These various excursions for the purpose of inspecting the sources of supply and the methods of obtaining it aroused no suspicion in the mind of the Korsar, though their true purpose was anything other than it appeared to be.
In the first place David had not the slightest intention of teaching the Korsars how to improve their powder, thereby transforming them into a far greater menace to the peace of his empire than they could ever become while handicapped by an inferior grade of gunpowder that failed to explode quite as often as it exploded. These tours of inspection, however, which often took them considerable distances from the city of Korsar, afforded an excuse for delaying the lesson in powder making, while David and his companions sought to concoct some plan of escape that might contain at least the seed of success. Also they gave the three men a better knowledge of the surrounding country, familiarized them with the various trails and acquainted them with the manners and customs of the primitive tribes that carried on the agriculture of Korsar and all of the labor of the mines, niter beds and charcoal burning.
It was not long before they had learned that all the Korsars lived in the city of Korsar and that they numbered about five hundred thousand souls, and, as all labor was performed by slaves, every male Korsar above the age of fifteen was free for military service, while those between ten and fifteen were virtually so since this included the period of their training, during which time they learned all that could be taught them of seamanship and the art of piracy and raiding. David soon came to realize that the ferocity of the Korsars, rather than their number, rendered them a menace to the peace of Pellucidar, but he was positive that with an equal number of ships and men he could overcome them and he was glad that he had taken upon himself this dangerous mission, for the longer the three reconnoitered the environs of Korsar the more convinced they became that escape was possible.
The primitive savages from whom the Korsars had wrested their country and whom they had forced into virtual slavery were of such a low order of intelligence that David felt confident that they could never be successfully utilized as soldiers or fighting men by the Korsars, whom they outnumbered ten to one; their villages, according to his Korsar informant, stretching away into the vast hinterland, to the farthest extremities of which no man had ever penetrated.
The natives themselves spoke of a cold country to the north, in the barren and desolate wastes of which no man could live, and of mountains and forests and plains stretching away into the east and southeast too, as they put it, “the very shores of Molop Az”—the flaming sea of Pellucidarian legend upon which the land of Pellucidar floats.
This belief of the natives of the uninterrupted extent of the land mass to the south and southeast corroborated David’s belief that Korsar lay upon the same continent as Sari, and this belief was further carried out by the distinct sense of perfect orientation which the three men experienced the moment they set foot upon the shores of Korsar; or rather which the born Pellucidarians, Ja and Tanar, experienced, since David did not possess this inborn homing instinct. Had there been an ocean of any considerable extent separating them from the land of their birth, the two Pellucidarians felt confident that they could not have been so certain as to the direction of Sari as they now were.
As their excursions to various points outside the city of Korsar increased in number the watchfulness of Fitt relaxed, so that the three men occasionally found themselves alone together in some remote part of the back country.
Tanar, wounded by the repeated rebuffs of Stellara, sought to convince himself that he did not love her. He tried to make himself believe that she was cruel and hard and unfaithful, but all that he succeeded in accomplishing was to make himself more unhappy, though he hid this from his companions and devoted himself as assiduously as they to planning their escape. It filled his heart with agony to think of going away forever from the vicinity of the woman he loved, even though there was little or no hope that he might see her should he remain, for gossip of the approaching nuptials of Stellara and Bulf was current in the barracks where he was quartered.
The window of the room to which he had been assigned overlooked a portion of the garden of The Cid—a spot of great natural beauty in which trees and flowers and shrubs bordered gravelled pathways and a miniature lake and streamlet sparkled in the sunlight.
Tanar was seldom in his apartment and when he was he ordinarily gave no more than casual attention to the garden beyond the wall, but upon one occasion, after returning from an inspection of an iron mine, he had been left alone with his own sad thoughts, and, seating himself upon the sill of the window, he was gazing down upon the lovely scene below when his attention was attracted by the figure of a girl as she came into view almost directly before him along one of the gravelled paths. She was looking up toward his window and their eyes met simultaneously. It was Gura.
Placing her finger to her lips, cautioning him to silence, she came quickly forward until she reached a point as close to his window as it was possible for her to come.
“There is a gate in the garden wall at the far end of your barracks,” she said in a low whisper attuned to reach his ears. “Come to it at once.”
