Now, assured that our flight had not been noticed, we came down into the canyon and made our way back to the 975, where we knew we could find food and water in her lockers.
Before it became too dark we examined the damage that had been done the little scout ship, and discovered that a day’s work might put it in running condition again; for there were tools and spare parts aboard.
We started to work immediately, but when darkness fell we had to abandon it.
After we had eaten we discussed our plans and decided to try to find Onar, the capital of Falsa, where we believed Duare might be a prisoner. We thought that by hugging the foot of the northern mountain range we should be far enough away from any city, and off the beaten track so far that there would be no danger of our being discovered; and once in Onar I was sure that we would be well received, for we had fought with the Falsan fleet and no one there would know that we had also fought on the side of the Pangans. And so we laid our plans, and with such assurance of success that they seemed almost accomplished by the time we fell asleep.
The next morning we were up before dawn, had breakfast, and started working on the track the moment that it was light again.
We worked like a couple of galley slaves under the lash and by mid-afternoon the work was completed.
“There,” I said, as we crawled out from under the 975, “in two shakes of a dead lamb’s tail we’ll be on our way;” and then I saw Ero Shan looking past me at something, and from the hopeless expression on his face, I guessed that what he saw was not pleasant.
I turned slowly around. Almost upon us were some fifty very savage-looking men mounted upon zorats, those weird-looking creatures which Amtorians use for saddle animals, but which I hate to dignify with the name of horse.
They are about the size of a small horse, with long, slender legs suggesting great speed. Their feet are round and nailless, and heavily calloused on the bottom. Their almost vertical pasterns suggest that they might be a hard-gaited beast, but this is not so, for their almost horizontal femurs and humeri absorb the jolts and render the zorat an easy-riding saddle animal. Above their withers and also just forward of their kidneys are soft pads or miniature humps, which form a perfect saddle with natural pummel and cantle. Their heads are short and broad with two large, saucer-like eyes and pendulous ears. Their teeth are those of a herbivore, but they can use them effectively as weapons when their short tempers are aroused, although their principal means of defense is their quickness.
The men who now surrounded us carried r-ray rifles and pistols as well as swords. They wore gaudy loincloths of many colors, and turbans of similar patterns, which were wound around their heads, leaving one end about a yard long, which hung down over their left shoulders. Their scowling faces were as hard as granite.
“What are you doing, Pangans?” demanded one of them.
“We are not Pangans,” I said; “and we were trying to repair this ship so that we could go to Hangor and get directions for getting out of this country without being captured by the Pangans again.”
“You were prisoners of the Pangans?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “They brought us along with them when they came to attack Hangor yesterday.”
“Will that ship run?” asked the man.
“No;” I replied; “and it never will. It cannot be repaired.”
“If you are not Pangans,” the fellow continued, “you must be either Falsans or Maltors. Which are you?”
“Neither,” I said.
“You must be lying,” he said. “There are no other cities in Anlap.”
“We are not from Anlap,” I told him.
“Where are you from then?”
“From California,” I replied. “It’s a little country that’s not at war with anybody, and certainly not with Hangor.”
He had two of his men dismount and disarm us and then he ordered us up behind two others, and we set off in the direction of Hangor.
The zorats were very fleet and apparently tireless and we must have covered fifteen or twenty miles before we came to a camp just before dark. The camp was in a forest at the edge of a stream at the mouth of a canyon, in which I could see a large herd of Amtorian cattle.
In the camp of these herders, who were also warriors, there were a number of women, but no children; and when we arrived the women were cooking the evening meal. I say cooking the evening meal—they were cooking a part of it, boiling vegetables over many individual fires. The rest of the meal consisted of meat which they ate raw, the women passing it on huge platters and the men cutting strips from it as they went by.
