The next few weeks were filled with interest and excitement. The Sanarans manufactured both r-ray and T-ray bombs as well as incendiary bombs, and I made almost daily flights over the enemy lines and camp. In the latter and along their line of communication I wrought the most havoc, but a single ship could not win a war. On several occasions I so demoralized their front line that successful sorties were made by the Sanarans during which prisoners were taken. From these we learned the repeated bombings had had their effect on the morale of the enemy and that an enormous reward had been offered by the Zani chief, Mephis, for the destruction of the ship or for my capture dead or alive.
During these weeks we remained the guests of Taman and Jahara, and were entertained frequently by Muso, the acting jong, and his wife, Illana. The latter was a quiet, self-effacing woman of high lineage but of no great beauty. Muso usually ignored her; and when he didn't, his manner toward her was often brusque and almost offensive; but she was uniformly sweet and unresentful. He was far more attentive to Duare than he was to his own wife, but that is often times a natural reaction of a host in his endeavor to please a guest. While we did not admire it, we could understand it.
The siege of Sanara was almost a stalemate. The city had enormous reserve supplies of synthetic foods; and its water supply was assured by artesian wells, nor was there any dearth of ammunition. The besiegers could not get into the city, and the besieged could not get out. So matters stood one day a month after my arrival in Sanara when Muso sent for me. He was pacing back and forth the width of a small audience chamber when I was ushered into his presence. He appeared nervous and ill at ease. I supposed at the time that he was worried over the seeming hopelessness of raising the siege, for it was of that he spoke first. Later he came to the point.
"I have a commission for you, Captain," he said. "I want to get a message through to one of my secret agents in Amlot. With your ship you can easily cross the enemy lines and reach the vicinity of Amlot without the slightest danger of being captured. I can direct you to a spot where you can make contact with persons who can get you into the city. After that it will be up to you. This must be a secret expedition on your part--no one but you and I must know of it, not even Taman, not even your wife. You will leave the first thing in the morning ostensibly on a bombing expedition, and you will not come back--at least not until you have fulfilled your mission. After that there will be no need for secrecy . If you succeed, I shall create you a noble--specifically an ongvoo-- and when the war is over and peace restored I shall see that you receive lands and a palace."
Now, the title ongvoo means, literally, exalted one and is hereditary in the collateral branches of the royal family, though occasionally conferred on members of the nobility for highly meritorious service to the jong. It seemed to me at the time that the service I was commissioned to perform did not merit any such reward, but I gave the matter little thought. It would have been better had I done so.
Muso stepped to a desk and took two thin leather containers, like envelopes, from a drawer. "These contain the messages you are to deliver," he said. "Taman tells me that as you are from another world you probably do not read Amtorian; so you will write in your own language on the outside of each the names and location of those to whom you are to deliver these." He handed me a pen and one of the containers. this one you will deliver to Lodas at his farm five klookob northwest of Amlot. I shall give you a map with the location marked on it. Lodas will see that you get into Amlot. There you will deliver this other message to a man named Spehon from whom you will receive further instructions."
From another drawer in the desk he took a map and spread it on the table. "Here," he said, making a mark on the map a little northwest of Amlot, "is a flat-topped hill that you win easily be able to locate from the air. It rises between two streams that join one another just southeast of it. In the fork of these two streams lies the farm of Lodas. You will not divulge to Lodas the purpose of your mission or the name of the man you are to meet in Amlot."
"But how am I to find Spehon?" I asked.
"I am coming to that. He is posing as a Zani, and stands high in the councils of Mephis. His office is in the palace formerly occupied by my uncle, Kord, the jong of Korva. You will have no difficulty in locating him. Now, of course you can't be safe in Amlot with that yellow hair of yours. It would arouse immediate suspicion. With black hair you will be safe enough if you do not talk too much, for, while they will know that you are not a member of the Zani party, that will arouse no suspicion as not all of the citizens of Amlot are members of the party, even though they may be loyal to Mephis."
"How will they know that I'm not a member of the party?" I asked.
"Zanis distinguish themselves by a peculiar form of haircut," he explained. "They shave their heads except for a ridge of hair about two inches wide that runs from the forehead to the nape of the neek. I think you understand your instructions, do you not?"
I told him that I did.
"Then here are the envelopes and the map; and here, also, is a bottle of dye to color your hair after you leave Sanara."
"You have thought of everything," I said.
"I usually do," he remarked with a smile. "Now is there anything you'd like to ask before you leave?"
"Yes," I said. "I should like to ask your permission to tell my wife that I shall be away for some time. I do not wish to cause her unnecessary worry."
He shook his head. "That is impossible," he said. "No one must know. There are spies everywhere. If I find that she is unduly alarmed, I promise you that I shall reassure her. You will leave early tomorrow morning. I wish you luck."
That seemed to close the audience; so I saluted and turned to leave. Before I reached the door he spoke agam. "You are sure you cannot read Amtorian?" he asked.
I thought the question a little strange and his tone a little too eager. Perhaps it was this, I don't know what else it could have been, that impelled me to reply as I did.
"If that is necessary," I said, "perhaps you had better send some one else. I could fly him to Lodas's farm and bring him back when his mission is completed."
