The first thing of which I was aware when my mind slowly swept up from the darkness of unconsciousness was an aching, racking pain that seemed to permeate my entire body. The pain localized itself slowly, and became a feeling of heat on my back. I tried to move, and then shivered and tensed myself as I felt water splashed over me, lots of water, as though someone had doused me with a whole bucketful.
After the first shock, the feel of the water was gratifying, for it soothed for a moment the burning sensation of heat. I moved an arm, to turn over, and groaned as a pain shot through my shoulder. I tried to open my eyes and look around - - and failed. My eyes seemed glued hut. A feeling of panic seized me. Where was I - - what happened to me? I sat up in spite of the agony it cost me, sat up and clawed at my face.
Something was covering my face, something that was stringy and soppy and wet. I tore it away in an excess of revulsion, and breathed a gasp that was between a sigh of relief and a laugh, as the light stabbed into my eyes. I blinked several times to adjust my eyes to the light and then glanced at the object in my hand which had blinded me. It was a strand of seaweed, and this strange fact led me to look around in wonder at my surroundings.
I had been lying supinely in the sand, on a broad beach. I was right at the shoreline, and the water that I had felt dash over me had been, without a doubt, an extra large wave. As near as I could judge, the water had washed me up on this shore, a short time before. On the shore, a few yards from where I lay, the typical vegetation of a tropical island shore began; while behind me stretched the sea, its waves lit up to a copper color by the red of the sun, which was low in the west, off to my right. The heat from the sun was still intense enough for me to realize that it was it that had caused the heat on my back.
I sat for a little, dazed and puzzled. My memory didn’t seem all that it should be. I tried to call the mind the conditions that had brought me to this pass, and tried in vain. Strangely, not the faintest memory came to me of a trip at sea. I had been born in an inland town and had lived there all my life, and as far as memory served, this was the first time that I had ever looked upon the ocean.
I tried to think what had happened to me lately. Vaguely, it seemed to me that I had recently visited a friend of mine, a learned man - - I recalled some sort of experiment in some obscure branch of physical or psychological science - -
Adrian Channing! The name crashed into my memory with a definite shock, bringing with it a flood of recollection. This was the result of Adrian Channing’s experiment. Channing had enlisted me, only last night, to help him - - help him do something - - and it had worked. It had worked and I was - - well, more than likely I was someone else.
I was - - it was all coming back to me now. Strange how my memory had been so hesitant to reveal even my name, but a moment ago. I was - - or rather, I had been - - Stephen Chalmers, student in chemistry at the University of Southern Ohio. I had been, when last I remembered, in Professor Channing’s laboratory in his home in Cincinnati. And I had agreed to become a sort of guinea pig for one of the professor’s experiments.
I looked around, at the sea, the sand and at the palms and ferns which formed the background. It looked like Channing’s theory was right. He had expected me to find things entirely different on my awakening, and they certainly were different. Certainly I wasn’t the Stephen Chalmers whom I had always been.
I wondered just who I was. If appearances counted for anything, I was a typical shipwrecked mariner; for here was the sea, the shore, the palms, and even, I noticed with a certain degree of satisfaction, even numerous bits of wreckage strewn along the shore.
I glanced down at myself to see if I was dressed in sailor’s clothes or not and thereby got another shock. I wore a sweater-like garment of blue silk and a pair of yellow shorts of some kind of rough wool. I wore sandals of green leather laced halfway up my calf with bands of fine metal mesh. I had a belt around my waist, a belt of the same green leather that my sandals were made, nearly six inches wide, with several pouches attached to it, and a peculiar sort of snap on the left, as if a scabbard of a holster were usually fastened there. My hair was long, almost to my shoulders, and about it was bound a tight turban.
The strangeness of this costume brought to my lips an involuntary whistle. “Whew!” I thought to myself. “I must be some sort of foreigner.”
Strangely enough, this was a contingency that had never occurred to me. All time, I had been unconsciously considering that, after my strange translation, I would at least still be an American. But now, this new problem set me to reviewing again the detail of the unprecedented experiment that had brought me to this queer pass.
Channing, to state it briefly, had devoted his life to the study of the nature of the ego. But with a boldness that few, if any psychologist or philosophers have ever had, he had approached it from a perfectly material angle. To his mind, the ego was an organ of the body, as much as the brain or the heart is. He experimented for years with the brains of animals, for he felt that animals have individuality, as surely as humans, and that it would be as easy to solve the mystery of that individuality with such creatures as guinea pigs and rabbits as it would with morons and geniuses.
And when, after many years of study, he had learned more than all the other philosophers of history, he had come to me, asking me to be the first human guinea pig.
“The ego, or soul, or psyche - - or call it what you will,” he said to me, when he was trying to explain what he wanted with me, “is a certain pattern of atoms and molecules in the brain which is largely determined by a series of vibrations. As long as those molecules and atoms vibrate at a certain frequency – you are you.
“But - - if it were possible to alter that vibratory period; say, to exchange your vibratory period with that of another man, the entire ego, memories, habits and all, would be exchanged at the same time!”
“And you want to change my vibratory rate - - make me into somebody else?” I asked uncertainly.
“Hardly that,” the scientist laughed. “Although it may seem almost as strange. What I intend to do is change your identity with someone else who has a vibratory rate practically the same as yours. Listen - - somewhere on earth, there’s probably someone whose vibratory rate is the same as yours or very nearly so. If you will submit to my experiment, you will apparently change bodies with this man. Of course I’ll be able to explain to him, when he wakes up in your body. Then I’ll hold him here until you return.
“And what I want you to do, when you awake, is to return to me, as soon as possible, and confirm the fact that the exchange has really taken place. Then I’ll change you and this other fellow back again, and I’ll consider my theory proven, and give it to the world.”
It didn’t seem a very dangerous experiment, the way he described it. And it would certainly be an adventure par excellence. I was to submit to hypnosis first and then go under the influence of the machine which Channing had built. If it didn’t work, Channing could wake me up and I’d be none the worse for the attempt. If it did work, I’d wake up as someone else, make my way to Channing, and he would at once change me and - - my affinity, I guess you’d call it, - - back into our respective bodies. And that would be that. It seemed to me that it might be a little hard, a little puzzling to the other fellow, whoever he might be, but I couldn’t see where it would hurt me.
So I had agreed. And I had gone under the influence of the machine, last night about nine. And had awakened to this.
I glanced down again at the queer clothes I wore. Of course, now that I stopped to think of it, I might be almost anybody in the world. There was nothing in Channing’s theory that suggested that I had to be like the man I exchanged with, physically. I might be almost anybody in the world. I tried to think what sort or nationality I might have, and found it a bit puzzling. Nobody in North or South America was likely to be wearing a turban, I thought. Turbans were usually associated with Arabs or Bedouins. But, I realized at once, Bedouins and Arabs weren’t usually associated with the sea.
What kind of Mohammedans were sailors? Malays? Lascars? It wasn’t likely that I was one of those, for my skin appeared as white as the skin I was used to. Whiter, I realized suddenly.
Well, this brain-racking was getting me nowhere. I began to realize that I was desperately thirsty, and that the sun had set, and if I didn’t find water before dark, I’d be lost thirstier tomorrow. I decided to look about for some fresh water.
I tried to rise to my feet, and was brought quickly to the realization that this was not the body of Stephen Chalmers, lying here in the sand, but the body of some shipwrecked mariner. My head began to spin, a dozen pains racked my joints, and I all but fell over from weakness. I sat down promptly and decided to reconnoiter a bit before setting out to walk anywhere.
Probably the nearest source of water, I reflected, would be among the trees back of the beach. If I was shipwrecked, there had, most likely, been a storm. And a storm means rain and rain would most likely have left some puddles of fresh water about. In fact, if I remembered rightly, some palms and ferns have regular cups that hold rainwater for some time.
So, in the gathering dusk, I crawled, rather than walked, up to the line of vegetation. I found, with practically no trouble, a small palm with a central cup, filled with water just as I had imagined it. I drank pretty deeply, and also sampled a little yellow fruit that was growing on a plant nearby. It tasted sweet, so I ate several more. Then I sat down and allowed myself to doze, and gradually I felt my strength begin to return to me.
I roused myself several hours later. A light had begun to shine annoyingly into my eyes, and I noticed that the moon was rising, off to the left. I stared at it drowsily for awhile, pondering as I did on its small size. I had always heard that the moon looked immense as it rose, in a tropical country, but it certainly didn’t, here. I couldn’t remember when I had seen the moon look so small. It was almost as if it were a different orb, entirely.
I sat up suddenly, with a queer idea setting the hair on my neck to prickling oddly. I focused my eyes on the moon, trying in vain to make out the contours that should have been familiar to me. In spite of the wave of vertigo that seized me as I stood up, I ran on the beach and, need back, I looked about me.
To a very ignorant man, placed suddenly in the position I was, the scene would have been one of beauty and delight. The clear calm that follows a storm had set a slow breeze blowing through the palms, and the fragrance of tropical flowers came from inland, borne on that breeze, to caress the tops of the palms and to soothe the nostrils of anyone who chanced to be near. The breeze was warm, yet not too warm to be most comforting after the heat of the day. A golden moon was rising over a silver sea, and lighting up gloriously the long sandy strand that stretched away for hundreds of years in both directions. And in the velvet darkness of the heavens, the stars shone like ten thousand living pearls.
But, to me, in spite of its beauty, the scene was one which was spine tingling in its strangeness. For, in spite of its beauty, the moon was too small. And the stars that glistened so brilliantly were cold strangers to me, and they stared down insolently at the lost stranger who looked up at them.
For I am one who is not wholly ignorant of the constellations. Once, like many other people, I had made a hobby of learning the names of the constellations and the chief stars, and I knew them fairly well. Yet, in all that sky at which I was then looking, not a single constellation, indeed, as far as I could see, not a single star was familiar to me!
For a moment, my spinning brain grasped wildly at the thought that I was merely in the southern hemisphere. But I could not fool myself with that idea long. I knew maps of the southern hemisphere too well to believe that such stars as I was gazing at could be located there.
No, there could be no doubt about it - - these stars were strangers to earth, to the solar system, even. If those stars we’re real, if I could accept that sky as fact, then there was no doubt about one thing. I had exchanged egos with someone who was an inhabitant of another planet, which swung around another sun, untold light years away.
The realization of this calamity was too much for my already seriously weakened condition. I sank to the ground and a wave of merciful blackness swept consciousness from me.
The Pirates of Var-Hamek
I opened my eyes to consciousness for the third time since I had taken residence in this strange body. Someone was holding me, and pouring something down my throat, something that had made me cough and turn my head away. My head was promptly seized and held while more of the stuff was poured into my mouth. After a while I noticed that the liquor warmed me strangely and gave me more strength than I had felt since I had arrived at this incredible place. I opened my eyes and looked around.
The night had passed, apparently, while I lay there unconscious, for it was day again and the sun was shining through a rapidly dwindling group of clouds. I was lying in the arms of a man, a tall blond, muscular man, clad much as I was, save that his clothing was older and of more garish colors. His face was lean and angular, he had a sharp hooked nose and high cheekbones, and a network of fine wrinkles about his eyes and mouth showed that he was a man just passing the prime of life. He had a bottle in his hand, a bottle of earthenware, and from this, he poured something into my mouth, smiling encouragingly as he did so.
Standing over us, and apparently directing proceedings was another man, a short, black bearded fellow, with great shoulders and an enormous chest, and with legs as bowed as an English bulldog’s. He wore sweater and shorts, too, as I did’ but he also wore a cloak, a great red cloak that flung out in the shore wind like a comic book hero’s. And, hanging by his side, was a curious ax, a delicate, slim-bladed ax that looked about as much like a battle-ax as a rapier looks like a broadsword.
Behind him, half a dozen other men stood looking over his shoulders. There were bearded men and smooth; dark men with rings in their ears and others as tall blond as the man that held me. They muttered among themselves, quite obviously commenting on me and on my probable identity. One of them uttered what was probably a crude joke for the others burst into laughter and answered him in kind. When the cloaked one saw that I was conscious, he addressed me.
“Ul-Zor-shareeb, varrain,” he said. “Ku parathi hadar, in choth?”
Now this should have been quite incomprehensible to me, of course. Yet that which followed was only the first of several seemingly miraculous things that occurred to me during the next few weeks; that showed what a subtle and perplexing thing the ego is. Just what part of our intelligence lies in the physical body, and what in the soul, no psychologist, not even Adrian Channing, has attempted to state. One would feel certain that the understanding of languages, for instance, would be inherent in the soul’s memory and would be transferred only with the soul’s transfer. Yet, some fragment of the memory of that being who had formerly occupied my body must have remained in that body, for, clear and unmistakable, there formed in my mind the meaning of the words which my rescuer had uttered.
He had said: “The peace of Zor*, sailor. How come you here upon the shore?”
My weakness was rapidly leaving me. I reached for the bottle which the smiling blond fellow still held, and took another swallow. I strove to answer him.
I must have been shipwrecked,” I answered. “Something has happened to my memory and I don not know who I am.” I had settled on this story almost at once as being the most credible and the least likely to evoke questioning. I had no sooner got it out of my mouth than I realized that I had made the whole statement in English. Of course, the leader of these men failed to understand it - - he turned to his companions, saying, “He speaks a strange tongue. Do any of you understand it?”
“One after another, they all shook their heads. I was puzzled, myself. What strange quirk of circumstance, what queer combination of spirit and mind could account for the fact that while I could understand the language as though it were my native tongue, when I tried to speak, I only spoke English? I can only say that, after much thought, I have finally come to the conclusion that, while hearing and understating is an involuntary act, speaking is voluntary. And, somehow or other, the ego which is transferred is somehow bound up with the involuntary or subconscious mind.
Of course, I never thought of this at the time. Then, I merely realize that I was handicapped by the fact that I couldn’t speak the language of these fellows; that I would have to study in order to speak it, in spite of the fact that even now, I could understand everything they said.
Meanwhile, the captain was evidently trying me out on different languages, of which he apparently new not a few. He rattled off one sentence after another in what, from their tone, I could tell were the speeches of various sorts of people. The man was quite a linguist, but, of course, I could not understand a single one of the other languages he spoke. He returned at last to the original tongue in which he had first addressed me.
“Apparently he is from some distant unknown land,” he said disgustedly. He speaks none of the languages of this part of the carid*.” I don’t think he understands any languages I know.”
I seized upon the last sentence. It seemed to offer certain possibilities.
“I - - I think I understand language you know,” I said, slowly and hesitantly. I had managed to piece these words together from the ones I had heard in the last sentence. The captain looked at me in some surprise. “He talks!” he exclaimed. “If you can understand me, what are you trying to fool me for?”
“I understand,” I answered, searching for the words that might explain to him my predicament. “I understand - - I no talk.”
The captain looked perplexed, and a little irritated.
“By the beard of Zebantu, here’s ignorance or a miracle,” he swore. “He understands the language, but he can’t speak it. Yet he’s not dumb, for he does speak it after a fashion. What do you do, sailor? What is your trade?”
I reflected hurriedly. If I said I was a sailor, I might be expected to work my way to port. I had no fear of work, but the trade of a sailor was something of which my ignorance was profound. Better not dissemble, this time, I thought.
“No sailor,” I managed to piece out. The captain grinned and shrugged his shoulders.
“It makes little difference,” he said. “I’ve all the sailors on the ship that I can use anyhow. But I am shorthanded at the oars, and, by his beard, you should row your way back to port, were you a ghanvarrek*. Bring him back to the galley, men. He’ll be able to help us, I’m sure.”
He broke into a bellow of laughter, deep bass laughter that rumbled out of the enormous chest and went tumbling and rolling over the sand down to the sea. It was an infectious laugh, and the others all joined in it, and even I found myself smiling, in spite of the fact that the joke, if joke there was, was all on me.
The tall, blond fellow helped me to my feet, and I found, to my satisfaction, that I was able to walk, after a fashion. The men surrounded me, and, with the captain leading, the led me along the shore. We rounded a low hill, and there, not far away, was a long, narrow, canoe-like boat beached on the sand. And, standing off to sea, some hundred yards or so from the shore, was the ship that had brought these fellows here.
I was a galley of sorts, but no such galley as I had ever seen or heard of. It was a little over a hundred feet long; it had a high poop-deck with a cabin below, and a single mast whose square sail was now hauled to the yards. It was painted a dull blue, and what little I could see of the sail suggested that it was of a similar color, as if there had been an attempt to lower the visibility of the vessel as much as possible, by giving it the color of the sea.
As soon as we made our appearance, a cry rose up from the ship, which was immediately answered by several of my companions. We approached the long landing-boat, and two of the men climbed into it and took their place at the oars. The squat giant who was their leader sat down in a seat at the end and ordered them to place me in front of him. They did this, and the four of us were soon moving out to the ship. The rest of the group calmly waded out into the sea, clad just as they were, and proceeded to swim out to the vessel alongside of us.
When we stepped upon the vessel’s deck, (which, by the way, was a mere runway around the gunwales above the oar deck below) the captain addressed me for the first time since we had left the shore.
“I am called Hupor of Intale,” he informed me. “I am the ghanvarrek of this ship. You will take orders from me or such officers as I appoint to give them. You may have a day to acquaint yourself with the ship and to get your strength back; but at sunrise tomorrow, I expect you to take your place at the oars.
