I seized the girl by the hand and raised her to her feet. Our only defense lay in flight. Although I had had to abandon my spear, I had saved my bow and arrows, the latter being tied securely in my quiver while the former I had looped across one shoulder before leaving the tower; but of what use were arrows against dead men,
Casting another glance toward our pursuers I saw them floundering in the deep water of the channel, and it became immediately evident that none of them could swim. They were bobbing around helplessly as the current swept them down stream. Sometimes they floated on their backs, sometimes on their faces.
“We haven’t much to fear from them,” I said; “they will all drown.”
“They cannot drown,” replied the girl with a shudder.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” I admitted. “But at least there is little likelihood that they will reach this shore; certainly not before they have been carried a long distance down stream. We shall have plenty of time to escape them.”
“Then let’s be going. I hate this place. I want to get away from it.”
“I cannot go away until I have found Duare,” I told her. “I must search for her.”
“Yes, that is right; we must try to find her. But where shall we look?”
“She would try to reach the big river and follow it to the sea,” I explained, “and I think that she would reason much as we would, that it would be safer to follow this stream down to the larger one inasmuch as then she would have the concealing protection of the forest.”
“We shall have to keep careful watch for the dead men,” cautioned the girl. “If they wash ashore on this side we shall be sure to meet them.”
“Yes; and I want to make sure where they do come ashore, because I intend crossing over and hunting for Duare on the other side.”
For some time we moved cautiously down stream in silence, both constantly alert for any sound that might portend danger. My mind was filled with thoughts of Duare and apprehension for her safety, yet occasionally it reverted to the girl at my side; and I could not but recall her courage during our escape and her generous willingness to delay her own flight that we might search for Duare. It was apparent that her character formed a trinity of loveliness with her form and her face. And I did not even know her name!
That fact struck me as being as remarkable as that I had only known her for an hour. So intimate are the bonds of mutual adversity and danger that it seemed I had known her always, that that hour was indeed an eternity.
“Do you realize,” I asked, turning toward her, “that neither of us knows the other’s name?” And then I told her mine.
“Carson Napier!” she repeated. “That is a strange name.”
“And what is yours?”
“Nalte voo Man kum Baltoo,” she replied, which means Nalte, the daughter of Baltoo. “The people call me Voo Jan, but my friends call me Nalte.”
“And what am I to call you?” I asked.
She looked at me in surprise. “Why, Nalte, of course.”
“I am honored by being included among your friends.”
“But are you not my best, my only friend now in all Amtor?”
I had to admit that her reasoning was sound, since as far as all the rest of Amtor was concerned we were the only two people on that cloud-girt planet, and we were certainly not enemies.
We were moving cautiously along without sight of the river when Nalte suddenly touched my arm and pointed toward the opposite bank, at the same time dragging me down behind a shrub.
Just opposite us a corpse had washed ashore; and a short distance below, two others. They were our pursuers. As we watched, they slowly crawled to their feet then the one we had first seen called to the others, who presently joined him. The three corpses talked together, pointing and gesticulating. It was horrible. I felt my skin creep.
What would they do? should they continue the search or would they return to the castle? If the former, they would have to cross the river; and they must already have learned that there was little likelihood of their being able to do that. But that was attributing to dead brains the power to reason! It seemed incredible. I asked Nalte what she thought about.
“It is a mystery to me,” she replied. “They converse, and they appear to reason. At first I thought they were motivated through the hypnotic influence of Skor’s mind solely—that they thought his thoughts, as it were; but they take independent action when Skor is away, as you have seen them do today, which refutes that theory. Skor says that they do reason. He has stimulated their nervous systems into the semblance of life, though no blood flows in their veins; but the past experiences of their lives before they died are less potent in influencing their judgments than the new system of conduct and ethics that Skor has instilled into their dead brains. He admits that the specimens he has at the castle are very dull; but that, he insists, is because they were dull people in life.”
The dead men conversed for some time and then started slowly up river in the direction of the castle, and it was with a sigh of relief that we saw them disappear.
“Now we must try to find a good place to cross,” I said. “I wish to search the other side for some sign of Duare. She must have left footprints in the soft earth.”
“There is a ford somewhere down river,” said Nalte. “when Skor captured me we crossed it on our way to the castle. I do not know just where it is, but it cannot be far.”
We had descended the river some two miles from the point at which we had seen the dead man emerge upon the opposite bank, without seeing any sign of a crossing, when I heard faintly a familiar cackling that seemed to come from across the river and farther down.
“Do you hear that?” I asked Nalte. She listened intently for a moment as the cackling grew louder. “Yes,” she replied—”the kazars. We had better hide.”
Acting upon Nalte’s suggestion we concealed ourselves behind a clump of underbrush and waited. The cackling grew in volume, and we knew that the kazars were approaching.
“Do you suppose that it is Skor’s pack?” I asked.
“It must be,” she replied. “There is no other pack in this vicinity, according to Skor.”
