“Here is your mate,” said Omat. “I shall let her remain here while you eat; and you needn’t hurry,” he added.
I took Duare’s hand and pressed it, and we walked off to one side, a little way from the other slaves, and sat down on the ground together. At first neither of us could speak; we just sat there holding hands.
Presently Duare said, “I never expected to see you again. What strange fate brought us together again in Jangor?”
“Providence has been so unkind to us,” I said, “that maybe it is trying to make it up to us a little now. But tell me what happened to you, and how it is that you are here.”
“It is not a very pleasant story,” she said.
“I know, dear,” I said, “but tell me what you did after you killed Vantor—and of course it was you who killed him.”
She nodded. “Yes. It was in the middle of the night. Everybody on the ship was asleep, including the sentry at the door, which had been left open. I simply walked out; it was that easy; but I didn’t know which way to go. My only thought was to get away somewhere and hide, for I knew that if they caught me they would kill me because of what I had done. And in the morning I lay down in some tall grass and slept. When I awoke I saw the battle fleet of the Falsans moving toward the east. I knew you were with it, and though I never expected to see you again, I went along in the same direction, to be as near to you as possible.
“After a while I came to a little stream where I drank and bathed; and then, refreshed, I went on again; but by this time the fleet was out of sight. And then in the middle of the afternoon I saw one of those little scout ships coming toward me and I hid, but evidently they had seen me, for they came directly to my hiding place.
“Half a dozen of these terrible Hangors got out of the ship and seized me. It would have been as senseless as it would have been futile to try to escape them.
“I soon realized that I had fallen into the hands of some very terrible people, and that it was useless to expect either sympathy or kindness from them. Like the bandits they are, they were out looking for any sort of loot or prey they could find. They send these ships out constantly and sometimes in great numbers, especially after a battle between the Falsans and the Pangans, when they prey upon disabled ships, looting them and taking prisoners.
“The ship I was on was really scouting the battle that they knew was imminent, but in the meantime looking for anything else they could pick up. They continued on to the west and presently discovered our disabled anotar. They could not make out what it was, and when I told them they would not believe me, and one of them flew into a terrible rage because he thought that I was lying to them. I sometimes think that many of them are quite mad.”
“I am sure of it,” I said. “No normal mind could be as cruel and unreasoning as some of these Hangors. But go on with your story.”
“There is not much more to it,” she replied. “They stole everything that they could from the anotar, demolished the instruments and the engine, and then came back toward Hangor; and here I am and here are you.”
“At least we are together again,” I said, “and that is something; for now we can plan on escaping.”
“You are always the optimist,” said Duare.
“I have escaped before,” I reminded her.
“I know,” she said, “but somehow this seems so terribly hopeless. Even if we escape from Hangor, we have no way of escaping from the country. Our beloved anotar has been destroyed, and from what I have been told, the mountains to the south are absolutely impassable; and the land is full of enemies.”
“I refuse to give up hope,” I said.
“What became of poor Ero Shan?” she asked, after a moment’s silence.
“He is here,” I said; “and I have another friend here, a Pangan officer named Banat. Between the four of us we may be able to cook up some scheme for escape. By the way, where are you quartered?”
“It is just the other side of that wall,” she said. The men’s and the women’s compounds adjoin. They tell me that they used to herd them all in together, but there were so many fights, and so many men slaves were killed, that they had to segregate them.”
The slaves had finished their meal by this time and the women had returned from their compound to take away the empty bowls. Omat came with them, and beckoned to Duare. We stood up, and I held her in my arms for just a moment; then she was gone. It was good to have had her to myself for even this short time and I felt far more hopeful than I had since she had been taken from the Falsan flagship, though I must admit that my hope lived on very meager fare.
After Duare left I went over and sat down with Ero Shan and Banat.
“Why didn’t you come over and see Duare?” I asked Ero Shan.
“You could have so little time together,” he said, “that I did not want to rob you of any of it.”
“She inquired about you,” I said, “and I told her that you were here and that we also had another friend in Banat; and the four of us should be able to work out some plan whereby we might escape.”
“Whatever it is,” said Ero Shan, “you can count me in on it. I would rather be killed trying to escape than to remain here to be beaten to death.”
The next day Stalar assigned me to another job. I was sent with a dozen other slaves, who, for one reason or another, he particularly disliked, to a large corral where a number of zorats were kept. It was so filled with accumulated filth that the animals were knee deep in it, and could move around only with the greatest effort.
While the work was offensive and nauseating in the extreme, it had one advantage in that the guards were not near enough to us to crack us with their whips; and as they wouldn’t come down into the filth, they sat on the fence and swore at us.
This was all right while we were loading the carts, but we had to push them about a mile outside the city to dump them, where their contents could later be used for fertilizing the fields where they raised vegetables and grain for the zorats that are kept up. It was while we were pushing the carts that the guards could get at us, and then they made up for lost time. One of the guards soon discovered that I was much stronger and much faster than any of the other slaves, so he attached himself to me and made a game of it. He laid wagers with another guard that I could load faster, pull heavier loads, and get them out to the dumping ground sooner than any of the other slaves; and in order to encourage me, he laid on with his lash.
I took it because I had found Duare, and I didn’t want anything to happen to me now.
The other guard had picked out a husky slave, on which he had placed his wager, and he stood over him, lashing him furiously to make him work faster. The wager was on the number of full loads we could take out to the dump during the remainder of the day and a certain amount of money was to be paid on each load which either slave took out more than the other.
It was soon obvious that I should win money for my guard, but the fellow was greedy to collect all that he could; so he lashed me out and lashed me back, until I was covered with raw welts and the blood was running down my back and sides.
Notwithstanding my anger and my suffering, I managed to control my temper until I felt that I could stand no more. On one trip I got out to the dump after the others had all unloaded and started the return trip to the corral. This left my guard and myself alone at the dump, a mile away from the city and with no one near us. I am a very powerful man but I was about ready to drop from exhaustion. The afternoon was only about half over, and I knew that the fool would kill me if this went on until night; and as we reached the dump I turned and faced him, leaning on the forked tool which I had been using to load and unload the cart.
“If you were not a fool,” I said, “you would not waste your energy and mine by beating me. Pretty soon I shall not have strength enough left to pull the cart after I have loaded it.”
“Shut up, you lazy beast! “ he cried, “and get to work;” and then he came for me with his whip again.
I jumped forward and seized the whip and jerked it from his hand; and when he started to draw his pistol, I raised the tool as though it had been a spar and drove it into his chest.
It must have pierced his heart, for he died almost instantly. I stooped over his body and took his r-ray pistol from him, concealing it beneath my loincloth; then I laid him near the cart and unloaded its contents upon him until he was completely hidden—a filthy thing buried beneath filth.