“You look none too strong for a rower, but a week or two at the oars will strengthen you. Work hard, and you’ll find me an easy master - - slacken and whine, and by the beard of Zebantu, you’ll be lucky to ever see port. Keep your eyes open and if you know naught of rowing now, see what you learn by tomorrow!”
With these curt words, he turned away, leaving me to wonder just what I ought to do next. “A galley slave!” I was thinking. “Maybe that’s not exactly my status, but it comes as close to it as anything in my old life, that I ever heard of.”
My musings were interrupted by the tall blond fellow who had held me and given me the drink, on the shore. He clapped me on the shoulder and there was a friendly twinkle in his eyes as he spoke.
“It is strange,” he said, “that you can understand us, and yet you cannot speak. But I have seen stranger things. Once I knew a man who got a blow on the head from an oar, and who couldn’t speak for seven days. Yet he could write and tell us whatever he would, in writing. Do you understand what I say?”
I nodded. I groped for words. “I understand what you say,” I said slowly. “Yet I cannot say - -” I stumbled awkwardly, unable to go farther. He grinned. “I will teach you words,” he decided, suddenly. “I will say the words and you shall repeat them after me.”
He started with himself. “I am Haliac,” he announced. “And you? Do you remember your name?”
“Chalmers,” I said. He tried to repeat it after me, but it seemed to be a little difficult for him to pronounce. After several tries, he managed to get out “Khamersis,” and this seemed as close as he could come to it. I felt it made little difference, anyhow, so “Khamersis” I became. He introduced me to the other men on the ship as that, and from then on I held that name.
But the language lesson did not end then. Haliac began to point to various things and call them by name. “Ghan,” he said, pointing to the ship, and before he even attempted to tell me what he meant, the word took meaning in my brain. “Var,” he explained, and his arm swept out over the sea, and the word was “sea” in my mind. It began to look as if this language was going to be phenomenally easy to learn, for with each word, an echo was aroused, back in my mind, and it was as if the word had merely been recalled to me out of temporary forgetfulness.
It will hardly be necessary to recall all of the incidents that occurred during the next couple of weeks. My progress in the language was, as I had expected, almost miraculous. My progress as a rower was not so fast. For several days my hands were swathed in rags, for the very first day at the oars raised a crop of blisters that broke as they grew and left my hands so sore and tender that every pull at the oars was an agony. But Hupor kept me at the oars, regardless, and even Haliac, although he sympathized with my pain, agreed that the best thing that could happen to me would be for me to get my hands toughened as soon as possible.
I wondered often what sort of a person the former wearer of my body had been. Of one thing I was definitely certain - - he had not been a rower on a galley. Yet, as time went on, I did get toughened, just as the captain and Haliac had said. And as my hands toughened, my muscles hardened, and then, of course, the work began to seem easier.
I was fortunate in one thing - - Haliac had been on an oar by himself, and had managed to get me assigned to the same oar as he, the first day. This boat had twenty oars, then to a side, and two men were supposed to handle each of the oars. They were a hard bitten, barbaric bunch, and I do not doubt that I might have had a pretty hard time of it, amongst them, had not this good-natured fellow taken such a liking to me. And during those first few days, he took much of my work from me, when the mate wasn’t looking.
There was one thing that puzzled me, about this ship. Twice or three times, during the first week, the lookout whom they kept in the crow’s nest had sighted other ships, and at once all possible means were taken to avoid contact with the distant vessel. It seemed strange to me that we should flee, the moment we sighted the other ship, and I said as much to Haliac, but for once he was noncommittal, merely saying that I would probably have it all explained to me when I could speak the language better, and knew more of the customs.
I wracked my brain over these queer actions, but I was only able to come to what I thought was rather farfetched conclusion. It seemed to me that it was possible that these fellows were outlaws, pirates, perhaps; and that they were in dangerous waters and forced to act with discretion and caution. I did not really believe this to be the truth, I merely adopted it as a probable hypothesis. How right it was, subsequent events were to show.
Hupor, the captain, was a rather kindly man in his rough way, I found, and although we men were often worked unmercifully hard, it was not he, but the exigencies of the life, that drove us. When the wind was up and in the right quarter, there was little for the carsmen to do save keep things shipshape, and then we often lay about for hours on the deck in the sunlight, gambling for small stakes, or talking or experiences on the sea and on the land, resting and soaking up energy for the next bout with the waves.
But when rowing was necessary, we rowed; and we rowed until exhaustion claimed us and we could row no more. Once we stayed at our oars for ten hours at a stretch, and no words can describe the utter agony of fatigue which I was in when at last we ceased. But those days hardened me and gave me a set of muscles that were to stand me in good stead in the days to come.
Still we sailed westward, and still we avoided every other ship. Until one morning we awoke (we had gone to sleep the night before with a brisk wind in our sails), awoke to find ourselves in a fog that made us close-haul our sails at once and lie to until it cleared.
It must have been noon before it began to break up. In a short time, a long lane had cleared between the two fogbanks on the north and the south of us, and suddenly, clear and plain, three or four hundred yards to the west of us, we spied a long sleek vessel, a vessel of low lines and sturdy appearances that was a warship, if ever I saw one.
I heard an oath from Hupor and almost simultaneously our grizzled, one-eyed coxswain Pharops, leaped to his feet with a cry of “To oars!” We dropped from the runway where we had been lounging, there was a wild scramble for a moment, as each man strove to get to his own oar as quickly as possible, and above the tumult I heard the anxious cry of the captain: “Break out arms and prepare for action!”
A moment later, he gave the command to turn and flee to the east. Old Pharops took his place at the drum, and began to beat out the cadence of our stroke. He called an order, the port rowers dipped their oars, and as we on the starboard side hauled mightily on our own oars, the ship began to turn. We were fleeing the warship within two minutes after sighting it.
But to avoid a ship several miles distant, and to escape from one which appears suddenly almost on your bow, are two different things. We did, indeed, gain some way by our quick action, we were, in fact, nearly a half mile off by the time the enemy turned, but, once turned, she rapidly bore down on us, and ere fifteen minutes had passed, it was evident that she was going to overhaul us.
There were five sailors attached to our vessel, fellows who attended to the sail and considered themselves above the rowers. These fellows and the four officers were called up on the poop-deck and arms and armor were distributed to them. When Hupor saw that the ship was surely going to be overtaken, he called out to about five of the oarsmen and armed them, too. Haliac was one of these, and for the first time since I had come upon the ship, I found that it was going to be necessary to handle our oar alone. Haliac patted my back as he left me and grinned reassuringly.
“Don’t get rattled, now,” he said, in effect. “You know what to do by now, and all you need is confidence in yourself. Just forget I’m not here and you’ll handle that oar as well as if I were with you.”
He jumped up to the runway as he spoke, precluding any chance I might have had to ask him questions. And then I was so busy holding the oar that I had no time to even think of questions.
The warship was either a far better vessel than ours or it was handled far better than our own. It bore down on us, and from where I was, I could look out of the oar port and watch its maneuvers easily. It was broadside to us when I first looked, and for awhile I was puzzled at what it was attempting to do. It could, I felt sure, have easily overhauled us, yet it seemed to be attempting to get on our tail and come up behind us.
I couldn’t imagine what advantage this maneuver would have until the ship had practically completed it. Then some vague fragment of half-forgotten Greek history leaped suddenly into my mind; and I remembered - - somewhere I had read of one vessel crashing into another and shattering the oars, coming up alongside to boar and fight hand to hand - -
From Pharops the coxswain came a sudden panic-laden cry of “All starboard rowers awa-ay!” The men about me were leaping from their; I dropped my oars and sprang up, caught a ledge of the runway and drew myself to the upper deck - - not a minute too soon.
I heard a great crackling and snapping of breaking oars, hear an agonized shriek and a cry of angry agony, and knew that not all the rowers had been as lucky as I. I heard Hupor shouting some order something about standing by to repel boarders, but his voice was almost drowned in the tumult of dozens of war-cries from the enemy vessel and stentorian shout of “Stand by to board!”
For a moment, real panic gripped me. I was unarmed and unprotected, I was on the side of the vessel where the enemy were sure to reach me, the moment they boarded. I looked about me wildly, wondering where I would be safe. Old Pharops had left his drum immediately after his last cry and was now on the poop-deck, arming himself. He turned to the oar deck now, to cry, “All ye rowers who can fight, come up here and arm yourselves!” I hesitated but a moment, and then rushed forward without about a dozen others.
We were each handed a small round shield and one of the curiously delicate axes such as the captain wore. These axes, I had learned, were called lecs*; they were a development of the ancient battle ax, in much the same way as the rapier is a development of the ancient war-sword. These people have developed a technique with these weapons, a technique as elaborate as our own dueling, and dangerous, indeed, is a lec in the hands of an expert, in spite of its delicate appearance. Incidentally, the use of the lec is almost universal, and in all the time I was in this world, I never saw use of a sword of any kind.
Bu there was little time to consider the type of weapon I was to protect myself with. I seized the lec, and especially the shield, and my main feeling was one of gratitude that I was not to be totally unprotected if I had to face one of the enemy. I balance the lec in my hand, swung it a time or two and gave it a twist to see how it acted in combat.
To my surprise, old Pharops, who was standing by me, grunted approvingly. “A clever twist, Khamersis,” he said. “Where learned ye that one?”
I made no answer. I was experiencing a feeling of surprise. With every cut through the air, a confidence was coming to me, a feeling that with this weapon I should be - - no, that I was - - a master. For some reason or another, here was another thing that my body had clung to when it exchanged masters - - the knowledge of the use of the lec.
And so, with that conviction that I could handle myself satisfactorily, I hesitated no longer. I leaped from the poop deck to the runway and hurled myself on the invading enemy.
The poop deck, as I have mentioned before, was merely the roof of a cabin, raised on the forward part of the boat. I leaped off of it and rushed along the runway to where the first of the invaders were fighting. One fellow whom I singled out was dressed, I noticed, in a suit of dark blue trimmed in red, and a glanced showed me that most of the others wore uniforms of this type, too. They seemed to be armored lightly - - helmet, breastplate and greaves being the main articles of their armor, and they fought with shields and lecs, as did we.
It seemed obvious from this that the invaders were sailors of some navy, and, more than ever, it began to look as if my lot had been cast with a shipload of outlaws. I hesitated a bit at this thought, but, a moment later, came the realization that these men were really the only friends I had in the world.
And, I reflected, it might be months that I would be castaway on this distant world while Channing awaited by return in another body. Not until he had given up all hope of seeing me again would he decide finally to utilize his machine to restore me to my rightful body. And until that time, I was marooned on this barbaric, unfriendly planet, and it behooved me, it seemed, to cling to such friends as I had found.
So I threw myself on the nearest enemy and, in little more than a minute of fight, had the satisfaction of piercing his helmet with the pointed tip of my lec. He had no more than fallen when I heard a desperate cry of “To me Khamersis!” It was Haliac’s voice, and, turning about, I saw him, on the opposite runway, striving desperately to hold off three of the uniformed invaders.
I took a couple of running steps and a huge leap, which took me clear across the open well of the oar-deck and landed me but a few paces from Haliac, on the other side. My lec flashed out as I landed, like a woodpecker’s bill. It caught one of the enemies just between the eyes, before he ever knew I was in the fight; and almost before he had started to fall, I had disengaged my weapon and turned on another of the foe.
The third one had his hands full fighting Haliac, and now that things were a little more even, I devoted my entire time to my single enemy, figuring that Haliac could certainly take care of his own opponent.
The man that I had engaged was apparently an officer of fairly high rank, for his dark blue uniform wore a huge silver globe embroidered on the chest. And he was no slough with the lec, either, as I realized after less than a moment of feinting and parrying. I beat him back a few paces at first, for he evidently had underrated my skill, and expected to have a fairly easy time with me. But when he realized that the man that face him was no ordinary ignorant seaman, but a master of the weapon he held, his defense tightened up and, indeed, he managed to put up a fairly good offensive.
It was several minutes before he began to yield. And it was not until a terrific assault of his had failed before I was able to take a step toward him. Once he took that first backward step, I knew that I was his master, for the deck was crowded and slippery, and it would be but a matter of time, I knew, until I cornered him somewhere, and then, unable to move farther, he would have to face everything I gave. And I felt confident that I could give enough to end his interest in the proceedings.
It turned out just about as I expected. My opponent had been facing me, with his back to the forward end of the ship. He retreated step by step to that part of the deck that held the little balcony which ran around the cabin. In a few minutes he stood with his back to the cabin, his face white with desperation. I knew well that I was absolute master of him, now; and he knew it, too. Another minute of lasing, flashing lec-work and the blade of my weapon suddenly came down, swift and unopposed, on his helmet, cleaving it neatly and burying itself in the bone beneath. He gave a bubbling, choked-off cry, and fell to the deck, slipped a bit and rolled over the edge to the oar-deck below.
I heard a sudden roar of cheering behind me and turned about in surprise. The balcony on which I stood was quite clear of either enemies or allies. Some twenty feet down the runways, Haliac and half a dozen others held the enemy at bay, an enemy that, apparently, had attempted little to aid their officer, for they were standing with their weapons at guard, and both sides had been watching the outcome of my personal battle.
I thought of battles of which I had read in the barbaric past of my own world, when the entire struggle often ceased, while the men of both sides gathered round tow champions and watched them fight to the death. Was it possible that that was the meaning of the attitudes of the men at this moment? I was not long left in doubt, for, seeing my opponent conquered, my friends burst into cheers as though at a signal, and hurled themselves joyously on their opponents again. Once more the battle joined.
I stood for a moment, breathing deeply, for the intense action of my bout had left me winded. I don’t suppose I stood there longer than it would take to count ten, yet that brief rest almost proved my undoing. A band of five soldiers from the warship had, unnoticed by the rest of us, retreated to their ship, hurried forward and boarded our ship again, on the poop-deck. Their intention was to rescue their officer, but they arrived too late for that, of course. Yet they undoubtedly felt that there was still time to avenge him, for now with one accord, all five of them leaped from the poop-deck and rushed at me.
I heard a cry of warning from my own comrades, and my lec and shield flew up to the guard almost involuntarily. The first fellow to reach me fell before any of his comrades could arrive to aid him. I engaged a second one, and a backward sweep of my lec caught him n the thigh before he had even a chance to face me. He was injured, but not sufficiently to put him out of the combat, so I found myself face to face with four of the enemy and with all my comrades busily engaged, a good dozen paces away.
If I have boasted some of my prowess with lec and shield, I hope I have not given you the feeling that I considered myself invulnerable. Four, I knew well, were just a little to many, even for one who had inherited such ability as mine. Yet I could see no alternative to fighting, so I backed closer to the wall, resolved to do my best as long as I could, and to go down fighting, if necessary.
I backed another step, and another - -
It suddenly dawned on me that I was backing through the door of the cabin. Someone had opened it; I felt a hand on my arm, pulling me through! I stepped back once more, the heavy oaken door slammed shut, I heard the bar fall and turned around to thank my unseen rescuer.
Standing before me in the dingy cabin, in a nimbus of blue silk garments and billowing golden hair, was the most beautiful girl that I had ever seen in my life.
Kayana of Mizmar
The reader can well imagine that I was at a loss for words, I tried to mumble some sort of thanks, but it was useless. The new found language tied up my tongue and made me stammer like a schoolboy. And, because of this lack of self-possession, I felt my face getting red and realized that this only made my appearance all the more ridiculous.
I sputtered there for a dozen seconds, while a smile crept over the lady’s face and lighted it up even more than the golden curls did. I clapped my gaping mouth shut, stood for a second gaining control of myself, and then said, “I thank you, my lady, for your timely rescue. I fear I was hard put to it, facing four enemies.”
“Indeed, I thought as much, too,” she answered with a queer stiffness. “And I have few enough protectors as it is. It would have been a foolish thing not to save one who fights so well in my behalf.”
I looked at her curiously. So I had been fighting in her behalf, and I? There was certainly more on this ship than met the eye at first glance. Or at second, either.
“I must say, in all honesty, that I didn’t know that I was fighting in your behalf, lady,” I told her, “I fought, to be frank, merely because the ship was attacked, and I saw no way of saving my own hide, save by saving the ship.”
She froze up instantly.
“If you fell so,” she said haughtily. “There is the door and there are you enemies.” She glanced out a little porthole. “The way beyond the door seems clear now. Go out and finish saving your hide.”
“It was through no fault of mine that I did not fight for you, madam,” I said, hotly. “How could I fight for one of whom I didn’t even know the existence? For two weeks, I have been on this ship, and in all that time, not one word had been said of the presence of a woman. And yet you expect that I should fight for you.”
“Two weeks?” she repeated wonderingly. “Why, then, you are - - you are the shipwrecked one of whom Hupor told me?”
I was about to answer when the door opened and Hupor, himself, walked in. He bore unmistakably the marks of battle, a dented helmet was sitting all awry on his head; a great bruise on the side of his face was rapidly blackening his eye and there was an ugly scratch nearly six inches long on his right biceps. But there was a huge grin on his face, too, and his lec was red with blood.
“We have them, lady,” the ghanvarrek announced boisterously, “We drove them back to their ship, followed them and took over.” He saw me, his eyebrows raised, the smile dropped from his face - - and instantly appeared again.
“It seems that you have met our hero, already,” he remarked. “It was of his deeds that I came to boast, but it seems that he has anticipated me.”
The girl shook her head.
