“Yes. There is a long hallway from the front of the building on the ground floor leading directly to stairs that lie at the back of the first floor. There are several rooms opening from each side of the hall. There were people in the two front rooms, but I could not see into the others as the doors were closed.”
“We shall have to investigate, and if there are sounds of life below we must wait until all are asleep. In the meantime I am going out on the balcony and see if I can discover some safer way to the ground.”
When I went to the window I found that it had started to rain. I crept around the building until I could look down onto the street that passed before it. There was no sign of life there; it was likely that the rain had driven all within doors. In the distance I could dimly make out the outlines of the city wall at the end of the street. Everything was faintly illumined by the strange night light that is so peculiar a feature of the Amtorian scene. There was no stairway or ladder leading from the balcony to the ground. Our only avenue of descent was by way of the interior stairs.
I returned to Duare. “Come,” I said. “We might as well try it now as later.”
“Wait!” she exclaimed. “I have a thought. It just occurred to me from something I overheard on board the Sofal relative to the customs of the Thorists. Moosko is an ongyan.”
“Was,” I corrected her, for I thought him dead.
“That is immaterial. The point is that he was one of the rulers of the so-called Free Land of Thora. His authority, especially here, where there is no other member of the oligarchy, would be absolute. Yet he was unknown to any of the natives of Kapdor. What proof did he bring of his identity or his high position?”
“I do not know,” I admitted.
“I believe that you will find upon the index finger of his right hand a great ring that is the badge of his office.”
“And you think that we could use this ring as authority to pass the sentries?”
“It is possible,” replied Duare.
“But not probable,” I demurred. “Not by the wildest flight of fancy could any one mistake me for Moosko—unless my conceit flatters me.”
A faint smile touched Duare’s lips. “I am believing that it will not be necessary for you to look like him,” she explained. These people are very ignorant. Probably only a few of the common warriors saw Moosko when he arrived. Those same men would not be on watch now. Furthermore, it is night, and with the darkness and the rain the danger that your imposture will be discovered is minimized.”
“It is worth trying,” I agreed; and, going to the body of Moosko, I found the ring and removed it from his finger. It was too large for me, as the ongyan had gross, fat hands; but if any one was stupid enough to accept me as the ongyan he would not notice so minor a discrepancy as an ill-fitting ring.
Now Duare and I crept silently out of the chamber to the head of the stairs, where we paused, listening. All was dark below, but we heard the sound of voices, muffled, as though coming from behind a closed door. Slowly, stealthily, we descended the stairs. I felt the warmth of the girl’s body as it brushed mine, and a great longing seized me to take her in my arms and crush her to me; but I only continued on down the stairway as outwardly cool and possessed as though no internal fire consumed me.
We had reached the long hallway and had groped our way about half the distance to the door that opened upon the street, a feeling of optimism enveloping me, when suddenly a door at the front end of the corridor opened and the passageway was illuminated by the light from the open doorway. I saw a portion of the figure of a man standing in the doorway of the room he was about to quit, he had paused and was conversing with someone from the room beyond. In another moment he might step into the corridor.
At my elbow was a door. Gingerly I tripped the latch and pushed the door open; the room beyond was in darkness, but whether or not it was occupied I could not tell. Stepping through the doorway I drew Duare in after me and partially closed the door again, standing close to the aperture, watching and listening.
Presently I heard the man who had been standing in the other doorway say, “Until to-morrow, friends, and may you sleep in peace,” then the door slammed and the hallway was plunged into darkness again.
Now I heard footsteps; they were coming in our direction. Very gingerly I drew the sword of Moosko, the ongyan. On came the footsteps; they seemed to hesitate before the door behind which I waited; but perhaps it was only my imagination. They passed on; I heard them ascending the stairway.
Now a new fear assailed me. What if this man should enter the room in which lay the dead body of Moosko! He would spread the alarm. Instantly I recognized the necessity for immediate action.
“Now Duare!” I whispered, and together we stepped into the corridor and almost ran to the front door of the building.
