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Authors: L. Sprague de Camp

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BOOK: The Hostage of Zir
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The guards paused. Kosambi and his assistant were wrangling furiously with the priests of Dashmok. Reith’s tourists added their voices to the din.

“ ’Irim!
Quiet!” yelled Reith. When the noise had subsided a little, he added: “Father Khorsh, you must interpret. Ask one of Dashmok’s folk what happened.”

Khorsh talked to the oldest priest and said: “My son, their tale is that your Senhor Pride came back to the temple after the rest of you had departed. He reverently took off his shoes and entered. Knowing him by sight from the previous visit, the guards thought no harm in it. The next thing they knew, the alarm sounded to indicate the theft of the image. Then out the door comes the Senhor Pride, flying with the idol in his hand. Naturally, they pursued the blashphemer.”

“What have you to say, Silvester?” asked Reith.

“I never meant to steal the damned thing! I just wanted a good look at it. On earth it would be worth half a million. Besides, I got bored with the sermon. So I went back in and picked it off the post to see it better. Well, there’s some sort of clockwork alarm in the pillar, with a little knob sticking up through a hole in the top. The statue sits on this knob, and when you pick it up all hell breaks loose. This thing went off like an alarm clock, and all these priests came boiling out of their holes. I don’t understand their lingo, but it sounded like they wanted to boil me in oil. So I ran for it I didn’t dare take time to try to put the statue back, and I didn’t want to drop it for fear of busting it. Here, let ’em take it!”

Pride thrust out the figurine. The oldest priest snatched the statue. Then another priest clattered up the stairs, followed by four Krishnans in the red-and-blue uniforms of the day watch. These laid hands on Pride.

“They say he is under arrest,” said Khorsh. “They are taking him to headquarters.”

Pride was marched out complaining: “Hey, don’t you guys even let a man go get his shoes?”

Besides the policemen, the prisoner, the temple guards, the priests, and Reith’s tourists, Ganesh Kosambi and his congregation came along, too. Other curious Majburuma joined the procession, until over a hundred arrived at police headquarters.

Hours were spent in confusing procedures. The magistrate denied Pride bail on the ground that as a foreigner he had no local kith or kin to be responsible for him.

Then Reith clapped a hand to his forehead in anguish at his own stupidity. “Father Khorsh!” he said. “Can you find me someone to take a message to Gorbovast?”

Khorsh summoned an urchin, who departed on a run with a sheet from Reith’s pocket notebook in his grimy fist. Soon Gorbovast appeared.

“Quel poise! Ai Râm!
Holy stars!” cried Gorbovast “What have your people been getting zemselves into now, Mr. Reese?”

When things had been explained, Gorbovast engaged the magistrate in a long, low-voiced conversation. At last he turned back.

“He has decided zat, in view of ze peculiar circumstances, he will let Mr. Pride go wiz a fine of one sousand karda, half of which will be paid to ze temple for damages.”

“It’ll wipe me out!” said Pride. “I won’t be able to buy so much as a postage stamp for the rest of the trip.”

“If Mr. Pride prefers,” said Gorbovast, “ze police will turn him over to ze priests. Zey have very ingenious messods of punishing blashphemers.”

As Pride counted out most of the gold in his purse, one of the younger priests burst into impassioned speech.

“He say,” reported Gorbovast, “zat Pride should be given to zem for proper penances. He say if ze magistrate will not do it, ze priests will seize him when he leave ze headquarters. Now ze magistrate ask your plans . . . He say, if you will take Mr. Pride direct to ship, put him on board, and stay zere wiz ze rest of your people until it sail, ze police will protect you to ze pier. After zat, if you go ashore, you are on your own.” Gorbovast gave a dry chuckle. “Zere is a big dispute in Majbur just now over separation of church and state. Your man is lucky; ozzerwise he would not get off so easy. I will send ze baggage to ze ship.”

Another procession formed, from police headquarters to the
’s pier. In front marched Silvester Pride, surrounded by a cordon of eight watchmen. Outside this cordon surged a dozen priests of Dashmok, glaring at Pride and watching for a break in the cordon so that they could snatch him from his escort. After this group came the rest of the crowd, including Reith and his tourists.

At the pier, Reith and his people bid Gorbovast a hasty farewell and went aboard. After the rest of the crowd had dispersed, two watchmen remained to guard the gangplank.

Captain Denaikh was not pleased. “ ’Twill cost you eke,” he grumbled, “since I must feed this troop for an extra day. Besides and moreover, I’d fain have no lubbers prancing about my deck whilst we’re loading, lest he set himself beneath some descending tun and be smashed, like as a bug beneath a boot heel. Understand ye, good my sir?”