“He has told me nothing of his deeds,” she answered. “Save that he performed them to save his own hide, and not to help Mizmar.”
Hupor burst into a roar of laughter, then silenced it, immediately.
“I ask pardon, radiant one,” he said humbly. “But I fear he speaks naught but the truth. This is the shipwrecked one of whom I told you. He is, I think, under some strange spell, for when we found him, he knew naught of himself, nor could he speak our language, though, strangely, he understood it. You can readily see that I couldn’t trust him much, for such a strange story might well be told by a spy. So I have kept him in ignorance of your presence, and I doubt not but that he was mightily surprised when he first beheld you.”
“And now, if he is a spy, the mischief is done, eh, master?”
Hupor shook his head. “I’ll swear not that he’s no spy, lady. Taws he who slew the ghanvarrek of the Trepsis, and so made possible our victory just now. If it is so that the spies sent against us act, may Kalsus send us a thousand more. There was little stomach left for fight in those fellows when they saw their captain slain by one who wore the garments of a common oarsman. And, by the way,” he went on, I ordered their oars taken from them, ere we set them loose. This will not only equip us again, but it will leave them at the mercy of the winds and this mist.”
While ghanvarrek had been speaking, the lady had been looking at me quizzically. “It occurs to me, Hupor,” she said when he had finished. “It occurs to me that if this man is no spy of Kalsus, if you feel sure of his loyalty, that it might be well to tell him all. The slayer of a naval captain is no mean warrior and should certainly be one of us. Why, he may be a nobleman or one of royal blood. Certainly he fights like one who had been taught by a master. A place at the oars is no place for him.”
Hupor nodded affirmatively and, taking me by the shoulder, led me toward the door. “Right glad I’ll be to make him one of us, lady,” he assured her. “We need every lec we can find, and this one is no mean weapon.”
We bowed our farewells, and Hupor led me outside and up on the poop deck. Hupor went and leaned against the rail and I followed his example. For a while we stood in silence, for I was waiting for him to speak and he seemed to be at a loss just what to say.
“It is hard to know just where to start, in speaking to a man who rests under a spell of forgetfulness,” he began. He reflected a moment then asked, “Do you remember anything of the part of the world you are in?”
I assured him that I was quite ignorant of the geography of any part of the world. “Perhaps, then, ‘twould be best to inform you of where you are. Heard you ever of the lands of Mizmar, Tindar or Phend?”
I shook my head. “The names mean nothing to me,” I said, “although I have heard them used once or twice by the men.”
“Well,” said Hupor. “This sea that we sail is the Var-Hamek, and the three lands of which I spoke surround its western end. On its northern shores, south of the great mountains, lies Phend, a land of fair-haired people, ruled over by a king called Renthapes. ON the south, the ocean is bounded by Mizmar, in the east and Tindar in the west. Most of the people of Mizmar and Tindar are dark-haired, though the ruling houses are blond, having come down from the north, many generations ago.
“Of Mizmar as I, and most of my men. And of Mizmar is the Lady Kayana, whom you met in the cabin.”
“She gave me the impression of being a very proud and very noble lady,” I said, in an effort to be gallant and at the same time show that I considered her actions just a little too proud. “I think it very strange that she should be on this ship. I doubt if you can imagine my surprise when I saw her in the cabin.”
Hupor let a smile flit across his face.
“Your amazement was no greater than mine was, when she first boarded this ship,” he told me. “For Kayana is a great lady, indeed. She is none other than uncrowned Queen of Mizmar.”
My perplexity grew greater than ever.
“It seems to me, Hupor, that I have either greatly misjudged you or there is need for much explanation. From certain things I have heard, I had gathered that you and your crew were little more than a gang of pirates.”
He chuckled. “No more we are,” he answered, frankly. “Had you told me, two months ago, that this ship would become the dwelling place of royalty, I’d have laughed in your face. But, by the beard of Zebantu, I am Mizmar-born, and I’ll be loyal to Mizmar’s house till I descend to Ephar*. “Twas thus it came about, Khamersis, that I entertain the Lady Kayana on this ship.”
He hesitated a minute, planning how he might present the story. Then he started off.
“Some three months ago, the King of Mizmar, the Lady Kayana’s father, died. It was a sudden mysterious malady, which the doctors could make nothing of, and it was rendered still more mysterious by the death, only three days after, of his most trusted adviser. The Kiphoram, the congress of nobles, was called at once, and his eldest daughter was given the throne in the absence of any sons. This was a mere formality, of course, for there was no one else to whom the throne could rightfully be offered. But, unfortunately, the Kiphoram also made a ruling, giving the vacant post of chancellor, or chief adviser, to Kalsus, the son of the dead adviser.”
I smiled and shook my head. “Very bad,” I said. “I smell something rotten already. I strongly suspect that the deaths of the king and the adviser were due to some subtle poison. Am I right?”
“By the beard of Zebantu, there are many in the city who thinks so,” swore Hupor, feelingly. “But none dared to say what they thought for Kalsus had great power and none had profited from the deaths but him. And if a man had said, ‘These deaths were murder,’ cold Kalsus might have said, ‘Are you accusing me?’ and that would have been the end of that man.”
He spat over the rail and shook his head as if in disapproval of the whole thing.
“Of course, we common people know nothing of the intricacies of intrigue among the royal one. If I had been in the Lady’s place, I’d have strung up Kalsus first, and asked questions after. But no, here was Kalsus, a parricide if there ever was one, and holding a position of power in the court of the lady whose father he had undoubtedly killed.
“And, as if that weren’t enough, it soon became evident that he was a vile traitor to his country, too. For he had taken the pay of Renthapes, the king of Phend, and had offered to make the arrangements for the marriage of the Lady to this same Renthapes and thus unite the two kingdoms under the scepter of the Phendine king!”
I whistled. “Rather a high-handed way to do things, wasn’t it?” I asked. “Wasn’t the Lady to have anything to say about it, at all?”
“Well, actually, her word is final. But you must remember here were many things, affairs of statecraft and so forth that led her to temporize before she gave her final word of denial. Yet, at the last, she refused definitely, and commanded that Kalsus send the denial to the Phendine king.
“Twas then that Kalsus showed his hand. As chancellor, he had absolute control of the army, and he used that control t rebel. In a single night, he captured Mizrend, the capital city, from the few palace guards that remained loyal to Kayana, and all but captured Kayana, too.”
“But where do you fit into all this picture, Hupor?”
“Ah, that’s just what I’m coming to. It happened that my ship was lying at the docks of Mizrend, disguised as an innocent merchantman of Tindar. Now how it came to be known to him, I know not, but there came to me Luplar, the high-priest of Zor, bringing with him one whom I thought to be a young boy, but who turned out to be our Lady, herself. And truly, this Luplar must have read my heart from afar, by some strange means, for he brought her to me, whom he knew to be a pirate, in preference to any other ghanvarrek on the docks.
“He told me who she was, and told me to take her and flee, to make sure she was not captured and to await news from him when he had prepared a place for her, in the mountains. And there, Khamersis, you have all the main details of the intrigue, as well as I know them, up to now.”
I breathed a sigh. “Had I known all this before, Hupor, I might have fought a little more bravely in the service of the Lady.”
“But I knew nothing of you, Khamersis,” he said, defensively. “You told me nothing of your prowess as a warrior. You claimed to be unable to speak our language, yet you learned it with suspicious ease. I know absolutely nothing of where you came from or what you had been. Oh, there is much to make me wonder, even now.”
I thought for a moment. This Hupor was probably as intelligent a man as I was likely to meet during my sojourn on this barbaric world. He was a leader of these men with whom I had cast my lot. And if there was any man that I might call friend, it was he. I determined to tell him the truth, and see how he took it.
So, to Hupor, standing there on the poop deck and gazing off into the still clearing fog, I told of Adrian Channing and of his transfer of my ego into this other body which I now wore. And as I spoke, I watched carefully, yet not once did I see incredulity come into his face.
“It seems a powerful magic, indeed, that the wizards of your world wield,” he said, when I had finished. “But it causes me to wonder much concerning one thing. And I wonder that you haven’t wondered it, too.”
“What’s that,” I asked, idly.
“Why, just who wore this body before you so curiously deprived him of it. Have you never thought of that?”
“I don’t suppose I have, very much. Whoever he was, he’s undoubtedly having as interesting adventure as I, back there on my own world.”
Hupor grinned a little sinisterly,” I don’t know whether I’d want to live in such a world as that or not,” he said. “But this I do know - - from this moment forth, you row no more. You are too valuable a man, with your strange wisdom and your skill with the lec. From now on, I call you brother, and from now on, you act as the Lady Kayana’s personal guard.”
He held out a hand to me and I clasped it firmly. For a moment we stood there motionless, then his eyes, looking beyond me, caught sight of something and he dropped my hand like a hot potato.
“To oars,” he bellowed. “Stand by your oars!”
At the same moment, there came a call from the watcher in the crow’s nest: “Fleet of vessels tow points off the starboard stern.”
Hupor broke into a string of incomprehensible oaths and dashed to the cabin deck, closely followed by myself. As I ran, I looked off to the rear to see what had caused all the excitement. Less than a mile away lay at least six vessels, much like the one we had recently engage, and all of them were flying the colors of the country of Mizmar!
It was obvious enough what had happened. In the fog, our ship had drawn close to the very fleet we had been trying so hard to avoid, and the ship which we had recently encountered and fought with had probably been one of the scouting cruisers on the southern end of the fleet. More than likely, the sailors of that ship had already been rescued from their carless vessel, and the entire fleet was probably looking for us by now.
During the battle, we had sailed westward, and now we were on the southwest of the fleet. I recalled the Hupor had been sailing west for the last few days, and it seemed to me that we had one advantage, at least. We had managed to sail around the fleet lying in wait for us, and were now fleeing in the direction in which our captain wanted to go.
Hupor had hurriedly run to the stern and taken his place at Pharops’ drum, and before the old odvarrek reached his position, the captain was already setting the cadence for the oars, and building it up to greater speed with every stroke. I glanced down the line of rowers and saw Haliac, muscles straining and veins standing out on his forehead like cords. Hey was trying to handle our oar alone, and was succeeding fairly well, in spite of the killing pace that Hupor was setting.
I dropped to the oar deck, made my way to him and tried to seat myself in my old place beside him.
“Nay, Khamersis,” he said. “You are a warrior, now, I hear. This is no place for you, any longer. I can handle this oar alone now.”
“Nonsense,” I snorted. “This is no time for quibbling. This is a matter of life and death. Every hand that can hold an oar is needed now, lest the Lady Kayana find herself in the hands of her enemies.”
He flashed me a look of gratitude, and moved over to allow me a place beside him. Hupor had watched me a little quizzically, as I took my seat, and had evidently overheard what I said. Now, turning over the drum to Pharops, he turned to the four sailors, who stood chatting near the mast and roared with sudden violence:
“Khamersis is right! Here’s no place for idlers now. Bear a hand on the oars there, ye bloated aristocrats.”
The four looked at him with hurt, indignant looks in their eyes, as though they had suffered the ultimate indignity. Like most skilled laborers in whatever world, they looked on it as beneath them to toil at common labor. But they did not disobey. They silently took their places at the oars which had a single rower, and from then on, the entire crew worked.
And the work of the entire crew was needed, too. The calm which had come with the fog made sails entirely useless, and the men of the Mizmaran fleet were splendidly disciplined; so it was all we could do to keep the ships from overhauling us at once. By what were almost superhuman efforts on our part, we did manage to do that. It was a trying business, though, and as the minutes changed to hours and the numbers of hours climbed from three to four and from four to five, the strain began to tell on all of us.
It was late afternoon, now. Hupor stood on the poop deck and gazed off anxiously into the west. The setting sun dazzled his eyes, and I could see him turn, ever and anon, to look back with concern at the distant ships, which hung inexorably on our tail.
“He hopes the sun may blind them,” Haliac said to me. “With the sun in their eyes, we might, with luck, escape them. Or, at least, we might get far enough away to escape under cover of darkness, later on. I fear there is little hope of that, though. There are too many of them, and they will spread out when darkness comes.”
“Has Hupor a goal in mind?” I asked.”I notice he has been sailing west ever since I came on the ship.”
Haliac gave a snorting laugh.
“If I know anything of the sea, we passed that goal hours ago,” he stated. “It was Hupor’s intention to lie to in some little known cove on the coast of Tindar, until Luplar, the high priest, could prepare a place for Kayana. But Tindar is nearly to the southeast of us now. We draw near to the Chinar-ul-Hamek, and what we’ll do then, I know not.”
“Chinar-ul-Hamek?” I said. “That’s a name I haven’t heard before. What new kind of obstacle is that, Haliac?”
He looked at me in wonder. “Surely the spell of forgetfulness that possesses you is a powerful one, Khamersis, when it even makes you forget the Chinar-Ar,” he answered. “Yet, if you truly have forgotten it, listen, friend. This sea of ours, the Var-Hamek, opens into another sea, an ocean that is as much greater than the Var-Hamek as is the Var-Hamek greater than a puddle of water. That great sea is the Var-ul-Carid, the ‘sea of the world’, and no man has ever seen the other side.
“And where the Var-Hamek empties into the Var-ul-Carid, it pours its waters through the narrow canyon of the Chinar-ul-Hamek, the gate of Hamek, and there the waters rush eternally through the pass…”
He stopped, for from the lookout had come a cry of “la-and-oh!”
“I think there will be little need to describe the Chinar-Ar,” Haliac finished. “More than likely, you will look upon it, yourself, ere, many hours pass.”
I heard Hupor swearing; there came a command from Pharops and we of the starboard side dipped oars for a moment while the ship swung to the south. Hupor shook an angry fist at the distant fleet and swore again.
“Had we but been a few hours later, I might have made this turn under cover of darkness and deceived them,” he cried to the men. As it is, I’m afraid we’ll be forced to fight before very long.
We bent wearily to the oars again, our fatigue overcome only by our desperation. And the sun sank slowly below the horizon, and night gradually came, and the constellations which seemed so strange to me came out one star at a time, and still we struggle on.
Hupor went into the cabin of Kayana and was there some time. Evidently they were discussing our predicament, and trying to decide what to do. Pharops called one of the rowers and they prepared a supper of sorts and served us as we rowed. They did it in the dark, of course, for no lights could be allowed on the ship.
At last Hupor opened the door of the cabin and called to me. Rather surprised, I relinquished the oar to Haliac and rose, making my way to the cabin. The ghanvarrek motioned me to enter and after I had done so:
“Khamersis,” he said. “I have informed the Lady Kayana of what you told me, concerning your origin. And she had agreed with me that it would be best if you had a voice in this council, for it might be that your strange wisdom would perceive a method of escape from the fleet that we cannot see. Here are the facts of our position.”
He stepped across to a table, a table beside which the Lady Kayana sat, and on which stood a small oil lamp and a great sheet of some parchment-like substance lay, on which appeared the outlines of a map.*
I had already heard enough about the countries of this part of the carid to realize that I was looking at a map of them. Very roughly, the lands seemed to resemble Spain and the northern part of Africa, with the straits of Gibraltar and the western end of the Mediterranean. What would have been Spain was labeled Phend, and what would have been the Straits was marked “Chinar-ul-Hamek.”
“Our position, at present, is here,” said Hupor, and pointed to a spot a few miles north of the Chinar. “If we continue to follow the coast, as we must, they will trap us, sooner or later. Even if they don’t, sooner or later we’ll round the coast all the way to Mizmar, and there we’ll be easily captured. The only salvation I can see is to run the gauntlet of the fleet under cover of darkness.”
“My first suggestion would be - - why not sail out into the Var-ul-carid,” I told him, after examining the map a little more carefully. Surely we could lose them in that vast ocean.”
Hupor laughed shortly.
“Truly you are a man of another world, Khamersis,” he said. “None make the attempt to sail out into the Var-ul-carid. In the first place, the current from the Var-Hamek is so great that it almost precludes hope of returning. And the tale of monsters and mysteries that inhabit that endless ocean are legion. None that have braved the horrors of that uncharted vastness have ever returned to tell of it.”
I smiled a little at this.
“Don’t you think you are worrying a little too much over the details of dangers in a spot from which no one has ever returned, Hupor. If no one has over returned, whence came the tales of the dangers?
Hupor looked at me with a peculiar look on his face. I hastened to follow up the idea that had come to me.
“I would suggest that we sail through the Chinar, and then sail to the south. We could land on the coast of Tindar, the western coast, here - -” and I placed my finger on the map, “ - - and from there we could make our way overland, to Mizmar and its coast.”
Hupor looked dubiously at Kayana. “It might be possible,” she said, slowly. “If we kept well to the south while in Tindar, we might manage it.”
I persisted in my plan.
“Once, Hupor,” I said. “There was a Sea of Darkness in my own world, even as there is, here. For generations, men feared to sail it, yet when they finally braved its imaginary horrors, they found, on its farther shores, the fairest and richest land in all the earth. And it might well be, that beyond the Chinar-Ar lies, not only safety, but fortune.”
Hupor was not entirely convinced, but Kayana settled it by saying: “I think he seeks wisdom, ghanvarrek. At least we can sail through the Chinar, and see if our pursuers follow.”
Hupor was not unwilling to have the initiative, taken from him, I could see. He shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
“It shall be as you say, lady,” he promised. “We could hardly find things worse for us in the Var-ul-Carid than they are right here and now.”
