Authors: Edward P. Bradbury
Again we put the prisoners in
charge of one man and our somewhat depleted force moved on towards Narlet.
At least we had some definite
information and our spirits rose as we rode full speed towards the City of
Twice more en route we were forced
to stop and engage Argzoon and the prisoners we took confirmed that in all
likelihood Shizala had been taken to Narlet.
Less than three days later we saw
a range of hills in the far distance, marking the end of the Crimson Plain.
Then we saw a small walled
city—its wall seeming to be built of logs covered with dried mud
The buildings were square and
seemed solid enough, but they had little beauty.
We had reached Narlet, City of
But would we find Shizala?
IT WOULD not be true to say that we received a joyous
welcome in Narlet but, as Darnad had said, they did not immediately set upon
us, though they gave us looks of intense suspicion and tended to avoid us as we
entered the city's only gate and made our way through the narrow streets.
"We'll get no information
from most of them," Darnad told me. "But I think I know where I can
find someone who will help us—if Old Belet Vor still lives."
"Belet Vor?" I said
"One of those friends I
Our little party emerged into a
market square of some sort and Darnad pointed to a small house sandwiched
between two ramshackle buildings. When I used to patrol these parts he saved my
life once. I had the good fortune to return the favor— and somehow we struck up
a strong friendship.
One of those things."
We dismounted outside the house
and from it an old man emerged. He was toothless and wrinkled and incredibly
ugly, yet there was a jaunty appearance about him which made one forget his
Bradhinak Darnad—an honor, an honor."
His eyes twinkled, belying
his servile words. He spoke ironically. I could see why Darnad had liked him.
you old scoundrel.
How many children have you robbed today?"
dozen or so, Bradhinak.
Would this friend of yours like to see my
spoils—some of the sweetmeats are only half-eaten.
"Spare us the
temptation." I smiled as he ushered us into his hovel.
It was surprisingly clean and
orderly and we sat on benches while he brought us basu.
Drinking the sweet beverage,
Darnad said seriously: "We are in haste, Belet Vor. Have any warriors of
the Argzoon been seen in Narlet recently—coming here perhaps a day or so before
The old rogue cocked his head to
one side. "Why, yes—two Argzoon warriors.
Looked as if they'd
taken a beating and were scampering back to their mountain lairs."
Belet Vor chuckled.
"And two prisoners, by the look of them.
they wouldn't have chosen such company of their own free will."
both of them.
One fair, one dark."
"Are they still here?"
Darnad asked urgently.
"I'm not sure. They could
have left early this morning, but I think not."
"Where are they
"Ah—there you have it, if you
seek the prisoners. The Argzoon warriors seem to be of high rank. They are
guests of our city's noble Bradhi."
Bradhi-not Chinod Sai?"
"Yes. He has now chosen to
call himself the Bradhi Chinod Sai. Narlet is becoming respectable, eh? He is
one of your peers now, Bradhinak Darnad—not so?"
He gives himself airs."
"Perhaps," said old
Belet Vor musingly, "but I seem to remember that many of the established
nations in these parts had origins similar to ours."
Darnad laughed shortly. "You
have me there, Belet Vor—but that's for posterity. I know Chinod Sai for a
blood-thirsty slayer of women and children."
"You do him an
injustice." Belet Vor grinned. "He has killed at least one youth in a
Darnad turned to me, speaking
seriously. "If these Argzoon have Chinod Sai's protection, then we will
have greater difficulty getting Shizala—and this other woman—out of their
power. We are in a bad position."
"I have a suggestion, if you
will hear it," Belet Vor insinuated.
"I'll listen to anything
reasonable," said Darnad.
"Well—I would say that the
Argzoon and their ladies are guesting in the special chambers set aside for
sudden visitors of some standing."
"What of it?" I
a trifle tersely.
"Those chambers are
conveniently placed on the ground floor. They have large windows. Perhaps you
could help your friends without—er—actually disturbing our royal Bradhi?"
I frowned. "But aren't they
"Oh, there are guards
surrounding the great Bradhi's palace at intervals. He fears, possibly, that
there may be robbers in these parts—such little faith does he have in his
"How would we enter the guest
rooms without the guards seeing us?" I rubbed my chin.
"You would have to dispose of
them—they are very alert. After all, some of the best thieves of the Crimson
Plain have tried to help themselves to Chinod Sai's booty from time to time. A
few have even succeeded. Most have helped decorate the city walls—or at least
their heads have."
"But how could we silence the
"That," said Belet Vor
with a wink, "is where I can help you. Excuse me." He got up and
hobbled from the room.
"I think he's a likeable old
bandit, don't you?" Darnad said when Belet Vor had left.
I nodded. "But he puts
himself in danger, surely, by helping us. If we are successful this Chinod
Sai's men are bound to suspect that he had a hand in it."
"True. But I doubt whether
Chinod Sai would do anything about it. Belet Vor knows many secrets and some of
them concern Chinod Sai. Also, Belet Vor is very popular and Chinod Sai sits on
his self-made throne rather uncertainly. There are many who would usurp him if
they could gain a popular following. If anything happened to Belet Vor it would
be just the excuse needed by some would-be Bradhi of Thieves. Chinod Sai knows
that well enough."
"Good," I replied.
"But nonetheless, I think he risks more than he needs for our sake."
"I told you, Michael
Kane—there is a bond between us."
That simple statement meant a
great deal to Darnad, evidently, and I think I knew how he felt. Such virtues
as loyalty, self-discipline, temperance, moderation, truthfulness, fortitude
and honorable conduct to women are apparently outmoded in the societies of
—but on Mars, my Vashu,
they were still strong. Is it any wonder I should prefer the Red Planet to my
Soon Belet Vor returned carrying a
long tube and a small, handsomely worked box.