Tanar stopped to ask no questions. The girl’s tone had been peremptory. Her whole manner bespoke urgency. Descending the stairway to the ground floor Tanar left the building and walked slowly toward its far end. Korsars were all about him, but they had been accustomed to seeing him, and now he held himself to a slow and careless pace that aroused no suspicion. Just beyond the end of the barracks he came to a small, heavily planked door set in the garden wall and as he arrived opposite this, it swung open and he stepped quickly within the garden, Gura instantly closing the gate behind him.
“At last I have succeeded,” cried the girl, “but I thought that I never should. I have tried so hard to see you ever since Fitt took you from The Cid’s palace. I learned from one of the slaves where your quarters were in the barracks and whenever I have been free I have been always beneath your window. Twice before I saw you, but I could not attract your attention and now that I have succeeded, perhaps it is too late.”
“Too late! What do you mean? Too late for what?” demanded Tanar.
“Too late to save Stellara,” said the girl.
“She is in danger?” asked Tanar.
“The preparations for her marriage to Bulf are complete. She cannot delay it much longer.”
“Why should she wish to delay it?” demanded the Sarian. “Is she not content with the man she has chosen?”
“Like all men, you are a fool in matters pertaining to a woman’s heart,” cried Gura.
“I know what she told me,” said Tanar.
“After all that you had been through together; after all that she had been to you, how could you have believed that she loved another?” demanded Gura.
“You mean that she does not love Bulf?” asked Tanar.
“Of course she does not love him. He is a horrid beast.”
“And she still loves me?”
“She has never loved anyone else,” replied the girl.
“Then why did she treat me as she did? Why did she say the things that she said?”
“She was jealous.”
“Jealous! Jealous of whom?”
“Of me,” said Gura, dropping her eyes.
The Sarian stood looking dumbly at the dark-haired Himean girl standing before him. He noted her slim body, her drooping shoulders, her attitude of dejection. “Gura,” he asked, “did I ever speak words of love to you? Did I ever give Stellara or another the right to believe that I loved you?”
She shook her head. “No,” she said, “and I told Stellara that when I found out what she thought. I told her that you did not love me and finally she was convinced and asked me to find you and tell you that she still loves you. But I have another message for you from myself. I know you, Sarian. I knew that you are not planning to remain here contentedly a prisoner of the Korsars. I know that you will try to escape and I have come to beg you to take Stellara with you, for she will kill herself before she will become the mate of Bulf.”
“Escape,” mused Tanar. “How may it be accomplished from the heart of The Cid’s palace?”
“That is the man’s work,” said Gura. “It is for you to plan the way.”
“And you?” asked Tanar. “You wish to come away with us?”
“Do not think of me,” said Gura. “If you and Stellara can escape, I do not matter.”
“But you do matter,” said the man, “and I am sure that you do not wish to stay in Korsar.”
“No, I do not wish to remain in Korsar,” replied the girl, “and particularly so now that The Cid seems to have taken a fancy to me.”
“You wish to return to Hime?” asked Tanar.
“After the brief taste of happiness I have had,” replied the girl, “I could not return to the quarrels, the hatred and the constant unhappiness that constitute life within the cave of Scurv and which would be but continued in some other cave were I to take a mate in Hime.”
“Then come with us,” said the Sarian.
“Oh, if I only might!” exclaimed Gura.
“Then that is settled,” exclaimed. Tanar. “You shall come with us and if we reach Sari I know that you can find peace and happiness for yourself always.”
“It sounds like a dream,” said the girl, wistfully, “from which I shall awaken in the cave of Scurv.”
“We shall make the dream come true,” said the Sarian, “and now let us plan on how best we can get you and Stellara out of the palace of The Cid.”
“That will not be so easy,” said Gura.
“No, it is the most difficult part of our escape,” agreed the Sarian; “but it must be done and I believe that the bolder the plan the greater its assurance of success.”
“And it must be done at once,” said Gura, “for the wedding arrangements are completed and Bulf is impatient for his mate.”
For a moment Tanar stood in thought, seeking to formulate some plan that might contain at least a semblance of feasibility. “Can you bring Stellara to this gate at once?” he asked Gura.
“If she is alone, yes,” replied the girl.
“Then go and fetch her and wait here with her until I return. My signal will be a low whistle. When you hear it, unlatch the gate.”
“I shall return as quickly as possible,” said Gura, and, as Tanar stepped through the doorway into the barrack yards, he closed and latched the gate behind him.
The Sarian looked about him and was delighted to note that apparently no one had seen him emerge from the garden. Instead of returning along the front of the barracks the way he had come, he turned in the opposite direction and made his way directly to one of the main gates of the palace. And this strategy was prompted also by another motive—he wished to ascertain if he could pass the guard at the main gate without being challenged.