He bowed, then turned and left the cabin. I stood for a moment, awkward in the presence of the Mizmari princess, then I bowed, too, silently, and turned about to leave.
“Your attention for a moment, Khamersis,” I heard Kayana say, softly. I spun about again and bowed before her.
“Our initial meeting was none too propitious,” she began with a smile. “I fear your manners before royalty need improvement.”
I felt a wave of angry resentment begin to rise within me. I had belittle myself a couple of times before this girl simply because I had felt that when in Rome one must do as the Romans do. I had bowed and scraped to the best of my ability - - and this was the result. My manners, forsooth, needed improvement.
“I doubt not, lady, that my attempts at humility are crude. Would it interest you to know that in all my life, I never before bowed before any man or woman?”
She looked at me with a sudden added interest. “If you are of another world, as Hupor tells me you told him, you must be a great lord in that other world, Khamersis. How else could you have avoided bowing before your superiors?”
“We do not believe in servility and elaborate sycophancy in my land,” I explained. “We feel that with the right amount of sincerity and decent politeness, all that ceremony is unnecessary.”
She thought on this for a moment, then: “The idea seems all very well,” she said. “But I cannot see what advantage there would be, to be of nobility, in a land where the nobility is ignored.”
“That’s just what I’m getting at. In my home land there is no nobility to bow down to. Or rather - - one man is just as noble as another.”
She couldn’t see it, of course. She said, quite simply, “But one man is not as noble as another, no matter what you say.”
I tried to explain. She couldn’t get it through her head. At last she grew tired of my explanations and said shortly, as though ending the conversation, “Tell me one thing, Khamersis. Are you of the governing class in your land or are you of the serfs. That’s all I want to know.”
I sighed and faced her, looking in her eyes. “I am of those who choose the supreme ruler of the land, when a new one is to be chosen.” I said. “I am of those who choose the makers of the law.”
“If you are of your country’s Kiphoram, you are noble enough for me,” she said. “I have been anxious to accept you as an equal, Khamersis. And I knew, from the way you handled as lec, that you were no ordinary man. I thank you for answering my questions.”
Her intimation was plain - - the interview was over. I bowed and left her.
I think, if I had known what a stupendous work of Nature the Chinar-ul-Hamek was, I should have hesitated to suggest that we sail through it. I had expected a strait several miles across; I had expected low hills, rising slowly from the sea on either side; I had expected calm waters.
But the sight that met my eyes as we approached the straits, next morning, drove those expectations from my mind and made me wonder whether it wouldn’t have been better for me to keep my advice to myself until I had learned far more of this world than I then knew.
For the Chinar was a gap - - a vast gash cut through a single riven mountain. It was less than a quarter of a mile from one towering side to the other, and to the right and to the left of us, great cliffs thrust their way hugely into the sky; and I am ready to swear that so high were those cliffs that the ones to the right were crowned with clouds. A strong, steady current, with waves that more often than not were capped with foam, rushed out into the Var-ul-carid, and along this current our ship was swept, like a chip in a gutter, after a rainstorm.
We were not long in passing through the Gate, indeed, we were not long enough. We would all have felt better if it had been harder to leave the Var-Hamek, for then we might have felt some certitude of getting back. And there was even little cheer in the fact that the Mizmari fleet abandoned us and sailed away, sometime before we struck the Chinar. When the doughty seaman of the Mizmari navy gave up their quarry when it was almost in their hands, it even brought some uncertainties into my own mind.
But when, at last, we had run the gauntlet of those dark cliffs, and had once more found calm seas and sunlit stillness, my heart, at least, felt lighter. I said as much to Hupor.
“We are safe from Kayana’s enemies for while, now,” I told him, endeavoring to wipe the scowl from his face as he stood on the bridge. “The sea here is calm, and we will have time to do what further plans we must make after we reach Tindar. Surely it will not be difficult to sail down the coast to some deserted point and land there.”
He looked at me and his scowl deepened.
“Think you it will be so easy, Khamersis?” he asked, darkly. “Then I say that you know little of the sea, even less than it is good for a landsman to know. Look yonder.”
He pointed off to the right, and I saw a slowly rising bank of clouds, rosy and beautiful in the light of the morning sun.
“Those clouds and this rosy dawn may be wonderful and beautiful to a landsman, Khamersis, and even more beautiful may be this calm. But I tell you, to a seaman, it means foul weather ahead, and foul weather, in this uncharted sea, may mean anything.”
How right he was, became obvious before another hour had passed. Those innocent clouds of rose and pearl drew nearer and nearer; the pearl changed to purple and the purple to gray; the gray grew darker and more sinister; and at last a steady wind began to sweep us into the south. The sail was hauled up, we turned our nose into the wind, and the tired rowers took their places at the benches, ready for anything.
Even as they took their seats, the first drops of rain began to patter on the deck, and the wind increased. A moment later, a flash of lightning lighted up the clouds to the north of us and with the ensuing crash of the thunder, the storm broke upon us.
I had taken my place at the oar with Haliac. The nose of the ship was pointed into the wind, and we strove manfully to keep it that way, for in that way alone would it be possible to ride out the storm. Once let the waves strike us broadside, and we would find ourselves either swamped, or, more than likely, carried uncounted miles from our present location.
I turned my head and stole a glance at the poop deck where Hupor stood, his hands rigid on the rail, staring into the storm. He bawled on order to Pharops, an order that was cut in two by a wave that slapped him in the face. He struggled a second against the briny spray and finished his order doggedly. I bent to my oar again.
To attempt to describe the events that followed throughout that long day would be folly. Indeed, in my memory there is little but an impression of hours of weary toil in the midst of chaotic and utter confusion. The sky grew darker; the waves rose higher and higher; in short, it was a typical a storm at sea as any I could have imagined.
Our mast went, early in the day. It had been groaning and creaking ominously since the beginning of the storm and, several times, I had seen Hupor eyeing it anxiously. Presently, it cracked, and I thought it was surely going, then, but it held stanchly and evidently survived that particular attack of the wind. But I noticed the rowers kept their eyes on it from then on, and when it cracked again, some half hour later, several of them started nervously, as if to leave their oars.
And then - - with a great creaking and cracking, it began to bend, snapped suddenly, liked a tree struck with lightning, and fell, yards, sail and all, into the sea. The powers who were in the way had not been watching in vain; by the time it struck the deck, they were out of the way. Hupor bawled more orders, axes appeared, and in less than a minute the deck had been cleared and the mast was drifting off to our left.
By two o’clock, we were at the mercy of the waves, and we continued so for hours. For the first time in my life, I learned what acute seasickness was, and there were many of my companions, old mariners, who found out that they, too, were not utterly immune to that discomfort.
But, sick as we were, we had to thrust that into the back of our minds and concentrate on keeping the vessel from capsizing. We no longer made any attempt to row, but it was necessary to keep the oars out, and steady, for in this manner they acted as outriggers and helped to keep the boat right side up. And if you think it an easy job to hold and oar steady in a storm of the sort we were battling - - try it sometime, that’s all.
During all that day I wrestled at the oar with my companion, Haliac. Fortunately, neither of us was hurt by the wild bucking of our oar under the action of the sea, but there were others not so fortunate. Four men had broken ribs and one, a broken arm, by the time the sun had set. The injured ones had to leave their places, of course, and were laid on the runway between the rowers; and you can be sure their loss was keenly felt.
Hupor, throughout the day, worked like a Trojan. Not once had he spoken to me; only once had he looked at me, and then with a look of reproach that said plainly that he considered me the cause of all our troubles. Quite surely he believed that the advice I had given, in the cabin, was going to be the death of all of us. I felt guilty, for it began to look as if he was right; and I was grateful, at least, that he didn’t put his reproaches into words.
Darkness came, and the storm, if anything increased its violence. Hour after hour passed, while Pharops and Hupor struggled to keep a few little fires burning in the braziers which they set about the boat, in the hope that we might at least see each other’s faces in the Stygian darkness. It must have been about ten o’clock when there was a cry from the lookout, who, due to the loss of the mast, was stationed forward, at the prow.
“La-and-oh!” he began to cry, and altered it instantly to: “Land. Land! Breakers away! Direct on the Bow - - oh!” The last “Oh!” was a cry of panic, and was followed by such a jolting grinding crash as I hope never to experience again in my life.
The next moment, a great wave dashed over the starboard side of the vessel and swamped us completely. There was no doubt what happened. We had gone around some uncharted land forms in an unknown sea!
It was the quickness of Haliac that save my life at that moment. The entire vessel was filled with water from that immense wave, and a great hole had been out in her hull. The wave swept six of our oarsmen overboard and none of them were ever seen again.
At the very moment it struck, Haliac leaped to the runway, almost instinctively realizing that the ship was lost. He threw himself up on the deck of the runway, and by the time the wave struck us, he had a grip on my collar with one strong hand, and a grip on the rail with the other. With what help I could give him, he drew me bodily to the upper deck, and we stood there, dripping wet and shivering, trying to collect our thoughts and to comprehend just what had happened.
The scene was a bedlam of confusion. Added to the howling of the wind and the frequent peals of thunder were the cries of the men who had been wounded in the battle with the waves and the appeals of the others for orders. Pharops was crying out orders, all right, but under the constant roar of the elements, his orders had little chance to be heard. The men who heard them - - or imagined they heard them, - - tried to pass them on, and in so doing piled an Ossa of uncertainty upon a Pelion of confusion.
“The ship is sinking, Khamersis. We’ve got to abandon it!” Haliac fairly shouted the words in my ears. I looked up on the poop deck and saw dimly the form of Hupor, waving his hands about in an attempt, apparently, to say the same thing in sign language.
“The Lady Kayana!” I cried to Haliac. “She is still in the cabin. We must rescue her!”
He nodded, a rather reluctant nod, and when we started off along the narrow runway, holding on to the railing as we went, I think it was only loyalty to me that made him follow me. But follow me he did and we finally reached the balcony before the cabin door.
I paused for the briefest moment to look back at the scene in the body of the vessel. All around were men, struggling, crying to each other in various stages of panic, supporting one another and crying out to a multiplicity of gods for protection. A number had already thrown themselves into the sea, a number that was constantly being added to as more and more of the rowers realized that the ship was surely doomed.
Hupor suddenly leaped from the top of the cabin and joined us. “What do you here, Khamersis?” he began, and then, remembering my new status, “Oh, you’re to attend the Lady. Bring her forward to where the landing boat is. Come, Haliac, help me to launch the boat.”
I marveled at the sudden calmness of the man, who, but a moment before, up there on the poop deck, had been wildly shouting commands at his men as if beside himself with panic. He turned away, and Haliac followed him. I entered the cabin.
Kayana was seated on a bench at a table to one side of the room. Her face was white with fright, and she sat rigid with tenseness. Yet she sat boldly upright and even nodded royally as I bowed before her.
“We must abandon the ship, Lady Kayana,” I told her. “It is sinking, and we must leave it at once.” She nodded and rose. She certainly was playing this royalty game to the last. It seemed a little silly to me, to be dragging in all that etiquette and stuff at a time like this, but I guess if you’ve been raised to that sort of thing, it is just in times like this that you use it the most. You don’t know what else to do.
I took her hand and led her forth from the cabin. Forward, to where the others held the landing boat. As I made my way along the deck I could see that Hupor and Haliac had lowered the boat already and were striving to hold the lines that held the little boat to our rapidly sinking vessel. The ship was listing quite a bit now, and the progress we made was slow. Had we been able to run along the deck we might have made it; as it was - -
A sudden huge wave dashed the landing boat toward us, the lines Hupor and Haliac held slackened… and then the wave swept back, carrying the landing boat away and suddenly tautening those lines. Haliac’s line was torn from his hands and Hupor’s snapped suddenly, almost pulling him from the boat. The landing boat, freed from all connection with the ship, was swept away and disappeared in less than a dozen seconds.
I looked about. The ship was deserted except for Kayana and I there was little doubt as to the reason. It would probably be but a very few minutes until the last portion of the ship would be underwater. I turned to Kayana, grim with the tale I must tell her.
“We’ve got to abandon the ship,” I said. “And - - we’ve got to trust ourselves to the mercy of the waves. If we don’t get off of here at once, we’ll be dragged down with the vessel when he dives.”
The Lady Kayana looked out at the waves and shivered. She turned and looked back at the ship. “I must trust myself to you, Khamersis,” she whispered softly. “I - - I am not much of a queen at this moment, but only a very frightened girl.” She stepped toward the broken railing and stood another second looking at the sea. “You must help me, Khamersis.” she said.
I put my arm around her shoulder, tightened it and urged her forward. We leaped. As we did so, a wild thought came scampering into my mind and: “You can swim can’t you?” I cried over the roar of the sea. I heard a “yes” shouted into my ears and sighed with relief. Can you imagine how I’d have felt if she’d have answered “no”?
In the water, we made no attempt to battle the waves or to swim in the direction of the vanished boat, or, indeed, in any other direction. We let ourselves be carried at the will of the waves, devoting all our attention to keeping our heads above water. We were separated twice, and almost lost each other before we decided that it was necessary to hold on to each other with two of our arms while we paddled with the other two.
Kayana tired after an hour or two, and I was glad that the storm was beginning to break, for the waves had quieted sufficiently to allow me to support her head while she floated and thus rested a bit. My own fatigue, I tried to discount, but, now that things were quieting down, it began to represent a serious danger. Once I caught myself dozing, and jerked awake again in a panic.
At last, I really must have drifted into a peculiar light slumber for I dreamed I heard voices - - the voices of my companions of the ship. Especially I could hear the voice of Hupor - -
I could hear the voice of Hupor! I started up with a jerk. I was awake at once, and the voice continued. I set up a yell and in another moment saw the prow of the landing boat moving toward me. I thrust up a hand to shunt it away, pushed it to one side and reached for the gun whale. With my other arm still supporting Kayana, I roared to Hupor to help me into the boat. The next moment, the willing hands of Hupor and Haliac were lifting us into the boat and I was falling into the thwarts in and excess of exhaustion and resignation.
It seems almost incredible that I could have slept in the wet, tossing bottom of that smelly, little boat, yet for the several hours that we were tossed to and fro, I can remember no one of the details. The next thing I remember, Hupor was shaking my shoulder and as I raised my head gradually and looked around me, I saw that the storm had passed and that, under the dim light of the tiny moon, we were beached on a sandy spit of land, a few hundred yards from shore.
We left the boat and trod, a fatigued, bedraggled group, down the sand spit to the shore. Hupor and I made a basket seat to carry Kayana, and tired as I was, the warm arm of the Mizmari princess thrilled me to added strength.
We waded through the shallow water to the sand, and threw ourselves down under a clump of willow-like bushes beyond the tide-line. As I released the princess, she clung to my neck just a moment and looked into my eyes soberly.
“I owe you much for tonight’s deeds, Khamersis,” she whispered. “More than my life, perhaps, for I am the hope of the Vekkan dynasty, you know.”
I could find little to answer her. I realized, of course, that I was falling in love with Kayana, but I realized, too, that I could hardly hope to do anything about it. And if she was going to get serious, with me so fatigued and my powers of resistance at such an ebb, we might easily start something we couldn’t finish.
I stood up. “You owe me nothing Lady,” I said. “I had a duty to perform, and, being but a commoner, without even a name I can call my own, I performed that duty as well as I could.”
She laughed, a laugh that, if it hadn’t been so full of fatigue, would have been mischievous. “Yet it was wonderfully sweet, lying in your arms out in the sea. Perhaps this will reward you some.”
She seized me suddenly and drew my lips down to hers. For a moment, I swam in ecstasy, then she pushed me away and, her face flushed so that I could see it even in the moonlight, she bade me goodnight. I left her and joined the others, and as I turned, the last reserves of my energy waned. Every muscles crying out in agony, I threw myself on the ground and was asleep instantly.
The sun was high in the heavens when I awoke. I glanced about me and sat up, surprised at the fact that I no longer ached and hurt in every joint. Without a doubt I had slept for eight or nine hours, and the rest had done me a wonderful amount of good. A dozen yards or so away from me, Kayana lay, still sleeping, on a bed of fern and mosses that Hupor had probably made for her, after I had passed out, the night before.
Hupor himself was stooping over on the beach, not far away, discussing something with Pharops. Where this worthy had come from, I did not know at the time, but I was later to learn that he and several of the rowers had managed to reach the island, and had come upon us an hour or so before I awoke. Hupor straightened up as I approached him and called to me.
“Look here, Khamersis. What make you of this?” He pointed to the sand of the beach and I noticed a track of footprints in the sand, footprints that seemed, from the distance I was, to be the tracks of human beings.
I drew near and inspected them more closely. These footprints weren’t human after all, though the fact that there were prints of but two feet made it obvious that they were made by some sort of biped. But close observation showed that the toes were clawed, that there were but four of them, and that the innermost toe was almost like a thumb. But most sinister of all was the fact that the general outlines of the print made it plain that it was not the print of a mammal of any sort, but most plainly the print of a reptile!
My mind leaped back to my other life, to my days in college when I had inspected, in the museum, a huge slab of limestone with the tracks of a small dinosaur preserved in it. The prints looked more like the tracks of that dinosaur than anything else I had ever seen.
I raised my eyes questioningly to Hupor. “What sort of animal makes such tracks as these?” I asked.