"Oh, no," he hastened to assure me. "It will not be necessary for you to read Amtorian." Then he dismissed me. Of course, having studied under Danus in the palace of the jong of Vepaja, I could read Amtorian quite as well as Muso himself.
All that evening I felt like a traitor to Duare; but I had sworn allegiance to Muso, and while I served him I must obey his orders. The next morning, as I kissed her goodby, I suddenly had a premonition that it might be for the last time. I held her close, dreading to leave her; and she must have sensed in the tenseness of my body that something was amiss.
She looked up at me questioningly. "There is something wrong, Carson," she said. "What is it?"
"It is just that this morning I hate to leave you even more than usual." Then I kissed her and left.
Following a plan of my own to deceive the enemy as to my possible destination, I flew east out over the ocean, turning north when I had passed beyond the range of their vision; then I circled to the west far north of their camp and finally came to the ocean again west of Amlot. Flying back parallel with the coast and a few miles inland I had no difficulty in locating the flat-topped hill that was my principal landmark. During the flight I had dyed my hair black and removed the insignia of my office and service from the scant trappings that, with my loincloth, constituted my apparel. Now I could pass as an ordinary citizen of Amlot, providing no one noticed the color of my eyes.
I easily located the farm of Lodas in the fork of the rivers, and circled low looking for a suitable landing place. As I did so, a number of men working in the fields dropped their tools and ran toward the house, from which several other persons came to observe the ship. Evidently we aroused much excitement, and when I finally landed several men came cautiously toward me with weapons ready for any eventuality. I climbed down from the cockpit and advanced to meet them, holding my hands above my head to assure deem that my intentions were friendly. When we were within speaking distance, I hailed them.
"Which of you is Lodas?" I asked.
They all halted and looked at one big fellow who was in the lead.
"I am Lodas," he replied. "Who are you? and what do you want of Lodas?"
"I have a message for you," I said, holding out the leather envelope.
He came forward rather hesitantly and took it from me. The others waited while he opened and read it.
"All right," he said finally, "come to the house with men."
"First I'd like to make my ship fast in a safe place," I told him. "Where would you suggest? It should be protected from the wind and be somewhere where it can be watched at all times."
He looked at it rather dubiously for a moment; then he shook his head. "I haven't a building large enough to hold it," he said, "but you can put it between those two buildings over there. It will be protected from the wind there."
I looked in the direction he indicated and saw two large buildings, probably barns, and saw that they would answer as well as anything he had to offer; so I taxied the ship between them, and with the help of Lodas and his fellows fastened it down securely.
"Let no one ever touch it or go near it," I cautioned Lodas.
"I think no one will wish to go near it," he said feelingly.
It must have looked like some monster from another world to those simple Amtorian rustics.
The ship tied down, the hands returned to the fields; and Lodas led me to the house, two women who had run out to enjoy the excitement accompanying us. The house, a long narrow building running east and west, had a verandah extending its full length on the south side and was windowless on the north, the side from which the prevailing warm winds came and the occasional hot blasts from the equatorial regions. Lodas led me into a large central room that was a combination living room, dining room, and kitchen. In addition to a huge fireplace there was a large clay oven, the former necessitated during the winter months when the colder winds came from the antarctic.
At the door of the room Lodas sent the women away, saying that he wished to speak with me alone. He seemed nervous and fearful; and when we were alone he drew me to a bench in a far corner of the room and sat close to me, whispering in my ear.
"This is bad busimess," he said. "There are spies everywhere. Perhaps some of the men working for me were sent by Mephis. He has spies spying upon everyone and spies spying upon spies. Already rumors have come from Amlot of a strange thing that flies through the air dropping death and fire upon the forces of Mephis. At once my workers will know that it is this thing that you came in. They will be suspicious; they will talk; if there is a spy among them he will get word to Mephis, and that will be the end of me. What am I to do?"
"What did the message tell you to do?" I asked.
"It told me to get you into Amlot; that was all."
"Are you going to do it?"
"I would do anything for Kord, my jong," he said simply. "Yes, I shall do it; but I shall probably die for it."
"Perhaps we can work out a plan," I suggested. "If there is a spy here or if your men talk too much, it will be as bad for me as for you. Is there any place near here where I could hide my ship--some place that it would be reasonably safe?"
"If Mephis hears of it, it will not be safe here," said Lodas, and I appreciated the truth of his statement. He thought for a moment; then he shook his head. "The only place that I can think of is an island off the coast just south of us."
"What sort of an island?" I asked. "Any clear, level land on it?"
"Oh, yes; it is a very flat island. It is covered with grass. No one lives there. It is seldom that anyone goes there--never since the revolution."
"How far off shore is it?"
"It lies very close. I row to it in a few minutes
"You row to it? You have a boat?"
"Yes, once a year we row over to pick the berries that grow there. The women make jam of them that lasts all the rest of the year."