A moment later we were in the street. The drizzle had become a downpour. Objects were undiscernable a few yards distant, and for this I was thankful.
We hastened along the street in the direction of the wall and the gate, passing no one, seeing no one. The rain increased in violence.
“What are you going to say to the sentry?” asked Duare.
“I do not know,” I replied candidly.
“He will be suspcious, for you can have no possible excuse for wishing to leave the safety of a walled city on a night like this and go out without an escort into a dangerous country where savage beasts and savage men roam.”
“I shall find a way,” I said, “because I must.”
She made no reply, and we continued on toward the gate. It was not at a great distance from the house from which we had escaped and presently we came upon it looming large before us through the falling rain.
A sentry, standing in the shelter of a niche in the wall, discovered us and demanded what we were doing aboard at this hour of such a night. He was not greatly concerned, since he did not know that it was in our minds to pass through the gateway; he merely assumed, I presume, that we were a couple of citizens passing by on our way to our home.
“Is Sov here?” I demanded.
“Sov here!” he exclaimed in astonishment. “What would Sov be doing here on a night light this?”
“He was to meet me here at this hour,” I said. “I instructed him to be here.”
“You instructed Sov to be herel” The fellow laughed. “Who are you to give instructions to Sov?”
“I am the ongyan, Moosko,” I replied.
The man looked at me in astonishment. “I do not know where Sov is,” he said, a little sullenly, I thought.
“Well, never mind,” I told him; “he will be here presently; and in the meantime, open up the gate, for we shall want to hurry on as soon as he arrives.”
“I cannot open the gate without orders from Sov,” replied the sentry.
“You refuse to obey an ongyan?” I demanded in the most ferocious tones I could command.
“I have never seen you before,” he parried. “How do I know you are an ongyan?”
I held out my hand with the ring of Moosko on the index finger. “Do you know what that is?” I demanded.
He examined it closely. “Yes, ongyan,” he said fearfully, “I know.”
“Then open the gate, and be quick about it,” I snapped.
“Let us wait until Sov comes,” he suggested. “There will be time enough then.”
“There is no time to be lost, fellow. Open up, as I command. The Vepajan prisoner has just escaped, and Sov and I are going out with a party of warriors to search for him.”
Still the obstinate fellow hesitated; and then we heard a great shouting from the direction from which we had come, and I guessed that the fellow who had passed us in the corridor had discovered the dead body of Moosko and given the alarm.
We could hear men running. There was no more time to be lost.
“Here comes Sov with the searching party,” I cried. “Throw open the gates, you fool, or it will go ill with you.” I drew my sword, intending to run him through if he did not obey.
As finally, he turned to do my bidding, I heard the excited voices of the approaching men grow louder as they neared us. I could not see them yet for the rain, but as the gate swung open I glimpsed the oncoming figures through the murk.
Taking Duare by the arm I started through the gate. The sentry was still suspicious and wanted to stop us, but he was not sure of himself.
“Tell Sov to hurry,” I said, and before the man could bolster his courage to do his duty, Duare and I hastened into the outer darkness and were lost to his view in the rain.
It was my intention to reach the coast and follow along it until daylight, when, I hoped and prayed, we should sight the Sofal off shore and be able to contrive a means of signaling to her.
We groped our way through the darkness and the rain during all that terrible night. No sound of pursuit reached our ears, nor did we come upon the ocean.
The rain ceased about dawn, and when full daylight came we looked eagerly for the sea, but only low hills and rolling country dotted with trees and a distant forest where we had thought the sea to be rewarded our straining eyes.
“Where is the sea?” asked Duare.
“I do not know,” I admitted.
Only at sunrise and at sunset, for a few minutes, is it possible to differentiate between the points of the compass on Venus; then the direction of the sun is faintly indicated by a slightly intensified light along the eastern or the western horizon.
And now the sun was rising at our left, when it should have been upon our right were we going in the direction that I believed the ocean to be.
My heart sank in my breast, for I knew that we were lost.