His scowl deepened. “No such animal as I have ever seen, Khamersis,” he said. “Though when I was a lad, my mother used to frighten me with tales of the legendary Hsoli, the lizard-men whom once held men in thrall. And if those mythical creatures left footprints,” he went on, with a significant emphasis, “they might well be such footprints as these.”
I might have scoffed at his superstitions, had I not remembered that only yesterday I had done so; and had blithely suggested this flight into the Var-ul-carid which had resulted in our present plight. It came to me that, in this world or which I was so ignorant, it might be well not to scoff at superstitions until I knew what were superstitions and what were facts.
And it was well that I held my tongue, for at the very moment, a cry from one of the oarsmen (of whom six had managed to get to shore turned our attention from the footprint. He was pointing to a place beyond the tress in the background; and, looking there, we saw a strange sight.
Rising over the trees was a huge creature as big as a deer an animal with broad bat-like wings and four legs that held a rider on its back, a rider whose feet were fixed in stirrups and whose hands held reins with which he guided the creature toward us.
I was about to burst into a cheer and call to the rider when something stopped me. There was something queer about the shape of the fellow, - something a little wrong, - - he turned his head suddenly and I gasped, for either the fellow had a horrible green mask on, or - -
Hupor had gasped, too; and Pharops had ejaculated, “The Hsoli!” Then, speechless, we all stared at the apparition, while it flew nearer and nearer, coolly inspected us and, turning, flew away in the direction from which it had come.
I had gotten a good look at the rider when he was at his closest. The thing could, by no manner of means, be called even remotely human. It was a reptile, pure and simple; green, scaly and scrawny; and although the proportion of the limbs and its high forehead and forward-looking eyes gave it a curious, caricature-like resemblance to the human, that suggestion only made it all the more horrible.
And still more horrible was its obvious intelligence, for it wore a curious head-dress of leather and metal, and was armed with an ax and a shield.
Hupor watched, motionless, until the creature had disappeared once more beyond the distance trees. Then he sprang into action. He leaped among the oarsmen, waking those that were sleeping and slapping the others into action.
“Awaken, ye dolts!” he bawled. “We must get away from here! That thing has gone to bring more of its kind. It seems that in this part of the world, our grandmothers’ tales are true. Up! Come on, get up! We must be away from here before they return.”
But alas! We had little time to flee. Hupor rallied the group of seamen and awoke Kayana, and with the ghanvarrek on one side of the Lady and me on the other, we started down the beach, the others following closely after.
We hoped to find a cave or shelter of some sort where we might not be seen from the air, but we had not fled a half a mile before we saw a group of the weird riders – at least twenty - - rise above the trees at the point where the other one had disappeared, and sweep down on us.
We broke into a run, but the flight of the winged, deer-like creatures was far faster than the best speed we could make, so when we came suddenly on a huge outcropping of rock, we decided to make our stand there, and sell our lives as early as possible.
Haliac and Hupor, Pharops and myself and tow of the oarsmen carried lecs. We placed Kayana in a small fissure of the rock, and Hupor and I took our places on either side, surrounded by others. The group of reptile men flew up to us, circled a time or two as though reconnoitering, and then landed a score or more yards away. They dismounted from their strange steeds and, drawing their axes, approached us cautiously.
We stood and watched them warily for a few minutes, while they kept their distance, seeming to discuss us in a hissing undertone. Presently one of them came forward a little, holding his ax inverted, evidently as a sign of truce. He spoke in some language, evidently a human one, judging from the difficulty he had with it, but it was one that I did not understand, or did any of the others, so far as I could see. Hupor spoke up.
“We speak Mizmari,” he said. “Can you talk in that language, lizard?”
The other was, apparently, little offended by the insult implied in that last word. He changed easily into the language which Hupor had spoken.
“I speak many languages, ape, and in all of them, I demand submission from you and from your group. Will you yield or fight?”
“We’ll fight,” Hupor answered curtly.
The creature did not argue. It turned about and returned to its fellows, and no sooner had it reached them than it turned its ax in its hand and hissed a command. And the creatures came at us in a rush.
I have said, in more places than one, that I had inherited, from that mysterious previous possessor of my body, an ability to wield a lec like a master. But no sooner had I engaged with one of these creatures than I realized that I was up against a form of fighting that was utterly strange to me, and to any memory of fighting which I possessed. In the first place, the axes of the Hsoli, as Hupor called the strange creatures, were shorter and heavier than lecs; and in the next place, they had, through long centuries of using them, devised a system far different from the one I knew, and yet as complicated and as effective as the lec-fighting of the men Mizmar.
So it was that I found it hard to even hold my own, at first, and so it was that we lost several of our men before the battle was well begun. There were but six of us, and there were eighteen of them, when the ruse that conquered us was perpetrated. Six of the Hsoli withdrew from the fight, leaving twelve to engage us while they crawled around the back of the stone and, hurling themselves from the top of the rock, landed full upon us. We went down, of course, all of us at once, and in less time than it takes to tell of it, we were helpless in the hands of the lizard-men.
The Crown of Might
They trussed us up, saying nothing to us as they worked, not even attempting to answer a question or two that some of the rowers asked them. About a dozen of them than mounted their flying creatures and rose into the air, taking the other’s creatures with them too. The six that were left jerked us to our feet, and with hobbled ankles and hands tied behind us, we were driven into the trees, coming presently to a trail along which we were led.
I spoke little to my companions aw we were herded along, for I still had a guilty feeling that they blamed my hasty advice of the day before for our predicament. But after a half hour or so of silence, Hupor seemed to reach a decision, for he turned to me and said:
“Why so glum Khamersis? Do you fear what we are to meet at the end of this trail?”
“I could face it more cheerfully if I knew that my companions had forgiven me for my advice of yesterday,” I answered.
He laughed shortly.
“As to that,” he said. “If we had not taken your advice, we would most assuredly be in Kalsus’ hands by now. And I cannot imagine that he and Renthapes, the Lord of Phend, would have treated us with any more consideration than these sons of Zebantu will.”
“Which causes me to ask, Hupor - - what are these creatures who have caught us?”
“Why, they are the Hsoli, that’s all.” He looked at me, puzzled, as if anybody should know what the Hsoli were. Then he laughed once again, the same short, rueful laugh that he had before.
“I had forgotten your origin for a moment, Khamersis,” he said. “The Hsoli are a group of creatures that have long been thought mere myths, mere old wives tales designed to scare children. There is never a babe in all Mizmar, Tindar of Phend who had not pulled the covers over his head and closed his eyes in fear when his grandmother told him of the terrible lizard-men who eat up little babies.
“But no one, when he grows up really believes in them. The origin of the legend goes back to an earlier form of our religion. According to the tale, once all space belonged to Zebantu, the lord of darkness and evil. When Zor, the light-father, entered the world, his light showed these creatures. It was to combat them that he created Man, and many of our myths deal with the Great War between the Hsoli and the Children of Zor. In the end, man won, of course, and the Hsoli retreated from the world to Ephar, the underworld.
“But that was all in the old, old days, and it is believed in the Three Countries that the Hsoli are all dead now, and all but forgotten. Apparently the idea’s wrong, eh, Khamersis?”
“Wrong, indeed,” I answered, absently. I was wondering just how these strange creatures really had come to be on this world. Hupor’s story was good enough for myth and to satisfy a superstitious, barbarous people, but to one who has had the advantage of terrestrial education, it failed to satisfy. The humans with whom I had come into contact on this world were so exactly like the people of my own world that I had subconsciously presupposed an evolutionary current exactly similar to the one with which I was familiar.
But this put a new light on affairs. It dawned on me that there might be many creatures on this planet totally unlike the creatures of earth. Indeed, those deer-like flying creatures suggested that there were.
“Are those flying steeds of the Hsoli like anything you ever saw, Hupor?” I asked.
He nodded. “Wild ones are found in the mountains of northern Phend,” he replied. I have heard that the people there hunt them for their meat. But they are much smaller than these, and I never heard of anyone trying to ride them. We call them thurwani.”
Whilst we were talking, we had been led along the trail up a long hill. We reached the summit and started down the other side, and the woods began to thin out into a meadowland of a broad valley. Far away, beyond a ridge, I behold the thatched roofs of a group of houses, and it was toward these houses that the Hsoli led us. Within an hour after we started, we entered this village of the lizard-men, to be greeted by a squalling mob of the creatures, who had evidently been appraised of our arrival by the group who had flown there ahead of us.
There were vastly more males than females in the crowd, I noticed, and few young; but it seemed that the females and young made up in hideousness what they lacked in numbers, and more than made up in hissing, snarling vociferousness. They ran along beside us, such of them as could worm their way through the crowd, and it was obvious that we were a wonder such as had not been seen in many a long day. Quite clearly, we were as great a wonder to them as they were to us.
We wended our way through the village to the huge stony hill beyond. As I drew near the hill, I saw something that caused me to blink my eyes and wonder if I could trust them. I gazed again - - it was true! - - though I had doubted at first, the great stony hill was not truly a hill at all, but the cyclopean ruins of a city, a city that must have once been as great, or greater than that might work of man that stands at the mouth of the Hudson in my own World!
And to these great ruins we were led, and at their very base, a larger hut was built, a hut that was decorated elaborately and that had a number of guards at its entrance, a hut that was obviously the “palace” of the leader of the Hsoli.
Evidently our coming had already been announced, for as we drew near, a dozen or so of the creatures came out, armed and capped with their eternal headdresses of green leather and metal, and last of all came one who, without a doubt, was their leader.
I say without a doubt, for there were several things that set him apart from the others. His ax, which he wore at his belt, was of some deep red metal, and was studded with precious stones, and was clearly more of an ornament than a weapon. He was much larger than the average Hsoli, indeed he was almost seven feet tall, and fat into the bargain. And on his head he wore a cap or headdress entirely different from that of any of the others.
It was a tall cap, and heavy with red and green jewels, it was red, rather than green, like the others, and there seemed something about it that suggested that it might be a complicated machine. I surely saw a wire here and there, and right in the front were two peculiar dials.
We were led up in front of this creature and our bonds were out. Our captors stepped one to each side of us, and held our arms. For several minutes we stood there in silence while the chief looked us over. Then he spoke. He spoke in Mizmari, and he spoke to Hupor and I, apparently.
“Is that true?” he asked.
I looked at him, puzzled. “Is what true?”
He made no answer for the moment, but one of the guards moved back into the palace and returned shortly, bearing two of the helmets such as all the lizards wore. They clapped them on our heads and for another moment there was silence. Then a puzzled and half-frightened look came into the eyes of the chief and he spoke again.
“It is what might be suspected of such a low form of life,” he sneered. “You are not even susceptible to the crown of might. These caps that I put upon your heads are instruments by which all Hsoli can communicate with their chief without speech. But with humans, it seems I must use speech, as I would with the lower animals.”
He ordered the caps removed from our heads and then spoke again. “Tell me whence you come, and why you came here.”
Kayana and Hupor, toward whom he had been looking when he spoke, made no answer. I was about to speak when Kayana flashed me a negative glance and I maintained my silence. We stood there insoucinantly until we saw that the chief was beginning to lose his temper, then Hupor said languidly to Pharops, “Tell him what he wants to know.”
Pharops faced the Hsoli chief, his single eye gleaming defiantly as he said curtly and briefly, “WE are Mizmari, and we were shipwrecked during the storm of yesterday.”
“Mizmari!” the chief snapped angrily. “Since when have Mizmari been sailing into the Var-ul-carid?”
We made no answer. Certain things were beginning to be very plain to me, and I think to Hupor, too. These Hsoli may have been very powerful at one time, but that time was certainly long past. Now, there were reduced to but a remnant, a savage, ignorant remnant of their one time strength, and they skulked here on this distant island, safe only as long as their existence was not guessed by the humans who had conquered them.
And now - - they had been discovered by humans, humans who might return to tell of their discovery and to bring more humans to conquer and exterminate them. It began to look pretty bad for us, for I knew what I would have done had I been in the place of the Hsoli.
The chief was continuing his questioning of Pharops, and at Hupor’s bidding, Pharops continued to answer. After some ten minutes of questioning, he had managed to worm out of us the most of our story, at least as much as we were willing to tell. Then he spoke to us an spoke in the manner of a judge delivering a sentence.
“Children of Zor,” he said. “There has been little love lost between the Hsoli and you, since the first ape dropped from the trees and held a stone in his hand for a weapon. If it had not been that the Hsoli and already forgotten their ancient wisdom, even then, the children of the ape might never have attained their present might.
“But they did forget it, or at least most of it, and now men swarm over all the continents of the carid, while we of the Hsoli, who should own the world by right of priority, are cooped up on this tiny island. Little harm can we do the race of man at this late day - - but what little harm we can do, that will we must surely do.
“So I decree that you be imprisoned until the night of the next full moon and that when you be killed for the pleasure and sport of our populace, after which your bodies will go to provide food for myself and my soldiers.”
He gave a curt no and, without saying a word to any of his guards or to our captors, he walked back into his “palace”. Evidently the power, whatever it was, that reposed in the so-called crown of might was working, for the guards seemed to know just what to do with us. They led us into the ruins and presently we were herded into a group of cells, a huge wooden door was slammed shut, and we were left alone.
“What’s all this about this crown of might,” I asked as soon as we were alone. You never told me anything about that when you spoke of the legends of the Hsoli, Hupor.”
“Because I never heard of it,” he answered. “From the way the chief talked, he uses it to speak to his subjects in some strange way. I know nothing of it.”
He seemed to communicate directly, mind to mind,” I said. “If that’s what I think it is, that cap confers the power of telepathy. Telepathy,” I went on, using the English word because there is no word in Mizmari to correspond to it, “is the power of reading minds and of sending your own thought into another’s mind.” Have any of you ever heard of the Hsoli having such a power?”
One of the powers spoke up diffidently.
“I might know a little something that would help you,” he said hesitantly, and when Hupor roared, “Well, speak up, man!” he bowed before Kayana and said:
“My father was a great scholar, and read many books, many old and forgotten books in the library at Mizrend. Much he read of the old, old days when Zor and Zebantu fought for the possession of the earth, and in these stories he found much that he told to me. And there was mention of this so-called crown of might. Isn’t that what the Hsoli called that crown of his?”
“Aye, by the beard of Zebantu!” cried Hupor. “Now we’re getting someplace. What did your father read about this crown?”
“It was said that through it, the chief of the Hsoli governed all his people and that while he wore it, none could disobey him. Yet if the crown fell from his head fro but a single moment, while it remained off, the people were no longer Hsoli, but became mere thought less animals.”
Hupor frowned. “I like not that tale,” he said. It seems to partake too much of the dust of the bull’s tail. I never was one to take much stock in magic.”
I spoke up eagerly. An amazing theory had come to me, an idea that seemed to explain this whole mystery, and to offer an ideal chance for me to make amends for the predicament into which my advice had led us.
“Hupor,” I said. “And, you, Lady Kayana. Listen to me. Suppose that, thousands of years ago, maybe long before there were men, even, this crown of might had been invented and that for all the years since then, the common Hsoli had been controlled by their leaders by this method. It might well be that in time the common ones would become mere machines, depending utterly on their leaders for orders.
“If that were true, it would explain the legends, and it might give us a chance to escape, too, for if I could get within reach of the leader again, I might knock his crown from his head and render them all helpless.”
Hupor looked doubtful. “’Tis a farfetched idea, Khamersis,” he said. “And the more I think of the actions of the Hsoli, when they were before the king, and of the words of the king, the more I think there is truth to the tale.”
Hupor shook his head. “I’m afraid it is stretching the tale too far, Khamersis,” he said. “”Twould avail us little, even if it were so, for I doubt if we will get a chance to see the chief again.”
Kayana stepped forward and laid a hand on my arm.
“If you have no other plan to discuss, ghanvarrek,” she said to Hupor, “would it not be well to use Khamersis’ plan? After all, we cannot remain here, meekly awaiting the time of our death. And Khamersis feels that he is partly responsible for our predicament, and were that plan successful, it might restore his confidence in himself.”
Hupor grinned ruefully.
“Your word, as ever, is law, Lady,” he stated. “But I fear it will put Khamersis further into the hole in which he has placed himself.”
“If it does, we’ll be dead and won’t mind,” I reminded him.
He said no more, and for a time neither did I. I had taken a job, and it began to look as if it were a pretty steep one. Briefly, my first bit of business was to get before the Hsoli chief again. And I couldn’t seem to imagine a plan that would bring that individual within reach of me. He had definitely decided what to do with us, and, until the day of our execution came, he probably cared little what became of us, so long as we didn’t die.
So long as we didn’t die? There might be a thought there. For over an hour I sat, deep in thought, then I arose and called my friends to me.
“In the old days, in my world, there was a disease called the ‘king’s evil’,” I told them. It was called this because there was a belief that it could be cured by the touch of a king.” I smiled. “I think I am about to contract that disease.”
Haliac looked at me concernedly, but Hupor and Kayana saw the point and smiled broadly. I lay down on the floor of the dungeon and set up such a groan that it must have been heard all the way back to the chief’s house. Hupor whispered a word or two to the seamen, and immediately they all set u a wild and panic-stricken clamor.
It was sometime before it made any impression on the Hsoli, but after about fifteen minutes a guard came rushing, commanding that the turmoil cease immediately. Hupor and Haliac met him at the door, vociferous in their pleas to be taken from the call, forthwith.
“He dies!” Hupor roared. “Our companion dies, and soon we shall all be dead if we are left here with him. Take us out of here before we all perish.”