“Nor any wild kazars?”
“No. He says that there are no wild ones on this side of the big river. They range on the opposite side. These must be Skor’s!”
We waited in silence as the sounds approached, and presently we saw the new leader of the pack trot into view on the opposite bank. Behind him strung several more of the grotesque beasts, and then came Skor, mounted on his zorat, with the dead men that formed his retinue surrounding him.
“Duare is not there!” whispered Nalte. “Skor did not recapture her.”
We watched Skor and his party until they had passed out of sight among the trees of the forest on the other side of the river, and it was with a sigh of relief that I saw what I hoped would be the last of the jong of Morov.
While I was relieved to know that Duare had not been recaptured, I was still but little less apprehensive concerning her fate. Many dangers might beset her, alone and unprotected in this savage land; and I had only the vaguest conception of where to search for her.
After the passing of Skor we had continued on down the river, and presently Nalte pointed ahead to a line of ripples that stretched from bank to bank where the river widened.
“There is the ford,” she said, “but there is no use crossing it to look for Duare’s trail. If she had escaped on that side of the river the kazars would have found her before now. The fact that they didn’t find her is fairly good proof that she was never over there.”
I was not so sure of that. I did not know that Duare could swim nor that she could not, but the chances were highly in favor of the latter possibility, since Duare had been born and reared in the tree city of Kooaad.
“Perhaps they found her and killed her,” I suggested, horrified at the very thought of such a tragedy.
“No,” dissented Nalte. “Skor would have prevented that; he wanted her.”
“But something else might have killed her; they might have found her dead body.”
“Skor would have brought it back with him and invested it with the synthetic life that animates his retinue of dead,” argued Nalte.
Still I was not convinced. “How do the kazars trail?” I asked. “Do they follow the spoor of their quarry by scent?”
Nalte shook her head. “Their sense of smell is extremely poor, but their vision is acute. In trailing, they depend wholly upon their eyes.”
“Then it is possible that they might not have crossed Duare’s trail at all and so missed her.”
“Possible, but not probable,” replied Nalte. “What is more probable is that she was killed and devoured by some beast before Skor was able to recapture her.”
The explanation had already occurred to me, but I did not wish to even think about it. “Nevertheless,” I said, “we might as well cross over to the other bank. If we are going to follow the big river down stream we shall have to cross this affluent sooner or later, and we may not find another ford as it grows broader and deeper toward its mouth.”
The ford was broad and well marked by ripples, so we had no difficulty in following it toward the opposite bank. However, we were compelled to keep our eyes on the water most of the time as the ford took two curves that formed a flattened S, and it would have been quite easy to have stepped off into deep water and been swept down stream had we not been careful.
The result of our constant watchfulness approached disaster as we neared the left bank of the stream. The merest chance caused me to look up. I was slightly in advance of Nalte as we walked hand in hand for greater safety. I stopped so suddenly at what I saw that the girl bumped into me. Then she looked up, and a little, involuntary cry of alarm brust from her lips.
“What are they?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Don’t you?”
“No; I never saw such creatures before.”
At the edge of the water, awaiting us, were half a dozen manlike creatures, while others like them were coming from the forest, dropping from the trees to shuffle awkwardly toward the ford. They were about three feet tall and entirely covered with long hair. At first I thought that they were monkeys, although they bore a startling resemblance to human beings, but when they saw that we had discovered them one of them spoke, and the simian theory was exploded.
“I am Ul,” said the speaker. “Go away from the land of Ul. I am Ul; I kill!”
“We will not harm you,” I replied. “We only want to pass through your country.”
“Go away!” growled Ul, baring sharp fighting fangs.
By now, fifty of the fierce little men were gathered at the water’s edge, growling, menacing. They were without clothing or ornaments and carried no weapons, but their sharp fangs and the bulging muscles of their shoulders and arms bespoke their ability to carry out Ul’s threats.
“What are we going to do?” demanded Nalte. “They will tear us to pieces the moment we step out of the water.”
“Perhaps I can persuade them to let us pass,” I said, but after five minutes of fruitless effort I had to admit defeat. Ul’s only reply to my arguments was, “Go away! I kill! I kill!”
I hated to turn back, for I knew that we must cross the river eventually and we might not find such another crossing, but at last, reluctantly, I retraced my steps to the right bank hand in hand with Nalte.
All the remainder of the day I searched for traces of Duare as we followed the course of the river downward, but my efforts were without success. I was disheartened. I felt that I should never see her again. Nalte tried to cheer me up, but inasmuch as she believed that Duare was dead she was not very successful.
Late in the afternoon I succeeded in killing a small animal. As we had eaten nothing all that day we were both famished, so we soon had a fire going and were grilling cuts of the tender meat.
After we had eaten I built a rude platform among the branches of a large tree and gathered a number of huge leaves to serve as mattress and covering, and as darkness fell Nalte and I settled ourselves, not uncomfortably, in our lofty sanctuary.
