibly have conceived the nature of this giant, birdlike thing speeding silently above them. As every portion of the ship, whether wood, metal, or fabric, had been sprayed with a solution of this ray-resisting substance I felt quite safe in flying low above the contending forces; and so I spiralled downward and, circling, flew close above the city's wall. Then I leaned out and waved my hand. A great shout rose from the men within the city, but the attackers were silent for a moment; then a volley of shots were directed at us.
The ship might have been coated with ray-resisting material; but Duare and I were not, and so I zoomed to a safer altitude and turned the ship's nose inland to reconnoiter farther. Beyond the lines of the investing forces we flew over their main camp, beyond which a broad highway led toward the southwest, from which direction troops were marching toward the camp; and there were long trains of wagons drawn by huge, elephantine animals, and men mounted on strange beasts, and big T-ray guns, and all the other impedimenta of a great army on the march.
Turning toward the north, I reconnoitered in search of information. I wanted to know something about this country and the disposition of its inhabitants. From what I had already seen, their dispositions seemed unequivocally warlike; but somewhere there might be a peaceful, hospitable city where strangers would be treated with consideration. What I was looking for was a single individual whom I might question without risking injury to Duare or myself, for to have made a landing among those fighting men would probably have been fatal--especially among comrades of the contingent that had fired on us. The attitude of the defenders of the city had been more friendly; but still I couldn't risk a landing there without knowing something about them, nor did it seem the part of wisdom to land in a beleaguered city that, from the number of its attackers, might be taken any day. Duare and I were looking for peace, not war.
I covered a considerable area of territory without seeing a human being, but at last I discovered a lone man coming out of a canyon in the hills several miles north of the big camp I have mentioned. As I dropped toward him, he turned and looked up. He did not run; but stood his ground, and I saw him draw the pistol at his hip.
"Don't fired," I called to him as I glided past. "We are friends."
"What do you want?" he shouted back.
I circled and few back, landing a couple of hundred yards from him. "I am a stranger here," I shouted to him. "I want to ask for information."
He approached the ship quite boldly, but he kept his weapon in readiness for any eventuality. I dropped down from the cockpit and went forward to meet him, raising my right hand to show that it held no weapon. He raised his left--he wasn't taking any chances; but the gesture signified a friendly attitude, or at least not a belligerent one.
A half smile touched his lips as I descended from the ship. "So you are a human being, after all," he said. "At first I didn't know but that you were a part of that thing, whatever it is. Where are you from? What do you want of me?"
"We are strangers here," I told him. "We do not even know in what country we are. We want to know the disposition of the people here toward strangers, and if there is a city where we might be received hospitably."
"This is the land of Anlap," he said, "and we are in the kingdom of Korva."
"What city is that back by the sea? There was fighting going on there."
"You saw fighting?" he demanded. "How was it going? Had the city fallen?" He seemed eager for news.
"The city had not fallen," I said, "and the defenders seemed in good spirits."
He breathed a sigh of relief. Suddenly his brow clouded. "How do I know you're not a Zani spy?" he demanded.
I shrugged. "You don't," I said, "but I'm not. I don't even know what a Zani is."
"No, you couldn't be," he said presently. "With that yellow hair of yours I don't know what you could be--certainly not of our race."
"Well, how about answering some of my questions?" I inquired with a smile.
He smiled in return. "That's right. You wanted to know the disposition of the people of Korva to strangers and the name of the city by the sea. Well, before the Zanis seized the government, you would have been treated well in any Korvan city. But now it is different. Sanara, the city you asked about, would welcome you; it has not yet fallen under the domination of the Zanis. They are trying to reduce it now, and if it capitulates the last stronghold of freedom in Korva will have fallen."
"You are from Sanara?" I asked.
"Yes, at present. I had always lived in Amlot, the capitol, until the Zanis came into power; then I couldn't go back, because I had been fighting them."
"I just flew over a big camp south of here," I said; "was that a Zani camp?"
"Yes. I'd give anything to see it. How many men have they?"
"I don't know; but it's a large camp, and more soldiers and supplies are coming in from the southwest."
"From Amlot," he said. "Oh, if I could but see that!"
"You can," I told him.
"How?" he demanded.
I pointed toward the ship. He looked just a little bit taken aback, but only for a second.
"All right," he said. "You will not regret your kindness. May I ask your name? Mine is Taman."
"And mine is Carson."
He looked at me curiously. "What country are you from? I have never before seen an Amtorian with yellow hair."
"It is a long story," I said. "Suffice it to say that I am not an Amtorian; I am from another world."
We walked toward the ship together, he, in the meantime, having returned his pistol to its holster. When we reached it, he saw Duare for the first time. I could just note a faint expression of surprise, which he hid admirably. He was evidently a man of refinement I introduced them, and then showed him how to enter the rear cockpit and fasten his lifebelt.
Of course I couldn't see him when we took off, but he afterward told me that he believed his end had come. I flew him directly back to the Zani camp and along the highway toward Amlot.
"This is wonderful!" he exclaimed time and again. "I can see everything. I can even count the battalions and the guns and the wagons."
"Tell me when you've seen enough," I said.
"I think I've seen all that's necessary. Poor Sanara! How can it withstand such a horde? And I may not even be able to get back and make my report. The city must be surrounded by troops by now. I just barely got out an ax ago." An ax is equivalent to twenty days of Amtorian time, or slightly over twenty-two days, eleven hours of Earth time.
"The city is entirely surrounded," I told him. "I doubt that you could possibly pass through the lines even at night."
"Would you--" he hesitated.
"Would I what?" I asked, though I guessed what he wished to ask me.
"But no," he said; "it would be too much to ask of a stranger. You would be risking your life and that of your companion."
"Is there any place large enough for me to land inside the walls of Sanara?" I asked.
He laughed. "You guessed well," he said. "How much space do you require?"
I told him.
"Yes," he said; "there is a large field near the center of town where races were held. You could land there easily."
"A couple of more questions," I suggested.
"Certainly! Ask as many as you please."
"Have you sufficient influence with the military authorities to insure our safety? I am, of course, thinking of my mate. I cannot risk harm befalling her."
"I give you the word of a nobleman that you will both be safe under my protection," he assured me.
"And that we shall be permitted to leave the city whenever we choose, and that our ship will not be molested or detained?"
"Again you have my word for all that you have asked," he said; "but still I think it is too much to ask of you--too much to permit you to do for a stranger."
I turned to Duare. "What is your answer, Duare?" I asked.
"I think that I shall like Sanara," she said.
I turned the ship's nose in the direction of the Korvan seaport.
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