The guard stood silent for a moment, and it seemed apparent to me that he was communicating with his chief. “What is this disease that he dies of?” he asked, presently. “Is it a disease dangerous to Hsoli?”
“’Tis the king’s evil,” Hupor answered, still clamoring at the door. “’Tis the most fatal disease in all Mizmar. If you wish to have any humans left when the full moon comes, you had best let us out of here.”
Again the pause, then the guard said slowly, “You call it the king’s evil. Is that because it affects kings?”
“Le me out,” Hupor roared for answer. “While you talk, I may fell the pangs of the disease at any moment,” he pause, then answered the question. “’Tis called the king’s evil because naught can cure it save the touch from the handoff a king.”
Again the guard locked thoughtful.
“Now that is indeed strange,” he said. A moment of silence, then: “Our chief comes at once,” he said. “He wishes to see if this power lies in his hand.”
He turned away and strode off, and Hupor took the opportunity to seize my hand and wring it in a congratulatory grip. We let our clamor die down, and when we heard the chief coming, a few minutes later, we became a tense and serious group.
When he entered the cell, the men were all gathered around me, while Kayana stood in a corner of the cell and pretended to weep softly. The chief gave a sneering glance at her, then strode over, accompanied by his officers and looked down at me. My eyes were half closed, but I noticed that he had brought at least a dozen Hsoli with him, and I uttered a short prayer that my hunches (for, after all, that’s all they were) were correct.
“This man looks none too ill,” he said, shrewdly, looking at me and then turning to Hupor.
The ghanvarrek shook his head. “That is always said of the man who dies of king’s evil,” Hupor muttered in reply. “’Tis all inside, chief. Yet a single touch of your hand will restore him.
The chief looked around. He must have been reassured by the rather negligent attitudes of the men, for he stepped forward hurriedly, touched me with his cold paw, and then started to step back again.
“But I had been ready. As he stepped forward, I had tensed myself; as he touched me, I sprang; and before he could step back, I had seized the crown of might and dashed it to the floor,
Flight to Mizmar
A man might have counted five while the entire group stood there, human and Hsoli alike, frozen into a tableau. Then the humans gradually realized that the lizard-men were frozen for an entirely different reason than they were, and summoning their amazed faculties, they hurled themselves on their enemies. As they did so, the chief, realizing for the first time what had happened, gave a snarl of fury and hurled himself upon me.
I had half risen to my feet, but his assault toppled me backward again, and the next thing I knew, I was locked in his cold embrace and striving desperately to keep his hands from my throat. From the corner of my eye, I could see that the other men had closed with their enemies and that the dazed Hsoli were making little attempt to oppose them.
I saw Hupor seize an ax from the belt of one of the guards and bury it in that guard’s head with no more opposition than a child might offer to a slap in the face. For the others, the situation seemed well in hand, but for myself - -
The chief, of course, had been the intelligence which, through the crown of might, had controlled all of the Hsoli. Without his control, they were reduced to a level little higher than idiots. But the chief still possessed his own intelligence, and was a dangerous as ever.
And he was particularly dangerous to me at that particular moment. We thrashed about and rolled over the floor, now bumping into the legs of some Hsoli, now into some man. The creature’s hands were at my throat and, though I had both of his wrists in my grip, his fingers moved closer and closer to my windpipe.
I was at a distinct disadvantage in that I had to hold him as close as possible to me in order to keep him from using the sharp claws on his toes. His legs were far more agile and supple than a man’s, and his feet were armed with sharp claws which he constantly tried to get up to my stomach. I knew that he could almost disembowel me with a single blow, so it became a problem of just how close I could hold him without letting him reach my throat with his hands. And it was a problem, I’ll tell you.
I managed to get an elbow under his chin. That, incidentally, reminds me that there was another thing I had to protect myself from - - the lizard-like mouth with its long jaw of fangs. It began to look as if nature had equipped this creature with natural arms that could make it far superior to man when it came to hand to hand combat.
But presently I managed to give a quick turn and with a sudden twist, I found myself on top, the Hsoli chief underneath and my elbow still against his throat. He gave a flop or two, and I perceived another advantage. The peculiarly flat body of the reptile was ill-equipped to turn over with an opponent on it. Anyone who has ever seen a lizard or a crocodile on its back knows that it has a hard enough time turning over by itself, without having to contend with an opponent while it does it.
So, seeing this slight advantage, I pressed it - - and pressed my elbow deeper into his throat, into the bargain. After a moment of this, he seemed to be a little less enthusiastic about the fight. His movement became slower, and I had a chance to glance around to see if I might find something to aid me in my fight. Whatever fate it is that watches over me must have been on the job at that moment, for not two yards away I saw a dad Hsoli lying, with an ax still in his belt. I reached for the weapon with my free hand, but it was just out of my reach. The Hsoli chief seemed to be about to pass out, so I gave a final squeeze to his throat and leaped from him to retrieve the weapon.
The Hsoli chief had been feinting! My leap was no faster than his, - - he leaped full upon my back, and I fell across the dead Hsoli, crushed by his weight, even as my hand touched the ax. I gripped the weapon desperately, twisted violently and managed to turn. There was little room to swing the ax, I seized the nose in my right hand, and, using the blade like you would use a chisel, I hacked at the Hsoli’s neck.
Like all lecs and axes that are used as weapons in the carid, the Hsoli ax was as sharp as a razor. Before the chief could twist away I had inflicted a pretty serious would, and he was forced to leap off of me to avoid losing his head entirely. As he leaped up, with surprise and pain written on his face, I leaped after him and swung the ax at the same moment, with all my strength.
It landed, true and hard, square upon his skull. The Hsoli chief fell, twisting and flopping, his hands holding his head, from which blood and gray matter were streaming. I struck him again, but still he flopped about, and then I remembered how hard it is to kill a reptile. I turned away, confident that the blows I had dealt him were mortal and that he would soon cease his struggles.
I glanced around and saw that what had been a battle for me had been but a slaughter for my friends. They had had almost no opposition from the dazed Hsoli and they had killed them to the last one. Even as I rose to my feet, Hupor had turned from slaying his last enemy and had stridden toward me, intending to give me aid.
But it was Kayana that reached me first. She flung her hands to my shoulders and looked me over anxiously. “Are you hurt, Khamersis?” she cried. “Did he damage you any?”
“I’m not even scratched,” I answered, “though I would have suffered much for the reward that you have given me, princess.”
She flushed and dropped her arms. “You have done noble work Khamersis,” she said. “And the reward is not commensurate with what you deserve. A greater reward may be forthcoming if ever I sit upon the throne of my fathers.”
She turned and looked defiantly at Hupor, but that worthy had turned his head in the opposite direction, and was trying to smile broadly and whistle at the same time, and, of course, failing signally.
We armed ourselves with the weapons of the guards, and left the prison, walking cautiously and uncertainly, peering around every corner and wondering every moment if we would be attacked. But though we saw Hsoli here and there, they paid no attention to us; indeed, they seemed to pay attention to nothing; they moved in a sort of daze, like a man who has received a hard blow and hasn’t yet been able to assemble his faculties.
By the time we were out of the maze of ruins and into the Hsoli village again, we had grown so used to seeing the lizard-men moving about in this dazed fashion that we paid them no more heed than they were paying us. It was our intent to return to the seashore, but just before we left the town, we passed a long, low building from which came a continuous series of bleating noises, and, curious to know what this could be, Hupor and I paused long enough to glance within.
A second sufficed to show us that it was a stable of the huge thurwani, the creatures which the Hsoli used for mounts. I would have passed on, my curiosity satisfied, but Hupor suddenly pulled me back when I would have left.
“Khamersis,” he said. “These creatures fly!”
“True enough,” I answered. “But why make an issue of it? We knew that before.”
“But - - I’ve an idea. A wild one, I’ll admit, - - so wild, indeed that I’d like to have you hear it before I suggest it to any of the others. These creatures fly, as I say, and they’ll fly over water as well as land.”
He stopped, and I looked at him, puzzled. I had an idea of what he was driving at, but it seemed so farfetched that I could hardly believe that my idea was right. The ghanvarrek saw my realization of his plan in my eyes, and nodded enthusiastically.
“You’ve guessed it!” he said, astoundingly. “That’s just what I’m proposing, that we attempt to fly these creatures back to Mizmar. We have no ship; it would take weeks to make one, and by that time Kalsus could consolidate, his position and conquer Luplar and the loyal ones in the mountains. Kayana would find herself in the hands of Renthapes of Phend, and the navies of the Three Countries would be scouring the seas for a certain pirate.
“But if we can fly back to Mizmar, we might be there in a day or so. “Twould be no great distance as the thurwani flies. We might make it in a night and a day.”
I shook my head dubiously.
“I know little of these matters of geography,” I said. “But of the thurwani I can imagine much. “Twill be much more than just leaping on the creature’s back and flying off into the sunrise. If one of those creatures chose to throw you after he had risen a thousand feet or so - - well, he’d never have to do it a second time.”
“We’d have to spend some time in learning to ride them, true enough,” agreed Hupor. “But even so, I imagine we’d save much time. When I think of the kind of ship we’d have to build and the labor and time it would take to fight our way up the Chinar-Ar, I believe that anything that would get us to Mizmar would be better than that.”
I shrugged. “Let us take the creatures then, and see what can be done. Apparently these stablemen will offer no resistance.”
So Hupor gave an order and we led out nine of the winged creatures, one for each of the remaining members of our party. The Hsoli who had charge of the creatures made no effort to stop us; one of them did snarl as we walked past him, but the remainder merely looked at us in a dumb and uninterested manner. So it was that, an hour or so later, we emerged on the beach of the island with the animals safely under our control.
And here we set up our camp and set about learning what we could of the thurwani. The day ended, and we posted a watch and slept. Another day came and went. Hupor had bridled a thurwani; had ridden it around the beach, and at last had taken a short flight. He found the creature remarkably docile and tractable, and not very difficult to guide. By the time he had ridden it around the island several times, I began to agree that his plan was in no wise as absurd as it had sounded in the stables.
I undertook to take a ride myself, and found the creature a lot easier to ride than a horse. The others grew bolder, too, and after listening to a lecture by Hupor, decided to try their creatures, too. At last even Kayana was allowed to mount one of them, and after she had taken the creature around the island twice, without Hupor’s help, we agreed that we truly did have the means to take us to the mainland, and probably to Mizmar, too.
So, some three days after we had escaped, we rose early, and, with our pouches filled with food, and with the Hsoli axes for arms, we mounted our thurwani, gave the command to take off, and were soon flying into the rising sun. We rose higher and higher and at about a thousand feet, we leveled off and started for our goal.
We flew for hours over the sea. It would be pointless to tell of our flight in detail, for there simply was no detail. The sea below and the sky above were calm and clear. The thurwani were docile and easily handled. We grew more and more confident as things went on so well, and we got so that we could fly our creatures from one to another, carrying on a continuous conversation.
At last, as evening came, we saw the mainland in the distance. A short colloquy with Hupor made us decide to spend the night on the beach and to go on until next day. This we did, and as there was nothing worthy of note that happened that night, I pass it by and tell of the balance of our flight, next day.
That flight was over mountains and desert; it was far more tiring that the exhilarating sea flight of the day before, because of the desert’s heat, but it ended at last about three o’clock in the afternoon. The desert ended suddenly at the foot of a range of low hills; these low hills grew slowly into rounded mountains of a fairly respectable size, and at last Hupor turned to Kayana.
“You had better take charge, now, Lady,” he said. “From here on, Hupor must place himself in the hands of his queen.”
Kayana looked down and gave a short cry of momentary surprise and delight. “The hills of Haval!” she exclaimed. “I hadn’t been watching. Why, we are but a few miles from Luplar’s rendezvous.
“Where he doubtless watches and waits impatiently,” Hupor said.
So it was that, half an hour or so later, we rode our thurwani down into a little hidden valley where hundreds of tents and hundreds of soldiers showed clearly that a fairly respectable army had been gathered.
We landed some distance away from the camp, but the soldiers of Luplar were on their toes, and it was not a dozen seconds before we were surrounded by a couple of squads and led off to the leader. The soldiers were respectful but insistent, and it was plain that none of these particular men were acquainted with the Lady Kayana.
But when we were led up to the tent of the commander, we knew that our troubles were over, at least for the time being. For Luplar, the high priest, came forth from his tent, spied Kayana and rushed forward booming greetings. He was huge man, and an old one, but he presented a far different picture from the one that I had formed of him. I had expected an ascetic, quiet, elderly man, and the only thing that tallied with my expectations was the fact that he was old. But with his fat and his long white beard and his twinkling eyes, he presented an appearance more of a Santa Claus in armor than anything else I can suggest.
“Ul-Zor-shareeb, majesty!” he thundered, rushing forward and laying his hands in Kayana’s. “Right welcome, indeed are you; right welcome and more. We had given you up for dead, and were at all loss to know where our loyalty lay.
‘We have not been able to find your sisters and, indeed, we know not if they are even still alive. We had begun to fear that the seed of Nemar was extinct. Thank Zor we have a standard to rally round again. And now, by signs he had sent soldiers running for chairs while he spoke and, with their return he motioned us to be seated, never once ceasing his talk, “and now, sit ye down and tell me of your adventures. And tell me also of those strange creatures which we saw you ride into the valley.”
We took seats, and Kayana, sprightlier than I had ever seen her before, began to tell him of our adventures. Dinner time came and he ordered food to be brought, but all during our meal, the story kept up, for Luplar continually interrupted it with speculations and questions, and it became evident that here was a man who was not only a genius, but a practical leader of men, too. The keenness of his insight and the wideness of his knowledge made me feel that he would not have been out of place even on the earth.
He was especially interested in the thurwani, and had them brought before him, even going so far as to have a couple of our seamen fly their creatures over the valley in order to see how they responded to human commands.
“These creatures may well save all of us and end this rebellion,” the high priest said, as we were discussing the creatures that evening after supper. “I think there is something important in the fact that they can fly over the walls of the city. Of course, it would be impossible to carry any sizeable fore into Mizrend, for there are only nine of the, but…”
He halted suddenly in his speech, for there had been a shout outside of the tent, a shout that was immediately challenged by the guard. There was unintelligible reply to the guard’s challenge, and then the curtains were pulled aside and the guard entered, accompanied by another soldier.
The man was panting, perspiration was dripping from his brow and he stood looking dazedly at us for a minute before he dropped on one knee before Luplar.
“They have found us, your grace!” he croaked. “It is treason of some kind. They are pouring into the valley by way of the north pass!”
Luplar sprang from his chair, roaring.
“You’re sure they’re not men of our party?” he shouted.
“Positive! They wear the uniform of Kalsus’ own guards. You can see them plainly, from the point.”
Luplar turned to the guard.
“Get the council here, at once,” he cried. “Tell the od-helia to assemble their companies.” He turned to us. “There is no more time to talk now,” he went on. “Some traitor has led Kalsus to our hiding place and the issue is joined. There will be fighting and, I fear, in vain. Kalsus has a dozen men to our one.” He turned to Hupor and I. “I would take it kindly, Hupor, and you, Khamersis, if you would fight for us. Kayana needs every man who can wield a lec, this day.”
We left the tent and, following Luplar, wended our way toward the upper end of the valley. From afar we could hear the sound of trumpets as the men were called to their posts or to their places in their companies. Luplar was silent for some time, but presently he spoke, more as if voicing his thoughts than offering information to us.
“They outnumber us, more than four to one,” he said, gloomily. “I had not counted on treachery such as aided him to find this valley. I see little hope for us now, my friends, save to fight to the last. If we could have had a few more days, we might have affected a contact with General Stranon, and then we could have opposed them with some hope of success. As it is…”
He ended his statement with a significant shrug. For a moment or two more, he was silent, then he spoke again.
“I thought the Fates had smiled on me when Kayana arrive today,” he mused. “I looked upon it as a good omen. Yet I wish she had stayed away a day or two more. I fear his is the worst place in the world for her, right now.”
“This General Stranon,” I put in. “Has he a force sufficient to oppose Kalsus?”
“Hardly that,” Luplar answered. “But he would have enough to protect Kayana for awhile, could we but get her to him. And, in time, I might be able to stir the people to rebellion. But our position is hopeless. There is no way out of the valley. The men of Kalsus have undoubtedly blocked all the exits.”
“Have you forgotten the thurwani?” I asked. “Both you and the lady may escape on them.”
The priest’s face lighted up at once.
“The very thing!” he cried delightedly. “You have saved our Lady, Khamersis. And perhaps you have saved the country, too, and all its noble traditions. For if ever Renthapes of Phend became our king, ‘twould not be long ere Mizmar became a mere satrapy of that northern nation.”
He turned around and started back to the camp, motioning us to follow. Once there, he began to issue orders at once. A guard was dispatched to bring Pharops and Haliac and the others; a commander was appointed in Luplar’s lace with instructions to surrender rather than cause useless bloodshed, once we had left the valley, and then we, too, left the tent and started to the place where the thurwani were stabled.
We walked down the trail, through a group of tents and off into a thicket. We walked in darkness, for night had come on and we dared no not use a light, with our enemies somewhere in the valley, seeking us. We came upon a group suddenly, we heard a muttered challenge, but it only turned out to be Pharops and Haliac and their companions. Together, we all continued our way, and came at last to the place where the beasts were tethered.