They were certainly a rough lot, and during the meal and after it there were several bloody fights, mostly over women. I saw one man badly beaten up because he looked at a woman too long. Though they fought viciously upon the slightest provocation, or upon none at all, they did not use their weapons, relying entirely upon their hands, feet, and teeth to inflict damage upon their adversaries. It is a point of honor among them that they do not kill one another, and if one should transgress this unwritten law, the others would fall upon him and kill him.
There was quite a little discussion concerning Ero Shan and myself and the location of California.
“It is a little country that is not at war with us,” explained one of the party which had captured us; “and they are going to Hangor to get someone to tell them how to get out of this country and get back to California.”
At that everybody laughed.
“You just go right up to Jeft when you get to Hangor,” said one of the men, “and tell him you want someone to show you the way back to California;” then everybody laughed again.
“What is so funny?” I asked one of them.
“You would think it funny, too, if you knew Jeft,” he replied.
“Who is Jeft?”
“He is our jong; and he is a real jong, too. No slave has ever escaped from Hangor since Jeft became jong.”
“You are going to take us back to Hangor to put us into slavery?” I asked.
“Of course,” replied the man who had captured us.
“Have you ever been a slave?” asked one of them.
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, don’t think that you know what slavery is until after you have been one of Jeft’s slaves. Then you can boast, if you live through it.”
After a while they told us that we could go to sleep, and we curled up on the ground at one side of the camp. “Jeft must be a pleasant person,” remarked Ero Shan.
“The Myposans were not pleasant people,” I said; “neither were the Brokols, nor the Vooyorgans; but I lived through captivity with them, and I escaped.”
“May your luck hold here,” said Ero Shan drowsily, and fell asleep.
Early the next morning they mounted us on a couple of zorats and sent us with a guard of five men toward Hangor, which we reached late that afternoon.
Hangor is a mean little walled city, with narrow, crooked filthy streets, lined with hovels which one could not dignify with the name of houses. Slatternly women sat in the doorways and dirty children played in the filth of the streets.
The jong’s house, to which we were immediately taken, was larger, but no less disreputable than the others.
Jeft was sitting in an open courtyard in the center of his house when we were taken before him. He was an extremely gross and brutal-looking man, wearing a filthy loincloth that had once had a pattern and a similarly disreputable turban. He was drinking something from an enormous tankard and spilling a great deal of it over his chin and down his front.
“What have we here?” he bellowed, as we were led before him.
“Two men from California who escaped from the Pangans during the battle day before yesterday,” explained one of the men who had brought us.
“From California, hey?” demanded Jeft. “I’ve just been waiting to get my hands on one of you zorat thieves from California. “
“Oh,” I said, “so you are familiar with California, are you?”
“Of course I’m familiar with California,” he fairly shouted. “Who says I ain’t? You mean to call me a liar? What do you want in my country anyway, comin’ in here and calling me a liar?”
“I didn’t call you a liar,” I said. “I was just pleased to know that you were familiar with California.”
“There you go calling me a liar again. if I say you called me a liar, you did call me a liar.”
“However, I am still pleased to know you are familiar with California,” I said.
“You don’t think I’m familiar with California; you don’t think I’ve ever been to California. So! You don’t think I’ve ever been to California, when I say I have. What do you mean, coming here and looking for trouble!”
I did not reply, and he immediately flew into another frenzy. “Why don’t you answer me?” he demanded.
“What’s the use of answering you when you know all the answers?” I said. “You even know about a country that you never heard of before, and it lies on another world 26,000,000 miles from Amtor. You are a big bag of wind, Jeft, and if I failed to call you a liar before, I do now.”
I knew that we could expect no mercy from this man and that nothing I might say to him might make it any easier or any harder for us while we were here. He was an ignorant and a degraded bully and I had taken all from him that I intended to, let come what might. My words had an entirely different effect upon him than I had anticipated; Like the bag of wind that I had termed him, he deflated as though he had been punctured. He took a big swallow from the tankard, to hide what I imagine was his embarrassment, and then said to the men who had brought us, “Take them away and turn them over to Stalar; and tell him to see that they work.”