For a while we were silent, wrapped in our own thoughts. I do not know about Nalte’s, but mine were gloomy enough. I cursed the day that I had conceived the idea to build the huge torpedo that had carried me from Earth to Venus, and in the next thought I blessed it because it had made it possible for me to know and to love Duare.
It was Nalte who broke the silence. As though she had read my thoughts, she said, “You loved Duare very much?”
“Yes,” I replied.
Nalte sighed. “It must be sad to lose one’s mate.”
“She was not my mate.”
“Not your mate!” Nalte’s tone expressed her surprise. “But you loved one another?”
“Duare did not love me,” I replied. “At least she said she didn’t. You see, she was the daughter of a jong and she couldn’t love any one until after she was twenty.”
Nalte laughed. “Love does not come or go in accordance with any laws or customs,” she said.
“But even if Duare had loved me, which she didn’t, she couldn’t have said so; she couldn’t even talk of love because she was the daughter of a jong and too young. I don’t understand it, of course, but that is because I am from another world and know nothing of your customs.”
“I am nineteen,” said Nalte, “and the daughter of a jong, but if I loved a man I should say so.”
“Perhaps the customs of your country and those of Duare’s are not the same,” I suggested.
“They must be very different,” agreed Nalte, “for in my country a man does not speak to a girl of love until she has told him that she loves him; and the daughter of the jong chooses her own mate whenever she pleases.”
“That custom may have its advantages,” I admitted, “but if I loved a girl I should want the right to tell her so.”
“Oh, the men find ways of letting a girl know without putting it into words. I could tell if a man loved me, but if I loved him very much I wouldn’t wait for that.”
“And what if he didn’t love you?” I asked.
Nalte tossed her head. “I’d make him.”
I could readily understand that Nalte might be a very difficult young person not to love. She was slender and dark, with an olive skin and a mass of black hair in lovely disorder. Her eyes sparkled with health and intelligence. Her features were regular and almost boyish, and over all was the suggestion of a veil of dignity that bespoke her blood. I could not doubt but that she was the daughter of a jong.
It seemed to be my fate to encounter daughters of jongs. I said as much to Nalte.
“How many have you met if’ she asked.
“Two,” I replied,” you and Duare.”
“That is not very many when you consider how many jongs there must be in Amtor and how many daughters they must have. My father has seven.”
“Are they all as lovely as you?” I asked.
“Do you think me lovely?”
“You know you are.”
“But I like to hear people say so. I like to hear you say it,” she added softly.
The roars of hunting beasts came up to us from the dim forest aisles, the screams of stricken prey; then the silence of the night broken only by the murmuring of the river rolling down to some unknown sea.
I was considering a tactful reply to Nalte’s ingenuous observation when I dozed and fell asleep.
I felt some one shaking me by the shoulder. I opened my eyes to look up into Nalte’s. “Are you going to sleep all day?” she demanded.
It was broad daylight. I sat up and looked around. “We have survived another night,” I said.
I gathered some fruit, and we cooked some more of the meat left from my kill of the previous day. We had a splendid breakfast, and then we set off again down stream in our quest for—what?
“If we do not find Duare to-day,” I said, “I shall have to admit that she is irrevocably lost to me.”
“And then what?” asked Nalte.
“You would like to return to your own country?”
“Then we shall start up the big river toward your home.”
“We shall never reach it,” said Nalte, “but—”
“But what?” I demanded.
“I was thinking that we might be very happy while we were trying to reach Andoo,” she said.
“Andoo?” I queried.
“That is my country,” she explained. “The mountains of Andoo are very beautiful.”
There was a note of wistfulness in her voice; her eyes were contemplating a scene that mine could not see. Suddenly I realized how brave the girl had been, how cheerful she had remained through the hardships and menacing dangers of our flight, all despite the probably hopelessness of her situation. I touched her hand gently.
“We shall do our best to return you to the beautifu mountains of Andoo,” I assured her.
Nalte shook her head. “I shall never see them again, Carson. A great company of warriors might not survive the dangers that lie between here and Andoo—a thousand kobs of fierce and hostile country.”
“A thousand kobs is a long way,” I agreed. “It does seem hopeless, but we’ll not give up.”
The Amtorians divide the circumference of a circle into a thousand parts to arrive at their hita, or degree; and the kob is one tenth of a degree of longitude at the equator (or what the Amtorians call The Small Circle), roughly about two and a half earth miles; therefore a thousand kobs would be about two thousand five hundred miles.
A little mental arithmetic convinced me that Nalte could not have drifted down the big river two thousand five hundred miles without food, and I asked her if she was sure that Andoo was that far away.
“No,” she admitted, “but it seems that far. We wandered a long time before we reached the river, and then I drifted for so long that I lost track of time.”
Nevertheless, if we found Duare, I was going to be faced by a problem. One girl must go down the valley in search of her own country, the other up the valley! And only one of them had even a hazy idea of where her country lay!