"These will silence your
guards," he said, flourishing the box. "And more—they will not
actually kill them."
He opened the box carefully and
displayed the contents. About a score of tiny, feathered slivers lay there. At once
I guessed that the tube was a blow-pipe and these were its ammunition. The
slivers must be tipped with some poison that would knock the guards out.
In silence we accepted the weapon.
"There are some eight shatis
until nightfall," Belet Vor said.
"Time to exchange
How many men came with you?"
"There are six left," I
"Then there is room enough in
here for them. Invite them in for a cup of basu."
Darnad went outside to extend
Belet Vor's invitation to his men.
They came in and accepted the cups
gratefully. Belet Vor also brought food.
The eight shatis passed with
incredible slowness and I spent them, for the most part, in thoughtful silence.
Soon, if providence were on our side, I would see Shizala again! My heart
pounded in spite of myself. I knew she could never be minebut just to be near
her would be enough, to know that she was safe, to know that I would always be
nearby to protect her.
When it was dark Belet Vor glanced
"Eight is a good
number," he said. "Not too small a force if you run into trouble, not
so large as to be easily detected."
our war-harness creaking, our accoutrements jingling. We rose in silence save
for those small sounds.
Belet Vor grasped the young Bradhinak's shoulder and Darnad grasped the old
man's. There seemed to be something final about that parting, as if Belet Vor
knew they would never meet again.
"Farewell, Belet Vor,"
he said softly. Their eyes met for an instant and then Darnad was striding for
"Thank you, Belet Vor,"
"Good luck," he murmured
as we left and followed Darnad towards Chinod Sai's 'palace'.
The building we finally came upon
was situated in the centre of the city. It was only two stories high and while
it had some stone in its construction it was mainly of wood.
It stood in an open square from
which several narrow streets radiated. We hugged the shadows of the streets and
watched the guards as they patrolled the grounds of the palace.
Belet Vor had told Darnad exactly
where the guest rooms were and when the Argzoon were likely to retire. We
assumed that Shizala and Horguhl would not be dining with Chinod Sai. At this
time it was likely that the Argzoon were eating in the main hall of the
building. This meant we might be able to rescue the two women without arousing
the suspicion of those inside and thus avoid a noisy fight.
After we had ascertained the exact
movements of the patrolling guards, Darnad placed the first dart carefully in
the blow-pipe and took aim.
His aim was accurate. The dart
winged its way towards the guard. I saw him clutch his neck and then fall
almost soundlessly to the ground.
The next guard—there were four we
needed to attend to in all—saw his comrade fall and rushed towards him. We
heard him lean over him and speak casually. "Get up, Akar, or the Bradhi
will have your head. I told you not to drink so much before we went on
I held my breath as Darnad aimed
another dart, expelled it softly—and the second guard fell.
The third guard turned a corner
and paused in astonishment on seeing the bodies of his fallen comrades.
"Hey! What's this-?"
He would never fully know, for
Darnad's third dart took him in his naked shoulder. The drug was quick. The
guard fell. Darnad grinned at me—we seemed near to success.
The fourth guard was disposed of
even before he saw his fellows.
Then the eight of us moved in,
cat-footing it towards the guest rooms.
Soon, soon, I thought, all this
would be over and we could return to Varnal to live in peace. I could study the
sciences of the mysterious
inventions that the Karnala would be able to use. With my help, the Karnala
need never fear attack again. They had the basic technology necessary for
building internal combustion engines, electric power generators, radios—I could
accomplish all that for them.
Those were the thoughts—inapt,
perhaps, for the moment—that coursed through my brain as we crept towards the
guest room windows.
The windows were not glazed, only
shuttered, and one of these was drawn back. Luck seemed to be on our side that
Cautiously I peered into the room.
It was richly furnished, though somewhat vulgarly, floors heaped with furs,
carved chests and benches.
In a bracket a torch flared,
illuminating the room.
It was empty.
I swung my leg over the low sill
and entered the room as quietly as I could.
Darnad and the others followed me.
Then we all stood there, staring
at one another, listening intently for some sound that might indicate where the
women were imprisoned.
It came at last—a low tone that
could have been anything. All we could be sure of was that it issued from a
It came from a room on our left.
Darnad and I went towards the
room, with the warriors following. We paused at the door which, surprisingly,
Now from within came a sound that
seemed like a soft laugh—a woman's laugh. But it could not be a laugh. I must
have misheard. The next sound was a voice, pitched low and impossible to make
Darnad looked at me. Our eyes met,
and then with a concerted movement we flung open the door.
Torchlight showed us the two
One was Horguhl, standing close to
The other was Shizala—my Shizala!
Shizala was bound hand and foot.
But Horguhl was unfettered. She
stood with hands on hips smiling down at Shizala, who glared back at her.
Horguhl's smile froze when she saw
us. Shizala gave a glad cry: "Michael Kane! Darnad! Oh, thank Zar you have
Horguhl stood there
expressionlessly, saying nothing.
I stepped forward to untie
Shizala. As I worked at her bonds I kept a suspicious eye on the Vladnyar girl,
uncertain of her part in this. Was she or was she not a prisoner?
It did not seem likely now.
Horguhl suddenly laughed in my
I finished untying Shizala's
bonds. "Why do you laugh?" I asked.
"I thought you were
dead," she replied, not answering my question. And then she lifted her
head and let out a piercing shriek.
Darnad said in a fierce whisper. "You will alert the whole palace. We
intend you no harm."
"I am sure you do not,"
she said as Darnad stepped towards her. "But I mean you harm my
friends!" Again she shrieked.
There was a disturbance outside in
Shizala's eyes glistened with
tears—but with gladness also—as she stared up into my face. "Oh, Michael
Kane—somehow I knew you would save me. I thought they had killed you—and yet. .