Tanar had not adopted the garments of his captors and was still conspicuous by the scant attire and simple ornaments of a savage warrior and already his comings and goings had made him a familiar figure around the palace yard and in the Korsar streets beyond. But he had never passed through a palace gate alone before; nor without the ever present Fitt.
As he neared the gate he neither hastened nor loitered, but maintained a steady pace and an unconcerned demeanor. Others were passing in and out and as the former naturally received much closer scrutiny by the guards than the latter, Tanar soon found himself in a Korsar street outside the palace of The Cid.
Before him were the usual sights now grown familiar—the narrow, dusty street, the small open shops or bazaars lining the opposite side, the swaggering Korsars in their brilliant kerchiefs and sashes, and the slaves bearing great burdens to and fro—garden truck and the fruits of the chase coming in from the back country, while bales of tanned hides, salt and other commodities, craved by the simple tastes of the aborigines, were being borne out of the city toward the interior. Some of the bales were of considerable size and weight, requiring the services of four carriers, and were supported on two long poles, the ends of which rested on the shoulders of the men.
There were lines of slaves carrying provisions and ammunition to a fleet of ships that was outfitting for a new raid, and another line bearing plunder from the hold of another ship that had but recently come to anchor in the river before the city.
All this activity presented a scene of apparent confusion, which was increased by the voices of the merchants hawking their wares and the shrill bickering of prospective purchasers.
Through the motley throng the Sarian shouldered his way back toward another gate that gave entrance to the palace ground close to the far end of the long, rambling barracks. As this was the gate through which he passed most often he was accorded no more than a glance as he passed through, and once within he hastened immediately to the quarters assigned to David. Here he found both David and Ja, to whom he immediately unfolded a plan that he had been perfecting since he left the garden of The Cid.
“And now,” he said, “before you have agreed to my plan, let me make it plain that I do not expect you to accompany me if you feel that the chances of success are too slight. It is my duty, as well as my desire, to save Stellara and Gura. But I cannot ask you to place your plans for escape in jeopardy.”
“Your plan is a good one,” replied David, “and even if it were not it is the best that has been suggested yet. And as for our deserting either you or Stellara or Gura, that, of course, is not even a question for discussion. We shall go with you and I know that I speak for Ja as well as myself.”
“I knew that you would say that,” said the Sarian, “and now let us start at once to put the plan to test.”
“Good,” said David. “You make your purchases and return to the garden and Ja and I will proceed at once to carry out our part.”
The three proceeded at once toward the palace gate at the far end of the barracks, and as they were passing through the Korsar in charge stopped them.
“Where now?” he demanded.
“We are going into the city to make purchases for a long expedition that we are about to make in search of new iron deposits in the back country, further than we, have ever been before.”
“And where is Fitt?” demanded the captain of the gate.
“The Cid sent for him, and while he is gone we are making the necessary preparations.”
“All right,” said the man, apparently satisfied. “You may pass.”
“We shall return presently with porters,” said David, “for some of our personal belongings and then go out again to collect the balance of our outfit. Will you leave word that we are to be passed in the event that you are not here?”
“I shall be here,” said the man. “But what are you going to carry into the back country?”
“We expect that we may have to travel even beyond the furthest boundaries of Korsar, where the natives know little or nothing of The Cid and his authority, and for this reason it is necessary for us to carry provisions and articles of trade that we may barter with them for what we want, since we shall not have sufficient numbers in our party to take these things by force.”
“I see,” said the man; “but it seems funny that The Cid does not send muskets and pistols to take what he wants rather than spoil these savages by trading with them.”
“Yes,” said David, “it does seem strange,” and the three passed out into the street of Korsar.
Beyond the gate David and Ja turned to the right toward the market place, while Tanar crossed immediately to one of the shops on the opposite side of the street. Here he purchased two large bags, made of well tanned hide, with which he returned immediately to the palace grounds and presently he was before the garden gate where he voiced a low whistle that was to be the signal by which the girls were to know that he arrived.
Almost immediately the gate swung open and Tanar stepped quickly within. As Gura closed the gate behind him, Tanar found himself standing face to face with Stellara. Her eyes were moist with tears, her lips were trembling with suppressed emotion as the Sarian opened his arms and pressed her to him.
The market place of the city of Korsar is a large, open square where the natives from the interior barter their agricultural produce, raw hides and the flesh of the animals they have taken in the chase, for the simple necessities which they wish to take back to their homes with them.