As Reith herded his people into their cabins in the deckhouse, Pride said: “Hey, Fearless, you mean we’ve got to stay cooped up all day tomorrow? We can’t see the ballet, with the little priestesses waggling their pretty bare tits?”

“No; we’ll miss the show.”

“That’s not fair! I paid for that along with the rest of the trip.”

Reith grabbed Pride’s lapels. “Look, you blithering ass! You got us into this. By God, if I could figure how, I’d ship you back to Novorecife and tell you to sue the agency if you didn’t like it. If you want to go ashore and take your chances with those guys—” (Reith pointed at the line of white-clad priests, waiting hopefully on the pier) “—go right ahead, and I hope they tear you limb from limb!”

“Why, you—you jerk!” cried Pride. “Take your hands off me, damn it! You dare talk to me like that—I’ll have your job when we get home! I’ll turn in a report on you that’ll—”

Valerie Mulroy came to Reith’s defense. “Mr. Pride, after you caused all this trouble, and Fearless saved us from being massacred, you want to blame him? Fergus is a nice boy, and you’re a silly old fart!”

“She is right,” Santiago Guzmán-Vidal chimed in. “Shut up and go away, you

Several other tourists spoke up in Reith’s behalf. Pride subsided and entered his cabin.



Across the turquoise waters of the sparkling Sadabao Sea, beneath a yellow sun in a bluish-green sky, the
plodded her stately way. Since the weather was fair, Reith’s tourists were all, for once, in good humor. None had ever voyaged by square-rigger before, since no such craft still sailed the Terran seas. They therefore found the details of the ship’s operation fascinating.

They shuddered at the sight of Krishnan sailors laying aloft to furl or break out sail while swaying on footropes ten or fifteen meters above the deck. They talked of pirates and hornpipes and tacks. They mangled the nautical terminology of their respective languages.

The morn of their first night brought the
in sight of the island of Zamba. By mid-morning, they stood outside the harbor of Reshr, the capital, where onion-domed towers loomed over a gleaming marble wall. Captain Denaikh hove to and furled sail, while a boat came alongside with a pilot and a harbor inspector. The latter’s badge of office was an ornamental key of silver and colored glass around his neck.

Reith showed the inspector the papers for his party. With Khorsh interpreting, the official said: “In the name of King Penjird the Second, I welcome you to the kingdom of Zamba. His Majesty graciously condescends to grant you and your party an audience tomorrow afternoon, at three hours past midday.”

“We thank His Majesty very much,” said Reith in stumbling Gozashtandou. “We shall be there. If there be no complications, we are fain to come ashore today to view your beautiful city.”

“You are welcome to do so,” said the inspector. “You may wish to view the
this afternoon.”

Reith asked Khorsh: “What was that last word again?”

As the priest explained it, a
was something like a Terran horse show, in which Krishnan domestic animals of several species were put through their paces.

The inspector shouted to the captain, who shouted to a petty officer, who shouted to a seaman, who ran up a flag. A pair of harbor craft, which had been waiting in the offing, approached. They were oar-powered tugs—heavy rowboats, like small galleys, with a pair of brawny Krishnans pulling each oar. With much yelling, slap of bare feet on decks, and rattle of pulley blocks, lines were belayed to each of the tugs. These craft then towed the
into the inner harbor.

As the ship, moving with glacial slowness, neared the pier, John Turner plucked Reith’s sleeve. “Hey, Fearless! What’s that thing? Fry my guts if it doesn’t look like a steamboat—an old-time paddle-wheeler!”

Turner handed his binoculars to Reith, who looked and turned to the inspector, saying: “What is that, sir?”

“Oh,” said the inspector. “That is the new ship, hight
of Prince Ferrian of Sotaspé. This potentate does even now pay a visit of state to our majestic sovran. Know you the tale? This Ferrian, a wight of pith and spirit, has purloined from you
a mort of secrets of the engineering crafts. By means of these, this saucy swain does raise his minikin isle to be the mightiest power maritime of the Middle Sea. They say he’s even built a kind of flying machine, propelled through the air by combustion of
pollen, wherewith we build fireworks to celebrate holidays.

“Time was when he and our gracious ruler were in hot and hostile rivalry; but, happily, that’s now composed. The lordly twain do seek to cement their love by mutual alliance. And—oh—ere I forget—Prince Ferrian were vastly wroth, did one of you honored visitors employ a picture-taking machine upon his proud ship
He fears a repetition of his disaster of a few years back.”

“What disaster?” asked Reith.

