After dark, we took off again, heading for Mypos. The motor of our anotar is noiseless; so I didn’t anticipate being discovered. I took to the water about a mile above the city and taxied slowly toward it, avoiding the galleys anchored in the roadstead of the city.
Venus has no moon, and no stars are visible through her solid cloud blankets. Only a mysterious, eerie light relieves the gloom of the nights; so that they are not utterly black. One can see faintly for a short distance.
We came at last to a point about a hundred yards off the palace, and here we waited. The night dragged on. We could see the ghostly shapes of ships out beyond us, with here and there a light on them. We could hear the sounds of men’s voices on ship and on shore, and on shore there were many lights.
“I am afraid they have failed,” I said.
“I am afraid so,” replied Duare, “but we must not leave before daylight. They might come yet.”
Presently I heard shouts on shore, and very dimly I saw a boat put off. Then a torch was lighted in it, and I could see that the boat was full of warriors. The boat was not coming directly toward us, but was quartering. I could hear men shouting from the shore: “Not that way! Straight out!”
“They must have escaped,” said Duare. “Those men are searching for them.”
“And they’re coming our way now,” I said, for the boat had changed its course, following the directions from shore.
I searched the surface of the water for some sign of Kandar and Artol, but I could not see them. The boat was coming straight for us, but not rapidly. Evidently they were moving cautiously so as not to overlook the fugitives in the darkness.
Presently I heard a low whistle—the prearranged signal. It seemed to come from off our port bow. The ship was lying with its nose toward the shore, and the boat-load of warriors was approaching from slightly to starboard.
I answered the signal and started the motor. We moved slowly in the direction from which that low whistle had come. Still I saw no sign of Kandar or Artol.
Some one in the approaching boat shouted, “There they are!” and at the same time I saw two heads break the water a few yards from us. Now I knew why I had not seen them: they had been swimming beneath the surface to avoid discovery, coming up to signal and then going under again when they heard the answer. Now they were swimming strongly toward us; but the boat was approaching rapidly, twenty paddles sending it skimming across the water. It looked as though it would reach us about the same time that Kandar and Artol did.
I shouted to them: “As I pass you, grab the side of the ship and hang on! I’m going to tow you out until we’re away from that boat far enough to stop and get you on board.”
“Come on!” cried Kandar; “we’re ready.”
I opened the throttle a little and bore down on them. The Myposans were very close. They must have been surprised to see the anotar on the water, but they kept on coming. A man in the bow raised his trident and called on us to stop.
“Take the controls, Duare,” I said. She knew what to do. Duare always does. For a girl who had led the cloistered life she had in the palace of her father before I came along, she is a marvel of efficiency and initiative.
I turned and faced the boat just as the fellow in the bow cast his trident. It was a close shave for us: the weapon whizzed between Duare’s head and mine. Two other warriors had risen and were poising their tridents; then I let them have it. The hum of my r-ray pistol sounded no warning to them, but almost simultaneously three Myposan warriors crumpled and fell—two of them over the side of the boat into the lake.
Kandar and Artol had seized the side of the ship, and Duare had given her more throttle. Two more tridents were hurled, but this time they fell short. We were pulling away rapidly, when Duare saw another boatload of warriors ahead of us. The boat had evidently been lowered from one of the ships in the roadstead.
Thinking quickly, Duare throttled down. “Climb aboard!” she cried to the two men, and they lost no time in obeying her; then she opened the throttle wide and bore straight down on the second boat. I heard the frightened cries of its crew and saw the frantic efforts they were making to get out of our way, as Duare pulled up the anotar’s nose and we rose gracefully above them.
“Nice work!” I said.
“Beautiful!” said Kandar.
Artol was speechless for a moment. It was his first flight. This was the first plane he had ever seen. “Why don’t we fall?” he said presently.
Kandar was thrilled. He had heard me talk about the anotar, but I imagine that he had taken all that I said with a grain of salt. Now he could scarcely believe the testimony of his own senses.