The farmers bring in their vegetables in large hampers made of reed bound together with grasses. These hampers are ordinarily about four feet in each dimension and are borne on a single pole by two men if lightly loaded, or upon two poles and by four carriers if the load is heavy.
David and Ja approached a group of men whose hampers were empty and who were evidently preparing to depart from the market, and after questioning several of the group they found two who were returning to the same village, which lay at a considerable distance almost due north of Korsar.
By the order of The Cid, Fitt had furnished his three prisoners with ample funds in the money of Korsar that they might make necessary purchases in the prosecution of their investigations and their experiments.
The money, which consisted of gold coins of various sizes and weights, was crudely stamped upon one side with what purported to be a likeness of The Cid, and upon the other with a Korsar ship. For so long a time had gold coin been the medium of exchange in Korsar and the surrounding country that it was accepted by the natives of even remote villages and tribes, so that David had little difficulty in engaging the services of eight carriers and their two hampers to carry equipment at least as far as their village, which in reality was much further than David had any intention of utilizing the services of the natives.
Having concluded his arrangements with the men, David and Ja led the way back to the palace gate, where the officer passed them through with a nod.
As they proceeded along the front of the barracks toward its opposite end their only fear was that Fitt might have returned from his interview with The Cid. If he had and if he saw and questioned them, all was lost. They scarcely breathed as they approached the entrance to their quarters, which were also the quarters of Fitt. But they saw nothing of him as they passed the doorway and hastened on to the door in the garden wall. Here they halted, directing the bearers to place the baskets close to the doorway. David Innes whistled. The door swung in, and at a word from Tanar the eight carriers entered, picked up two bundles just inside the gate and deposited one of them in each of the hampers waiting beyond the wall. The lids were closed. The slaves resumed their burden, and the party turned about to retrace its steps to the palace gate through which the carriers had just entered with their empty hampers.
Once again apprehension had chilled the heart of David Innes for fear that Fitt might have returned, but they passed the barracks and reached the gate without seeing him, and here they were halted by the Korsar in charge.
“It did not take you long,” he said. “What have you in the hampers?” and he raised the cover of one of them.
“Only our personal belongings,” said David. “When we return again we shall have our full equipment. Would you like to inspect it all at the same time?”
The Korsar, looking down at the skin bag lying at the bottom of the hamper, hesitated for a moment before replying. “Very well,” he said, “I will do it all at the same time,” and he let the cover drop back into place.
The hearts of the three men had stood still, but David Innes’s voice betrayed no unwonted emotion as he addressed the captain of the gate. “When Fitt returns,” he said, “tell him that I am anxious to see him and ask him if he will wait in our quarters until we return.”
The Korsar nodded a surly assent and motioned for them to pass on through the gate.
Turning to the right, David led the party down the narrow street toward the market place. There he turned abruptly to the left, through a winding alleyway and double-backed to the north upon another street that paralleled that upon which the palace fronted. Here were poorer shops and less traffic and the carriers were able to make good time until presently the party passed out of the city of Korsar into the open country beyond. And then, by dint of threats and promises of additional pieces of gold, the three men urged the carriers to accelerate their speed to a swinging trot, which they maintained until they were forced to stop from exhaustion. A brief rest with food and they were off again; nor did they slacken their pace until they reached the rolling, wooded country at the foothills of the mountains, far north of Korsar.
Here, well within the shelter of the woods, the carriers set down their burdens and threw themselves upon the ground to rest, while Tanar and David swung back the covers of the hampers and untying the stout thongs that closed the mouths of the bags revealed their contents.
Half smothered and almost unable to move their cramped limbs, Stellara and Gura were lifted from the baskets and revealed to the gaze of the astounded carriers.
Tanar turned upon the men. “Do you know who this woman is?” he demanded.
“No,” said one of their number.
“It is Stellara, the daughter of The Cid,” said the Sarian.
“You have helped to steal her from the palace of her father. Do you know what that will mean if you are caught?”
The men trembled in evident terror. “We did not know she was in the basket,” said one of them. “We had nothing to do with it. It is you who stole her.”
“Will the Korsars believe you when we tell them of the great quantities of gold we paid you if we are captured?” asked Tanar. “No, they will not believe you and I do not have to tell you what your fate will be. But there is safety for you if you will do what I tell you to do.”
“What is that?” demanded one of the natives.