“Why, with the help of a renegade
he’d built a similar craft, clept
Getting wind of this, the
of Novorecife swooped upon Majbur, hired a ship, and caught and burned the
in open sea.” The Krishnan made the curious noise that served as a chuckle. “By this outrageous violation of the Krishnan nations’ sovran rights, they thought to stop the spread of their knowledge scientifical, fearing lest we Krishnans overtake them in this race for wisdom and rape them of their advantage in dealing with us. But little they recked of our yaresome princeling! Having a set of plans for the
safe at home in Sotaspé, he escaped the wreck and set himself to fabricate another craft, of design improved in light of his experience with the first. Yonder lies the terror of the sapphire Sadabao!”

Reith turned to his tourists. “He says no photographs of the steamship.” He looked hard at Otto Schwerin.
“Kein Bild!”

Schwerin smiled vaguely and bobbed his head.


Ashore, it took Reith over an hour to round up transport for his tourists and another to locate the
On the outskirts of Reshr was an open area with an elliptical racecourse and a small grandstand. There were concessions and dust and noise. A conjuror, a juggler, a seller of nostrums, and a puppet show were all going full blast in noisy competition.

Reith would have liked to buy tickets for seats in the grandstand, but the stand was already full of upper-class Krishnans. The sword-clanking males were in cloaks of emerald and purple and scarlet over the Krishnan loin garment. This could be either an oversized diaper, or a land of divided kilt. The females wore bare-breasted dresses, inciting Pride to utter bad jokes. The Terrans had to wriggle through a much larger crowd of smellier and more drably clad Krishnans, who lined the fence on either side of the grandstand.

The Krishnans stared at their exotic visitors but then turned their attention back to the field within the race track, puffing cigars of ultra-strong Krishnan tobacco. Reith thought that if early Terran visitors had introduced tobacco before the I.C. had clamped down the technological blockade, they should at least have let in soap as well. The perfumes used by even poor Krishnans failed to cover the aroma of unsoaped Krishnan. Khorsh said: “Senhor Reith, they tell me the races are already over. The next event will be a drill by the Royal Zamban Lancers.”

Reith and his people stood, shifting from foot to foot, while on the field Krishnan boys ran about with scoops and buckets collecting animal droppings. At last, from the stables in the distance, the lancers, in uniforms of black and gold with silvered cuirasses, on matched black ayas, trotted into the field. A brass band played.

The soldiers maneuvered their ayas in elaborate square, circular, and pinwheel formations, crossing in and out like square dancers. They ended with a charge down the field, in double rank with lances leveled. At the end, they brought their mounts to a simultaneous skidding stop.

After the drill came a series of class judgings. A group of riders of yearling shomals trotted out, put their mounts through paces, and lined up before the judges, who sat on a row of folding chairs in front of the grandstand. Then came a class of six-gaited ayas . . .

Reith’s people began to stir and grumble. After the first impact of the pageantry had worn off, there were murmurs against the leisureliness of the program, especially since they had to wait for Khorsh to translate each item of news and for Reith to translate Khorsh.

“Should have brought my shooting stick,” said Mrs. Whitney Scott. “I’m too old to stand all afternoon.”

“Snails are fast compared to this,” growled Maurice Considine. “Too much dead time between each event and the next. Have a swig, Fearless?” He extended a flask of kvad, which he had bought from a refreshment stand behind the grandstand.

“No, thanks,” said Reith. “I need my wits. Well, if we’re all agreed to go—”

“Hey!” said Considine. “What are they doing now?”

“A jumping contest,” explained Khorsh. The priest pointed to the field, where workmen were setting up hurdles and other props. Others were filling a wide, shallow trench with water from a tank wagon. “This will be for aya hunters. The riders must follow a course like this—” (he made looping motions in the air) “—and stay within the markers—those barrels.”

“Gotta see this,” said Considine, weaving slightly. “Used to do that kind of thing myself. Right, John?”

“Oh, sure,” said Turner.

Reith wondered how much kvad Considine had drunk. Certain Krishnan plants had the property, when properly treated, of fermenting to a liquor much stronger than any Terran wine, albeit lower in alcoholic content than distilled Terran liquors. Although the principle of distillation was known, Krishnans did not distill their booze. They had no need to.

The first contestant trotted out on his horned, six-legged mount, colored like a palomino horse. Some of Reith’s tourists snickered at the sight of the rider’s headgear, which bore a startling resemblance to a Terran derby hat with a chin strap.

“It is a kind of padded leather helmet,” explained Khorsh, “in case the rider should fall off on his head.”