I was planning to return Kandar and Artol to Japal, where Kandar’s father, Cantor, was jong. It lies at the upper end of the Lake of Japal, about five hundred miles from Mypos; and as we didn’t wish to arrive there before dawn, I determined to make a landing and ride the night out on the surface.
There was no wind, and the surface of the lake was like glass; so we made an easy landing and prepared to lie there until morning. We settled ourselves comfortably in the two cockpits, content to wait out the night.
I asked Kandar if they had much difficulty in making their escape.
“It was not easy,” he said. “As you know, the outlet from the slaves’ pool to the lake is too small to permit the passage of even a small man; so we had to find some way to reach one of the palace pools.
“After you killed Tyros, things were in a chaotic condition. Skabra, his wife, proclaimed herself sole ruler; but she is so generally hated that several factions sprang up, insisting that their particular candidate be made jong. There were so many of them that they have, at least temporarily, defeated their own purpose; and Skabra rules; but the discipline of the palace guards has been undermined. Naturally, they want to favor him who may be next jong; and, as they are hoping that it won’t be Skabra, they are not very loyal to her. They spend most of their time holding secret meetings and scheming; so the interior palace guard is extremely lax.
“Artol and I decided to take advantage of this; and we also decided upon a bold move. We knew that the royal pool connected with the lake; that much we were positive of; so we agreed that the royal pool was the one we would use.
“The slaves’ compound is usually heavily guarded, but tonight was the exception. Only one warrior stood at the gate that leads into the palace grounds. We had no weapons, not even the wooden trident with which we are furnished when we guard the royal pool. We had nothing but our bare hands.”
“And a tremendous desire to escape,” added Artol.
“Yes,” admitted Kandar, “that was our most powerful weapon—the will to escape. Well, we worked our way around to the guard, a great bearded fellow, who had always been extremely cruel to all of us slaves.”
“That made it easier,” said Artol.
“Whatever the cause, it was not difficult for Artol,” said Kandar, grinning. “When we approached close to him, the guard asked what we were doing in that part of the compound, and ordered us back to our shelters; and he supplemented the order with a poke of his trident. That was what we had expected and hoped for. I seized the trident, and Artol leaped on the fellow and got him by the throat.
“You have no idea how powerful Artol is, or how quick. The guard didn’t have time to cry out before his wind was shut off; and then he was down on his back with Artol on top of him, choking the life out of him; and I had the trident. I knew what to do with it, too.
“We took his sword as well as his trident; and, leaving his body where it lay, walked out into the palace grounds. This portion of them is not well lighted, and we came to the wall surrounding the royal pool without being discovered. Here was another guard. He proved a much simpler obstacle to overcome; because now we had a sword and a trident.
“Leaving his corpse resting peacefully on the ground, we entered the enclosure wherein lies the royal pool. This was well lighted, and there were several people loitering on the other side of the garden. As we approached the pool, one of them came toward us. It was Plin.”
“The fellow-slave who turned traitor and stole my pistol,” I explained to Duare.
“Oh, by the way, how did you get it back?” asked Kandar.
“Plin threw it into the royal pool,” I replied; “and when I dove in after Tyros and Duare, I found it lying at the bottom—but go on, what happened then?”
“Well,” continued Kandar, “Plin screamed for the guard. We didn’t wait any longer then; we both dived into the pool, hoping we could find the corridor leading to the lake and not drown before we could swim through it.”
“And we barely made it,” said Artol. “I think I did drown a couple of times before my head finally broke the surface. As it was I was practically unconscious, and if Kandar hadn’t held me up for a couple of minutes, I’d have been a goner.”
“So that’s how the search started for you so quickly,” I said; “it was Plin.”
Kandar nodded. “Yes,” he said, “and my only regret at leaving Mypos is that I shall now not be able to kill Plin.”
“I can take you back,” I said.
Kandar grinned. “No thanks, “ he said; “I am not that mad at anybody. Then, too, having such a friend as you outweighs Plin and all my other enemies. I shall not try to thank you for what you and Duare have done for us—not in words. There are none adequate to express my gratitude.”
“I am only a common warrior,” said Artol, “and know but few words; but, after my jong, you have all my loyalty.”