“Take up your hampers and hasten on to your village and tell no one, as long as you live, what you have done, not even your mates. If you do not tell, no one will know for we shall not tell.”
“We will never tell,” cried the men in chorus.
“Do not even talk about it among yourselves,” cautioned David, “for even the trees have ears, and if the Korsars come to your village and question you tell them that you saw three men and two women traveling toward the east just beyond the borders of the city of Korsar. Tell them that they were too far away for you to recognize them, but that they may have been The Cid’s daughter and her companion with the three men who abducted them.”
“We will do as you say,” replied the carriers.
“Then be gone,” demanded David, and the eight men hurriedly gathered up their hampers and disappeared into the forest toward the north.
When the two girls were sufficiently revived and rested to continue the journey, the party set out again, making their way to the east for a short distance and then turning north again, for it had been Tanar’s plan to throw the Korsars off the trail by traveling north, rather than east or south. Later they would turn to the east, far north of the area which the Korsars might be expected to comb in search of them, and then again, after many marches, they would change their direction once more to the south. It was a circuitous route, but it seemed the safest.
The forest changed to pine and cedar and there were windswept wastes dotted with gnarled and stunted trees. The air was cooler than they had ever known it in their native land, and when the wind blew from the north they shivered around roaring camp fires. The animals they met were scarcer and bore heavier fur, and nowhere was there sign of man.
Upon one occasion when they stopped to camp Tanar pointed at the ground before him. “Look!” he cried to David. “My shadow is no longer beneath me,” and then, looking up, “the sun is not above us.”
“I have noticed that,” replied David, “and I am trying to understand the reason for it, and perhaps I shall with the aid of the legends of the Korsars.”
As they proceeded their shadows grew longer and longer and the light and heat of the sun diminished until they traveled in a semi-twilight that was always cold.
Long since they had been forced to fashion warmer garments from the pelts of the beasts they had killed. Tanar and Ja wanted to turn back toward the southeast, for their strange homing instinct drew them in that direction toward their own country, but David asked them to accompany him yet a little further for his mind had evolved a strange and wonderful theory and he wished to press on yet a little further to obtain still stronger proof of its correctness.
When they slept they rested beside roaring fires and once, when they awoke, they were covered by a light mantle of a cold, white substance that frightened the Pellucidarians, but that David knew was snow. And the air was full of whirling particles and the wind bit those portions of their faces that were exposed, for now they wore fur caps and hoods and their hands were covered with warm mittens.
“We cannot go much further in this direction,” said Ja, “or we shall all perish.”
“Perhaps you are right,” said David. “You four turn back to the southeast and I will go yet a little further to the north and overtake you when I have satisfied myself that a thing that I believe is true.”
“No,” cried Tanar, “we shall remain together. Where you go we shall go.”
“Yes,” said Ja, “we shall not abandon you.”
“Just a little further north, then,” said David, “and I shall be ready to turn back with you,” and so they forged ahead over snow covered ground into the deepening gloom that filled the souls of the Pellucidarians with terror. But after a while the wind changed and blew from the south and the snow melted and the air became balmy again, and still further on the twilight slowly lifted and the light increased, though the midday sun of Pellucidar was now scarcely visible behind them.
“I cannot understand it,” said Ja. “Why should it become lighter again, although the sun is even further away behind us?”
“I do not know,” said Tanar. “Ask David.”
“I can only guess,” said David, “and my guess seems so preposterous that I dare not voice it.”
“Look!” cried Stellara, pointing ahead. “It is the sea.”
“Yes,” said Gura, “a gray sea; it does not look like water.”
“And what is that?” cried Tanar. “There is a great fire upon the sea.”
“And the sea does not curve upward in the distance,” cried Stellara. “Everything is wrong in this country and I am afraid.”
David had stopped in his tracks and was staring at the deep red glow ahead. The others gathered around him and watched it, too. “What is it?” demanded Ja.
“As there is a God in heaven it can be but one thing,” replied David; “and yet I know that it cannot be that thing. The very idea is ridiculous. It is impossible and outlandish.”
“But what might it be?” demanded Stellara.
“The sun,” replied David.
“But the sun is almost out of sight behind us,” Gura reminded him.
“I do not mean the sun of Pellucidar,” replied David; “but the sun of the outer world, the world from which I came.”
The others stood in silent awe, watching the edge of a blood red disc that seemed to be floating upon a gray ocean across whose reddened surface a brilliant pathway of red and gold led from the shoreline to the blazing orb, where the sea and sky seemed to meet.