The contestant broke into a canter, cleared a hurdle, brought his mount around in a tight circle, cleared another hurdle, ducked beneath a crossbar set up in his path, cleared the water hazard in a long jump, galloped between a pair of posts just wide enough to allow passage, and so on through the intricacies of the course. When he finished, the crowd whistled to show appreciation. In their chairs, the judges scribbled notes.

After six more contestants had put their mounts through the course, Reith asked: “Father Khorsh, how many more of these?”

“Five more, my son. After that come the finals, when the three best jumpers will compete; and after that the carriage-driving contest.”

“I guess we’ve seen enough of this,” said Maurice Considine. “That lash—last guy wasn’t much good. I can ride better.”

“Okay,” said Reith. “We’ll watch one more, unless somebody wants to see the carriage-drivers.”

“I would like the carriages if I was not so tired from the esstanding,” said Pilar Guzmán-Vidal.

“Hey!” cried Considine. “Look at that!”

The latest contestant had put his piebald aya at the second hurdle. The animal refused the jump, spilling its rider into the dust. The aya turned and started back towards the stables, its empty stirrups swinging.

“I’ll show ’em!” shouted Considine. The young man climbed over the fence.

Reith yelled: “Hey, Maurice! Come back!”

Considine ran to the trotting aya and swung into the saddle with the adroitness of a cowboy. Cries arose from the crowd. Khorsh told Reith: “They are saying, ‘is he a clown disguised as an earthman?’ ”

It was one thing to mount the beast and another to control it thereafter. As if aware that it had been forked by no proper Krishnan, the aya spun round and round. Then it set off at a mad gallop, weaving among the hurdles and other obstacles. Considine clung to the saddle.

Turner pulled Reith’s sleeve. “Save him, Fearless! He’ll be killed!”

“How the hell do you expect me—” began Reith.

A general outcry drowned his voice. The aya, running past the judges, went into buck-jumps with all six legs. At the second jump, Considine flew off and came down on the lap of one of the judges, whose chair collapsed with a crash.

Officials and policemen ran towards the pair, who sprawled entangled on the wreckage of the chair. Before they reached the place, the judge got up and stood jumping up and down and shaking fists. John Turner’s high bleat sounded above the uproar: “Maurice!”

Turner climbed the fence and ran towards his fallen friend. When he got there, the crowd was thick around Considine. Turner disappeared into the throng.

Reith told his remaining tourists: “Stay where you are!” Then he, too, climbed the fence.

When he pushed his way into the crowd around Considine, Reith found himself in the midst of a furious dispute. The judge who had been sat on was still shouting. A pair of policemen held Considine, now on his feet with dirt on his face. Another pair held Turner. Other Krishnans yelled and shook fists. Some, gesticulating, turned towards Reith, who could not understand a word. At last, a Krishnan addressed Reith in broken Portuguese: “You boss these

“Yes, sir. What—”

“Judge angry. Want take to jail. You come, quick.”

“But I have ten others—”

“Não importa!
You no want head chop, you come.”

A gate was opened in the fence, and the crowd pushed through. The police pulled Turner and a limping Considine along.

The argument among the Krishnans, however, had now spread to the spectators. The policemen and their prisoners and the furious judge were blocked by the yammering crowd.

Standing tiptoe, Reith caught a glimpse of Khorsh.
Father Khorsh!”

The priest pushed through to join him. Reith asked: “What in Hishkak are they hollering about now?”

“Some say, my son, that the earthman should be punished for disrupting the program. Others, on the contrary, say that your man furnished the most amusement of the show and should be rewarded. These are a passionate and disputatious—”

A nearby Krishnan struck another in the face. The victim reeled back and bumped into Khorsh, whom Reith caught and saved from a fall.

“I think, my son,” said Khorsh, “you had better gather your folk for a quick retreat.”

“But I can’t leave—” said Reith.

“Ah, but you can. By the grace of the gods, behold!”

A clash of steel resounded. In the grandstand, a pair of the gentry, caught up in the dispute over Considine, had drawn swords and were having at each other, clang-clang. The policemen holding Considine and Turner released their prisoners to run to the grandstand. While they and others seized and disarmed the fighters, Reith caught Considine and Turner by the arms and hauled them towards the exit gate.

“Stay there!” he commanded, and ran back to round up the rest. As he dodged through the crowd, a wild punch, which one Krishnan had thrown at another, caught him over the ear. He staggered and saw stars but kept on. By the time the forces of order had quelled the disturbance, Reith had his party collected. The priest said: “You see, my son, the efficacy of prayer. I uttered a humble petition to Bákh, to furnish us a distraction—”

BOOK: The Hostage of Zir
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