“There is need for speed,” Luplar told us when we were gathered together at the picket line. “I would be glad indeed to wait for morning, before taking our lady up into the sky. But there is no telling when Kalsus will strike, and he might seize this place before we could make use of the animals. So, if I might advise you, Lady Kayana, I would say, go even now.”
Kayana turned to me. Luplar’s advice is good, is it not, Khamersis, my friend?”
I shrugged, a bit fatalistically, I fear. “We have almost no choice, Kayana,” I answered. Kalsus has us surrounded, I understand. He will certainly take us tomorrow…”
“Nay, he will take you tonight!”
A voice had come astonishingly out of the shadows behind us, a sardonic, chuckling voice that was accompanied at once by the forms of a dozen or more of Kalsus’ soldiers. My hand flew to my lec, but with a sudden rush, several of the soldiers seized the form of the princess and, lecs held high, threatened her.
“Don’t be such a fool as to attempt to fight,” warned the officer who appeared to be in charge. “This place was taken hours ago and you are well surrounded. It was only by a trick that you were permitted to come as far as you have.”
He laughed again and commanded his men to disarm us. My arm was itching to bury my lec in his ugly face, but the two soldiers still threatened Kayana, and I saw in her eyes an appeal to desist. So I meekly let myself be disarmed, as did Hupor and Haliac and all the others.
Hupor, I think, took our capture in worse manner than any of us. He hesitated when one of the soldiers held his hand out for his lec, and I really think he considered the advisability of seizing the weapon and dying, right there, in a fight. But Kayana murmured: “Remember, ghanvarrek, I will need ever man before this is through.” So he reluctantly handed over his weapon and we all stood disarmed, prisoners of our enemies.
I would like to skip over, as quickly as possible, the events of the next few days. We were taken to the enemy camp and lodged in a big tent - - that is, the men were. Kayana was taken at once to Mizrend, or so we were told, to be interviewed by Kalsus. Kalsus, apparently, was not with the troops who were fighting for him, here in the mountains.
At the evening of the next day, word came that Luplar’s men, leaderless had scattered into the hills and that many of them had escaped capture. Yet, all resistance was over, and so Kalsus’ victorious army began its march back to Mizrend, taking us as prisoners with it. With a sarcastic insolence that reminded me of certain nations of my own world, Kalsus had charged us with treason to Mizmar and to Mizmar’s queen!
We entered the city of Mizrend on the afternoon of the third day after we had been captured. The city was typical barbaric town to my earthly eyes, with great walls surrounding it and a palace and a temple that outshone all the other buildings within the walls. The home of the common people were rather simple huts or, at the most, cottages of sundried bricks of mud; and there seemed to be as many of these outside the walls as within. The inhabitants, as always, seemed to be on the side of the winner, and cheered themselves hoarse as Kalsus’ army rode through the streets with us a their prisoners.
We were taken to the palace, but there was little honor in the fact, for, in spite of the fact that political prisoners were usually treated with some consideration, the embittered Kalsus ignore the usual rules of the game and cast us into a large dungeon in the lower part of the building.
The place was naked of furniture except for a half dozen or so of cots, and it as plain that several of us were going to have to sleep on the floor. I glanced about at our group and found that it consisted of Luplar, Hupor and I, Pharops and Haliac and two of the original seamen of Hupor’s crew two rowers called Bran and Conoc. I caught Hupor’s eye - - he had seen me looking over the sadly depleted numbers of our group - - and he shook his head sadly. “It will really be a miracle if we ever get out of the predicament we’re now in,” he said with a grim half-smile.
For over an hour, we sat, reproaching ourselves for getting into the fix in which we found ourselves and thrashing over absurd plans for getting out of it. At last, after we had been allowed a rather frugal supper, Haliac came to me and, drawing me aside, said, hesitantly:
“Khamersis, I have ever been a poor man and a follower, and when a chance came to know luxury and wealth, I took it and have since selfishly kept it to myself. I had hoped that Kayana might win back her throne and reward you and my other friends fittingly, so that I might, with a free conscience, keep what I have for my own. But now…”
He hesitated awkwardly. “What in the world are you driving at?” I asked.
He reached into his sweater, fished around as if pulling something out of his belt, saying as he did so, “Khamersis, I had hoped, as I said, to gain wealth from the sale of this. But perhaps it will ransom us from this prison, and if it does, Haliac will consider his fortune well-spent.”
He had drawn the object forth by this time. I saw something of leather and wire, something with red and blue jewels sewed into it, vaguely familiar - -
“The crown of might!” I ejaculated, suddenly recognizing the article.
Haliac grinned with pleasure.
“I picked it up as soon as you knocked it off the Hsoli’s head,” he said, chuckling. “I wonder that there wasn’t a general rush for it. Strange indeed it was that the wonder and fear of the lizard-men should make so many of Hupor’s pirates forget all their training.”
He handed me the crown, continuing as he did so, “Surely, Khamersis, that crown ought to purchase the freedom of several of us, and thus give us all a chance.”
I took the headgear and looked at it curiously. It was indeed a strange article, and it took little examination to make me realize that here was an intricate instrument made by a weird science that may have been, nay, probably had been, greater than the science of my own world.
The complexity of the wiring and the curious arrangement of those wires around the jewels, which, I now began to suspect, were not jewels at all, but some sort of vacuum tubes, made me feel that the thing as not unlike a radio. But, although I am not altogether ignorant of radio, I could make nothing of the thing.
Idly, I shook out the folds of the cloth and slipped the thing on my head. It hung down low, for the head of the Hsoli chief had been bigger than mine. I felt for the two dials that were set in the cap over my eyes and turned the a little - -
The dim scene in the prison cell was wiped out in a blaze of light! Sharp and clear before me, so sharp and clear indeed that I involuntarily cried out as the light struck my eyes, was a scene of a tropical valley. I was looking at the valley in which the town of the Hsoli lay, and, if I was not mistaken, I was looking at it through Hsoli eyes.
At my cry, Haliac had stepped forward concernedly, and when he saw me staring wildly at some vision which was, of course, totally invisible to him, he became frightened and tore the crown from my head and hurled it to the floor. I stared about dazedly for a second or two and then laughed, a little uncertainly.
Haliac shook his head. “I saw nothing strange except your actions, Khamersis,” he told me. “You looked as if you were bewitched or were seeing a ghost.”
“I was seeing something mighty strange,” said I. “I had a vision of the isle of the Hsoli, and I could see the streets of the village as plainly as I see you. Far plainer…” I amended, as I thought of the brilliance of the scene which I had witnessed.
Haliac looked at the crown with a sort of disgust. “Perhaps we could at least cut off the jewels and trade them for our freedom,” he suggested.
“I don’t think they’re even jewels,” I said dishearteningly. “I’m afraid the crown ill prove to have but little money value, Haliac, my friend.”
He looked disappointed, but just then an idea came to me, a puzzling, incredible idea that almost stunned me in its magnitude. I stooped over and picked up the crown of might and clapped it on my head. Haliac looked anxious and started to object, but I waved him away and fitted the cap to my brow.
No sooner was it well down on my temples than the vision of the island returned. I could hear Haliac’s voice, but any sight of him or of the prison cell was gone entirely.
“What has come over you, Khamersis?” my companion was crying anxiously. “You are staring again, as though you were seeing some vision of enchantment.” I waved a silencing arm in the general direction from which his voice seemed to come. “Be quiet,” I said. “I am seeing a vision, a vision of the isle of the Hsoli, and of the people of that island.”
“You mean you can see them, just as if you were there?”
“That’s right, Haliac. And if I can see them for the reason that I think, perhaps I have a plan that will save us all.”
As I spoke I had been looking about me, and now, some little distance away, I saw one of the Hsoli whom I thought I recognized as being one of those guards who had led us through the forest when we were first captured. I decided that he was good a one as any to try my experiment on; so I mentally sent a command to him to draw nearer so that I might look him over a little more carefully.
The fellow had been seated by a rotting log, dully tearing it apart with his strong claws. He was quite evidently searching for insects and grubs, apparently without enough intelligence to search for any better food. But at my command, his head raised, he leaped to his feet, saluted, and I hear a joyous mental cry of “Hail, Master!” And instantly he came forward and stood directly before my field of vision.
I tore the cap from my head and whooped with joy. The experiment had worked. I had given a command to Hsoli, and he had obeyed. Yes, in spite of the fact that several hundred miles of desert, sea and mountain intervened, the Hsoli had obeyed my bidding, and gladly. I whooped again.
Haliac was watching me, anxiously. Luplar and Hupor and the others, attracted by my strange actions, crowded around me. It looked as if they were uncertain as to whether I was responsible for my actions or not, so I hastened to reassure them.
“The wearer of the crown of might is still the master of the Hsoli,” I shouted joyously. And what we have done once, we can do again. And what we have done once, we can do again. And what is Kalsus going to say, when an army of hundreds of Hsoli sweep down on him from the sky, mounted on their thurwani?”
The Battle of Mizrend
It was hours later. I was seated stiffly on one of our cots, and I suppose anyone looking at me might have thought I was in some weird sort of trance. Hupor sat on one side of me and Haliac on the other, and Pharops and Luplar, with the seamen, paced anxiously about the cell, waiting an occasional word I gave them the results of my commands to the Hsoli.
I had been directing the lives of these lizard-men for nearly eight hours. They obeyed me so implicitly and so eagerly in everything that already I was beginning to feel that these creatures were but tools in my hands, indeed it was hard to keep from thinking of them as extensions of my very body.
They had assembled in the village square; they had brought out all of their many thurwani; with joyous squawks of happiness they had mounted the creatures and taken to the air. According to reports which came to me mentally from certain of them, I was aware that there was a little over twelve hundred of them in the group which finally took off from the island. Among this group, I was surprised to find a large number of females, in fact, it seemed that there was little distinction made between the sexes when it came to fighting or working.
Haliac coughed apologetically, beside me. “Have you sighted land yet, Khamersis?” he asked.
“Not yet,” I answered, a bit testily. Already, he and Hupor had asked this question at least a half a dozen times. “I’ll tell you when I see it. It oughtn’t to be long now.”
Even as I spoke, my straining eyes - - strange to think that those eyes which strained were not my eyes - - my straining eyes beheld a dark line on the horizon and knew that at last the Hsoli were approaching the continent.
“There’s the land at last,” I cried, and I heard a stifled cheer from my comrades. Mentally, I gave the command to the Hsoli to ride to that land and to alight on the beach and spend the night there. Then, with a fatigue that seemed strange when you reflect that all I had done all day was to sit in my cell and give commands, I tore off the crown of might and stretched out on a bunk to rest.
It was but a short time later that one of the jailor’s helpers entered with our food. This fellow had fed us before and we had found him a genial sort of a chap, though none too bright. He had seemed willing enough to talk, and had even vouchsafed some information as to what was going on outside. So now we deluged him with questions as to the latest reports on the progress of events. And, of course, Luplar and Hupor and I were most interested in the whereabouts and the condition of Kayana.
“What new of the outside this time, Letho?” Luplar asked the question in a sort of wheedling manner that he had already found to be most effective when talking to the fellow. “Has the rebellion been broken entirely, since our capture?”
Letho chuckled. “They say General Stranon still carries on a guerilla campaign in the south,” he replied. “But he fights no more for Kayana, of course, but only to save his own neck. Since the Lady Kayana returned to Mizrend, there is no more stomach for fight among your rebel friends.”
“And Kalsus?” Luplar pursued with a faint smile. “Has he gone south to break Stranon’s resistance?”
Letho scowled. “Kalsus remains in Mizrend. He has sent another to fight Stranon.”
Luplar laughed. “He sent another to fight me, too, didn’t he? I fear you master is somewhat of a coward, Letho.”
Letho shrugged. “Coward or no, the Kiphoram has appointed him chancellor,” he said, “and as such I must serve him. But I long for the days when Kayana’s father ruled and a man was at the head of the state. One might know what would transpire from day to day, then.”
He sighed. Luplar gave us a knowing glance and pursued his interrogations. What excuse does Kalsus give, that he must stay in the city when an enemy is opposing him in the south?” he asked.
“Oh, his excuse is good enough. He says that Renthapes of Phend has left his homeland and is on his way to Mizrend to wed the Lady Kayana, and to untie the two countries. And he must be in Mizrend when he arrives, to welcome him properly.”
Hupor whistled. Haliac and the seamen turned suddenly and gave their attention to the conversation. Luplar looked more concerned than I had seen him look since our capture. He pressed Letho for further details.
“Kalsus has made the announcement to the people that the plans were for the Lord of Phend to leave Trecarnis a month or so ago, and to arrive in his vessel shortly. He has assured the people that as soon as the Phendine king has married Kayana, that a man will be at the head of the state, and that a stable government will follow at once.”
“And how do the people take this announcement, Letho? Do they so easily forget the glorious Vekkan dynasty, and all that it has done for them?”
Letho looked at him a little oddly. He glanced at the door and out into the hall, to make sure that no outsiders might hear his answer.
“They submit, outwardly, at least,” he answered. “But there are many who only await a leader to break out in rebellion, I think. Now that the Lady’s army is defeated, they know that the one hope of a settlement without their participation is ended. And I think it would take little now to persuade the people to rise up, themselves.” He shook his head. “This is treason, I know, but it may be called patriotism in a few weeks.”
Luplar gave him a hearty slap on the back.
“Thank you, Letho. Get you out of here, now. And if ever the Lady Kayana regains her right, you will not be forgotten.”
Letho’s serious look broke into a grin and he bowed before the priest and left the cell.
Hupor and I at once went into a session with Luplar. For an hour we planned and talked concerning the method of attach which would be most efficacious on the morrow. We discussed also Renthapes of Phend and what his coming might do to us. Was he bringing a fleet, or transports of soldiers, or was he coming alone, trusting to Kalsus and his treason to turn the country over to him when he arrived?
It was late when we finally turned in, yet I had some little trouble getting to sleep, for my mind insisted on dwelling on the morrow and in wondering what that morrow would bring.
Nest morning we were up with the sun. I at once donned the crown of might, woke the Hsoli, and spent a valuable half hour experimenting with the miraculous a crown. I found the dials on the front had something to do with the individual through which the impulses were sent, in fact, I found that I might look through the eyes of anyone of the individual Hsoli by a proper adjustment of those dials. I also found that I had far more control of the individual to whom my mind was adjusted than any other.
Having found out these facts, and being unable to learn anything else at that time, I directed the Hsoli to mount and take off in the direction of Mizrend. Then I sat down to await their arrival.
They arrived at about one o’clock. It was a most propitious hour. The Mizmari, like many Latin peoples in our world, had the habit of enjoying a siesta immediately after lunch, and it was just about the time that the siesta had started when the lizard-men swooped down upon the city.
I had been looking out the window, with the cap on my head, but not adjusted to connect me with the creatures, when I saw a tiny black spot rise over the hills far beyond the city. I called the attention of both Hupor and Luplar to it, but it was the keen-eyed ghanvarrek that assured me it really was the first of the Hsoli. And, in a moment, the appearance of first one, and then a dozen and at last hundreds of the specks made me sure that he was right.
I hastened to connect the cap and, in thought at least to take my place among the flying monsters. So natural was my seeming translation from the cell to the back of the distant thurwani that I forgot, almost at once, the fact that I was incarcerated; and so, acting as leader of the attacking creatures, I sent them in a great series of nosedives directly down on the two most important portions of the city - - the marketplace and the palace.
What I have called the palace of Mizrend must not be confused with a medieval castle, by any means. Like the great palace of Knossos, in Crete, or like the old Forbidden City of Peiping, it was a whole series of structures, of one, two or three stories, surrounded by or built into a wall of enormous size and strength which completely enclosed it.
There were barracks at one side, where thousands of soldiers could be, and were, housed; there were the dwellings of the nobles, who, although they had villas and castles of their own in various parts of the kingdom, felt that it was necessary to have a resident at the capital, too. And there were the royal apartments and a number of such important buildings as the astrological observatory and the state library.
This “palace” then, as may be seen, was the real heart of the city of Mizrend. And so it was toward this heart that I directed my greatest attack, not only because it was the center of the city, but because Kalsus was there - - and also Kayana.
To picture the confusion that ensued, I can only offer a parallel in our own world. Imagine a sudden assault on the capital city of one of the countries of our world by an army of horned and hoofed red devils, devils straight out of the engravings of Durer! The attack on Mizrend by the believed-to-be imaginary Hsoli, who for centuries had been as legendary and as absent from reality as our own monsters of evil, took the fight out of the average Mizmari before he even had a chance to arm himself.
But the nobles of the Kiphoram, and the soldiers who obeyed them, were not made of the same pale stuff as the merchants and the artisans. As the monsters swarmed down on the palace I could see through Hsoli eyes that there was going to be a stiff resistance. At least, it was going to be stiffer than I had expected, and, remember, there were far more men ready to fight for Kalsus than there were Hsoli to fight for me. From the first, I had depended on fright to fight most of my battle for me.
To be frank, this attempt at defense left me a little nonplussed. “They’re going to fight us if they can,” I whispered to Luplar, who, though he was invisible to my Hsoli attentive eyes, was, I knew, sitting beside me in the cell. “I wish I could think of some way to avoid a man-to-man conflict.”
“Why not give a war-cry for Kayana,” he suggested. “That ought to raise a little uncertainty among them.”
“The very thing,” I cried, and from a hundred Hsoli throats rose u the cry: “For Kayana, and death to Kalsus the Coward!”