"Fine!" I exclaimed. "Now I have a plan that will remove all suspicion from you. Listen." For ten minutes I talked, explaining every detail of my scheme. Occasionally Lodas slapped his knee and laughed. He was hugely pleased and relieved. Lodas was a big, simple, good natured fellow. One couldn't help but like and trust him. I didn't want to get him in any trouble, on his own account; and, too, I knew that any trouble I got him into I would have to share.
We decided to put my plan into execution immediately, so we left the house; and as we passed the women, Lodas spoke to me angrily.
"Get off my farm!" he cried. "I'll have nothing to do with you."
We went at once to the ship and cast off the ropes; then I taxied it out toward the field where I had landed. Lodas followed on foot, and when we were within earshot of some of the men, he shouted at me loudly. "Get out of here! I'll have nothing to do with you. Don't ever let me see you on my farm again." The farm hands looked on in wide-eyed amazement, that grew wider eyed as I took off.
As I had done when I took off from Sanara I flew in a direction opposite that I intended going; and when I was out of sight circled back toward the ocean. I found the island Lodas had described and landed easily. Some high bushes grew on the windward side, and behind these I made the ship fast. I worked on it until dark, and had it so securely fastened down that I didn't believe that anything short of a hurricane could blow it away.
I had brought a little food with me from Sanara; and, after eating, I crawled into the cabin and settled myself for the night. It was very lonely out there with only the wind soughing through the bushes and the surf pounding on the shore of that unknown sea. But I slept and dreamed of Duare. I knew that she must be worrying about me already, and I felt like a dog to have treated her so. I hoped that Muso would soon tell her that I had but gone on a mission for him. At the worst, I hoped to be home by the second day.
I awoke early and crossed the island to the shoreward side; and about half an hour later I saw a huge gantor approaching, drawing a wagon behind him. As he came nearer I recognized Lodas perched upon the animal's back. I waved to him, and he waved back. Leaving his conveyance near the shore, Lodas climbed down to a little cove, and presently I saw him pushing a crude boat into the water. Soon I was in it with him, and he was rowing back to the mainland.
"How did our little scheme work?" I asked him.
"Oh, fine," he said, with a broad grin. "I wouldn't tell them what you wanted me to do, but I told them that it was something wrong and that I was going to Amlot to tell the authorities about it. That satisfied them all; so if there was a spy among them I don't think he will give us any trouble. You are a very smart man to have thought of this plan."
Once in the cove, we pulled the boat up onto a little ledge and climbed up to the waiting conveyance, a four wheeled, boxlike cart loaded with hay and vegetables. Lodas forked some of the hay to one side and told me to lie down in the depression he had made; then he forked the hay back on top of me.
It was about ten miles to Amlot, and of all the uncomfortable ten miles I ever rode those took first prize. The hay was soft enough to lie on; but the seeds got in my ears and nose and mouth and under my harness and loincloth, and I almost suffocated beneath the pile of hay on top of me. The motion of the cart was eccentric, to say the least. It pitched and wobbled and bumped over a road that must have been new when longevity serum was invented, but never had a shot of it. The gait of the gantor was much faster than I had anticipated. He evidently had a long, swinging walk; and we must have made at least six miles an hour, which is somewhere between the speed of a horse's walk and trot.
But at last we got to Amlot. I knew that, when we came to a stop and I heard men's voices questioning Lodas. Finally I heard one say, "Oh, I know this farmer. He brings stuff into the city often. He's all right." They let us go on then, and I could tell by the sound of the wheels that we were rolling over a pavement. I was inside the walls of Amlot! I hoped the remainder of my mission would prove as readily fulfilled as this first part of it, and there was no reason to believe that it would not. If it did, I should be back with Duare by the following day.
We must have driven a considerable distance into the city before we stopped again. There was a short wait during which I heard voices; but they were low, and I could not overhear what was being said; then there was a creaking sound as of the hinges of a heavy gate, and immediately we moved forward a short distance and stopped again. Once more the hinges groaned, and then I heard Lodas's voice telling me to come out. I didn't need a second invitation. Throwing the hay aside, I stood up. We were in the courtyard of a one story house. A man was standing with Lodas looking up at me. He didn't seem very glad to see me.
"This is my brother, Horjan," said Lodas, "and, Horjan, this is--say, what is your name my friend?"
"Wasn't it in the message I brought?" I asked, pretending surprise.
"No, it wasn't."
Perhaps it would be as well, I thought, if I didn't publicize my true name too widely. "Where I come from," I said, "I would be called Homo Sapiens. Call me Homo;" so Homo I became.
"This is bad busmess," said Horjan. "If we are found out, the Zani Guard will come and take us off to prison; and there we shall be tortured and killed. No, I do not like it."
"But it is for the jong," said Lodas, as though that were ample reason for any sacrifice.
"What did the jong ever do for us?" demanded Horjan.
"He is our jong," said Lodas simply. "Horjan, I am ashamed of you."
"Well, let it pass. I will keep him this night, but tomorrow he must go on about his business. Come into the house now where I can hide you. I do not like it. I do not like it at all. I am afraid. The Zani Guard do terrible things to one whom they suspect."
And so I went into the house of Horjan in Amlot, a most unwelcome guest. I sympathized with the two brothers, but I could do nothing about it. I was merely obeying the orders of Muso.
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