Below the circling Hsoli, the soldiers were pouring from their barracks, buckling on their armor as they came and swinging their lecs. I could see their od-helia attempting to form them into companies and I could see the nobles hurrying from their side of the palace to take command of them. Again and again I had the Hsoli repeat the war-cry, and presently I knew that it was beginning to have effect.
I held off the lizard-men, commanding that they circle the palace again and again at a height of about forty feet. I kept a sharp eye on the soldiers and continued my propaganda, abetted by Luplar. The high priest, of course, was really the final authority, if not on the Hsoli, at least on what the legends said, concerning them, and he instructed me on just what to say and how to say it.
The result was that before very long the people began to get the general idea that Kalsus was so evil that Zebantu had sent the Hsoli to carry him off without even waiting for him to die. And that if they didn’t want to be carried off with him, it behooved them to get right with Zor, Luplar, Kayana and Company.
And the, fighting began in the palace. A whole troop of soldiers suddenly declared against Kalsus, and started fighting their way to the gateway in an attempt to get out into the city where they might join the people. They beat their way to the gate, aided by constantly growing number of sympathizers. When they finally reached the gate, they had to fight a while to win it away from its defenders, but when they did, they found, without, a roaring mob of the populace, armed with whatever they might happen to have, and all shouting demands that Kalsus deliver Kayana and resign the Chancellorship.
I gave an order to the Hsoli to continue the threatening circling of the palace and took off the crown for a moment to look around the cell and smile happily. “It’s only a matter of time,” I said. More and more of the people and the soldiers are coming over to our side. Kalsus will surely be in flight before night.”
Luplar was about to make some comment when the cell door opened and Letho walked in. He was grinning and he had a heavy, old-fashioned lec in his hand.
“No need to dissemble any more, now,” he said. “All the city is taking sides and every man can fight today with whom he wishes, I’m off to fight for Kayana and the house Vekka. And I’m leaving the door open behind me.”
He winked at us and walked out. At a nod from Hupor, Haliac and the seamen hurried out after him and we saw them no more that day. Luplar, Hupor and I hesitated a moment or two before following. “It might be best,” I said, “to lead the hordes of the Hsoli personally. Do you think you can ride a thurban, Luplar?”
The priest’s eyes twinkled. “What was learned so easily by the Lady Kayana should not be too difficult for me. Lead on, Khamersis. This seems to be your day of days, and where Zor leads, ‘twere well for his priest to follow.”
We hurried out of the dungeon, therefore, and, adjusting the crown of might, I commanded three of the Hsoli to alight nearby. A short while later, their mounts arose into the air with we three humans on their backs.
We rose high enough to get a general view of the city, and then, turning our mounts lower, we studied the numerous little battles that were taking place in various part of the town and the palace. The results of this reconnaissance was that I was able to direct Hsoli detachments to any place where the battle seemed to be going against Kayana’s supporters, thus aiding in breaking down the resistance everywhere.
It was after we had been in the air for about two hours that the keen eyes of Hupor pointed out a company of soldiers leaving the palace by the western gate. There were several dozen of them, in exceptionally ornate uniforms, and in the center of their group, there was an elaborate sedan chair, covered with curtains and carried on the soldiers of four servants.
“If I am not deceived,” the ghanvarrek said, “we will find the source of all our troubles in that group. By the beard of Zebantu, Kalsus the coward is leaving his own men to flee.”
With a consort of some two dozen Hsoli, we swooped down in front of the group and challenged them. The soldiers were almost green with fear when they saw the Hsoli, but they swung their lecs and started to fight bravely for the nobles they had chosen for their masters. Hupor? Luplar and I left the men fighting with the monsters and, rising on our thurwani, we swept over their heads, and came down, lecs swinging, among the group of noblemen around the sedan.
The battle was brief and uneventful; had it been any briefer I should have been forced to call it a massacre. We knew, however, that now was no time to soften in the face of our enemies, and so we sternly annihilated the last of the fighters around the vehicle. Yet even as we fought them, Luplar found time to cry: “I see not Kalsus, Khamersis. Is it possible he is not among them?”
“He’s in the sedan, of course,” I answered, and even as I spoke, I leaped from my mount and advanced on the vehicle grimly. I was thoroughly decided that this villain must be put where he could do no more damage to anyone. Though I had never yet come face to face with him, yet he had caused so much trouble and sorrow to all who had befriended me, that I looked upon him as the greatest of my enemies. And now he was virtually in my hands. I tore the curtains from the sedan and called to him to come out.
There was a whimpering cry of “Save me, Lady, save me!” Within the sedan was - - Kayana, of all people. And crouching behind her, with a silk robe to hide his face, was the arch-villain, Kalsus.
I was surprised, indeed, to see Kayana here, but a moment’s thought made me realize that Kalsus would certainly have taken her with him as a hostage. Giving but a second’s consideration to this thought, I turned my mind to more important things, and, reaching into the sedan, I jerked the coward cut.
He gave a cry of fear as he felt my hands touch him, but disregarding his pleas and cries, I hauled him forth and stood him on the ground before me. As I did so, Luplar and Hupor strode up, their lecs bloody and their features grim.
Kalsus’ face was hidden in his hands, but I tore them away and made him face me. My intent was to give him a lec to defend himself with, and then to slay him right there, but I was halted in my plans by the look of astonishment that covered his face when he saw me for the first time.
“You!” he cried, woefully. “You, Lord?” Oh, what has Kalsus done - - what has Kalsus done, that you should treat him like this? Have I not served you faithfully? Hasn’t your word been my law for years? Why have you turned against your servant, Lord?”
I wondered what in the world he was driving at. I hesitated and turned to Luplar and Hupor. They had peculiar looks on their faces, and were staring at me most strangely.
Kalsus went on: “When did you arrive, Lord, and why didn’t you let me know? The last report I heard was when you set sail for Mizrend.”
I looked about me, growing more and more confused every second. The strange looks on the faces of my friends were changing to looks of anger. I looked at Kayana and she turned her head, refusing to meet my gaze.
“Look here!” I cried angrily. “What’s this all about? Who are you intimating I am, Kalsus?”
Kalsus looked hurt. “There is no doubt who you are, Lord. I have seen you too many times to be in doubt. You are the Lord of Accala, King-Emperor of Trecarnis and Protector of the Isles, Renthapes of Phend!”
Climax and Anticlimax
Of all the amazing events that occurred to me during my sojourn in that world of amazing events, this one was certainly the one that astounded me the most.
For a second or two, the only emotion I felt was one of anger at effrontery of Kalsus in manufacturing such a lie. Then came the realization that the statement might not be a lie, that there was a possibility that I really might be Renthapes of Phend. Had not my fighting been that of a carefully taught noble? And had not the very fact that I had first discovered myself as a castaway been evidence that I had been making some kind of a sea trip when I was shipwrecked?
When I realized that the chances that this body which I inhabited really might be that of the Phendine king, Renthapes, I was almost dazed at the implications that arose. Hupor, Luplar and Kayana were still looking at me with anger and interrogation on their faces, and I realized that I would have to do some tall talking to convince them that I had not been fully conscious of my identity all along, or, indeed, that I had not assumed the false identity of “Khamersis” merely to lead them to destruction.
So I held up my hands and begged them not to judge me until they heard me out. I began to tell my story, the same story I had told to Hupor, that night upon the ship; but I told it with more detail this time, and paused often to call their attention to some incident that seemed to me to offer some proof that the mind that controlled this body was really not that of the Phendine king. When I had finished, Kayana came forward and laid her hands on my shoulders, looking into my eyes and saying; “I believed you, Khamersis. Your story sounds true enough for me.”
Of course, when she said this, Hupor and Luplar were forced to accept me too, but they kept asking me questions, just the same, and I could see, from the shrewdness of the questions that they had not yet accepted me, down in their hearts. But at last, during my description of the world from which I had came, I saw belief begin to dawn in their eyes. I think they were convinced that no man of the Three Countries could possibly conceive in his imagination the wonders that I told them of.
So, once again in my comrades’ good graces, we rounded up what prisoners we had taken, and, with Kalsus among them, we started back to the city on foot. The fighting had ended when we got there, and every here the troops who had rebelled and spoken for Kayana were successful. When they saw us coming, from the gateway, the news spread rapidly through the town and a great spontaneous celebration began. Troops fell in behind us, hands of curious musical instruments united and joined the troops and through crowds of milling thousands, all cheering themselves hoarse, we made our way to the palace and to the particular part of the palace that was reserved for the royal family.
I was assigned a suite of rooms and a staff of servants by a spluttering officious majordomo who suddenly arrived from nowhere and took charge of the ordering of the palace; my friends bade me goodbye and departed to apartments that, by order of Kayana, were assigned to them; and for the first time since my arrival on this world, I found myself alone and supplied with comforts. I sank down on a couch and strove to meditate on my peculiar position and to wonder what I ought to do about it.
Through I had little time or excuse to tell her, I realized that I was in love with Kayana. And I was not unaware that she also held some affection for me. Yet, if I were Renthapes of Phend, the possibility of the proud daughter of the Vekkas marring a Phendine king was rather small. And if I were not Renthapes - - why then I was a commoner and couldn’t marry her anyhow.
Also - - if I were Renthapes of Phend, toward who did my duty lay? Phend, the country of my body, or Mizmar, the country, I might say, of my adoption? For surely all my sympathies, since arriving on this world, as with the southern country.
I lay for several hours trying to solve the mystery, but the closest I had gotten by suppertime was a decision to allow events to shape themselves and to abide by the decision of my friends and the soon-to-be queen of Mizmar.
The next few days were busy ones, but the events would not add to this narrative, for they consisted mostly in cleaning up after the battle. I held an inspection of the Hsoli in the public square to show the people that the creatures were in the hands of their friends, and then ordered the lizard-men to fly back to their island. I retained the crown of might, with the intention of using it now and then to keep the Hsoli fit and in good health, so that they might be available if I ever needed them again.
Luplar doffed his armor and appeared once more in his sacerdotal robes, but, to me, the change was an odd one. In spite of the dignity and calm of the priestly robes, I could not help but see, beneath them, the twinkling-eyed warrior whom I had first met in the hills. And Hupor - - Kayana, I heard, had offered him a high position in the navy of Mizmar, but he had turned it down, asking only that she give him a vessel that he might call his own, and allow him a week to leave the port. He had many conversations with Haliac and Pharops, and there was no doubt in my mind that he intended to return, as soon as the opportunity offered, to his old trade.
As for myself, a conversation with Kayana showed me that she had made up her mind all about me. I was abandon all claim to the throne that this body I wore had formerly sat on; I was to forget entirely that I had any connection with Renthapes or Phend or any foreign nation. In return, she would give me the lands and titles that had been taken from Kalsus, and, as a noble of the kingdom, I might, some day, claim a place beside her, as her consort.
Frankly, this didn’t appeal to my masculinity a bit. I told her as much, leaning over her she sat on her chair of state in the big room where she had given me the honor of a private conference.
“I don’t know a whole lot about the customs of this world,” I told her. “But it seems as if you are having entirely too much to do about his romance. After all, a man likes to have something to say about his own courtship and marriage. And if someone is going to arrange it for him, it certainly shouldn’t be the girl he’s going to marry.”
“You are not being asked to marry me!” she flashed, indignantly. “You will have the utmost freedom of choice. I had been left to understand - - to understand - -”
She burst into tears, woman’s eternal weapon, and, of course, she won, right then. I leaned over and took her in my arms and kissed her and begged her pardon. Then, when I had dried her eyes, she commanded me to kiss her again, and asked me if I were willing, now to do as she said.
I couldn’t help objecting. I was beginning to wonder about Phend and the city of Trecarnis, and whether I could manage to hold down the job of king in that country or not. The proposition was sounding more and more attractive to me, and I hated the idea of abandoning it just to satisfy Kayana’s whim.
So we argued again, and when the argument was over, we had gotten no place. I bade her goodbye rather stiffly, and departed for my suite, where I disrobed and cast myself into bed, still half-angry with my stubborn princess.
It must have been still night when I awoke, for it was quite dark about me. I tried to move and found to my surprise, and to my consternation, too, that I was bound hand and foot. I struggled for a moment, thinking, in my half-awake state, that I had merely become entangled in the covers, but a moment convinced me that this was not so, for my arms were drawn across my chest and bound to opposite sides of my body and my feet were tight together.
I cried out, cried not too loudly at first, but when my calls attracted no attention, I roared out more loudly and angrily. At last, after some ten minutes of bellowing, I heard footsteps approaching through the dark, and a voice cried sarcastically: “All right, Renthapes, pipe down. You don’t want another dose of water, do you?”
“What am I doing all tied up here?” I cried. “Untie me, at once.”
A flashlight flashed suddenly on, and revealed the fact that the man who had spoken to me was standing outside of a barred door, and that I was in a small cell, lying on a cot. The fellow was grinning and preparing to open the door with a large key.
And the fellow was dressed in long pants and a polo shirt, and had a wrist watch on his arm!
For a moment, the full significance of that fact failed to penetrate. Then it struck me. I was once more upon the earth, and, as near as I could make out, incarcerated in some jail or something.
“Where’s Adrian Channing!” I cried. “What am I doing in this place? What’s become of Adrian Channing?”
“Now take it easy, Renthapes!” the attendant grinned. “You’ve been off your nut for a month or so, and Mr. Channing has been trying to bring you back to sanity. This is the St. Simon Sanatorium for Mental Patients, and you’ve been about the toughest patient we’ve had for a good many months.”
He looked me over critically, and then set about removing the straitjacket that had held me. I sat down on the bed, when he got it off, and rubbed my numbed wrists. “I wish you’d get Channing over here, as soon as possible,” I said. He made a boner when he sent me off on that experiment of his. And now he’s made another in bringing me back. I’ve got to have a talk with him at once.”
The attendant arose. “You talk pretty sane. You act different than you did since you came here. I’ll get Channing at once.”
He left and came back in but a few moments. “I can’t figure it out,” he said. “Channing has called you his experiment over since you came here. And just now he was awake and seemed to be expecting that I’d be calling him.”
Well, Channing came and although it was only shortly after midnight when he arrived, we talked until morning, and I learned all that had taken place since I had left my body that I had been born with.
Of course while my ego was inhabiting the body of Renthapes of Phend, that king’s consciousness had been inhabiting mine. And, knowing nothing of the whys and wherefores of the strange translation, he had merely thought himself bewitched in some strange manner, and had kept insisting on his identity and had grown exceedingly violent when Channing had refused to support him in the style to which he had been accustomed.
But it was not until he escaped and made a scene in public that Channing had been forced to place him in a sanatorium. Then, convinced that I had somehow exchanged egos with an incarcerated lunatic, and even now locked up in some asylum, he began to prepare the machine for my return. But difficulties arose, difficulties that he was to discover always arose each time the machine was used, for each translation caused the breakdown of a delicate tube that could not be bought but had to be made by hand.
So it was over a month before he was able to reassemble the machine and reverse the states of the two egos he had transposed. And then, at that moment of all moments, thinking that he was doing me a favor, he called me back from the carid to the world in which I was born.
I am going back again, of course. Kayana may have a nature a little too haughty and imperious, but I do love her, more than I have ever loved any one on this world. And I have friends, too, Hupor and Haliac and Luplar. I should hate to think that I would never see them again. And then I think of what Renthapes might do, while he remains there in the palace - -
Channing is working like mad to complete the tube necessary to send me once more to carid. While he works, I worry; or at least I did until he suggested my writing this story to keep my mind occupied. But now the story is done, and so is the tube, and Channing has just told me that he is all ready to send me once more to the world in which I encountered the strange adventures I have just described.
I suppose that I will have a little trouble, once I get back to Mizrend. Renthapes has, almost certainly, made things inconvenient for me, but I will have plenty of time to regain my advantages. This time I do not expect to return. And so to this world, and to you who have read my story, I say farewell, and to the carid, I can say, “Here I come.”
Farewell, readers. If I never return to earth again - - that’s soon enough.
*Page 4 Zor – The religion of these people which, was as real to them as Mohammedanism is to its believers, was a dualism which pictured the two gods, Zor and Zebantu, as fighting an eternal war for the possession of the world and the people that inhabited it. They were aided by many lesser gods, and it is perhaps unnecessary to say that Zor was the god of good and Zebantu the god of evil.
*Page 4 Carid – As used here, is a word that means almost the same as our word “World”. I have used it in preference to that word in order to distinguish between our own world and that strange one in which I found myself.
*Page 6 The “ghanvarrek” was the captain of the ship. The officers of a ship consisted of a “bathvarrek” or master over ten rowers, an “odvarrek”, who commanded all the rowers, and whom I have sometimes called the coxswain, for this reason, and a “ghanvarrek” or captain. The naval vessels also had an officer called a “panvarrek” who was a sort of an admiral, commanding a fleet.
*Page 9 Lec – Perhaps a little more detail is necessary in the description of the lec. The average weapon was about fifty inches long and had two points and a blade. The points, of course, were the extension of the handle, known as the “sith” and the point opposite the blade, known as the “lada”. Where the handle met the blade, it was often no more than a half inch in diameter; from this one can get a fair estimate of the delicacy and lightness of this weapon.
*Page 14 Ephar was the lower regions of the religion of Mizmar. This does not necessarily mean it was the abode of evil. Rather it was considered the abode of the dead, where they lived, waiting, until the end of the battle of Zor and Zebantu