I wondered what strange freak of Fate had rendered an entire nation mad, and whether future generations would become more violent or if the seed of madness would eventually die out; and while I was thinking of these things I fell asleep and dreamed of Sari and Abner Perry and Dian the Beautiful, so that when I awoke my heart was heavy with regret that I could not have slept on, dreaming thus, forever.
When I awoke I was ravenously hungry, for, though I had sat at the king’s table, I had had no chance to eat, so quickly had I been hustled out. I wondered if they would bring me food, but knowing these people as I did I realized that they might forget me entirely and that I might lie here until I starved to death.
For want of something better to do, I thought I would pace off the dimensions of my cell ,anything to keep my mind occupied. It was quite dark and so I groped my way to one of the side walls and then moved slowly toward the back of the cell, keeping one hand upon the wall. I was surprised that what I had first thought to be a small room should be so large. In fact, it proved perfectly enormous. Finally the truth dawned upon me. They had locked me up in a corridor.
I crossed it and found that it was only a couple of paces in width. Where did it lead? I determined to follow it and find out; but first I returned to the wall against which I had started, so that, by keeping my hand constantly against that wall, I could always return to the part from which I had started, if I so desired. This precaution was quite necessary for the reason that there might be branching corridors or cross corridors that I might miss in the darkness did I not keep one hand constantly upon the same wall.
Like all the other corridors I had seen, this one ran first in one direction and then another; but always it ran through utter darkness. I had been following the passageway for some time when I heard voices ahead of me. They were faint and muffled at first; but as I continued to grope my way along they became plainer; so I knew that I was approaching them. At last I could make them out. They were the voices of a man and a woman. They seemed to be arguing about something, and presently I could hear their words.
“If you will come away with me, I will take you back to your own country,” said the man. “If you remain here, Bruma will sacrifice you to Ogar. Not even Meeza could save you, although he would like to have you for himself.”
“I do not believe you,” said a woman’s voice, “because you know you could never get me out of the city. As soon as I was missed, Bruma and Meeza would have the city searched.”
“Little good would it do them,” said the man, “for we should be well out of the city before anyone knew that we had gone. Right here is a corridor that leads to a cave in the forest beyond the walls of the village, right here behind this door.” And with that, he struck a panel of wood with his knuckles so close to my ear that it made me jump.
So this was the corridor leading out of the palace. The poor crazy halfwits had locked me into the only avenue by which I could escape. It was very amusing. How I wished that Kleeto and Zor were with me. It would be quite futile to attempt to return for them now. In the first place I couldn’t have gotten out of the corridor into the palace, and if I had been able to do so how was I to reach Zor, who was now an honored guest of Meeza. I should certainly have been recognized had I gone prowling around the king’s quarters looking for my friend, nor could I have found my way to Kleeto along the devious passageways of the palace. Still, I hated to abandon my friends; and so I stood there in the darkness trying to conjure some plan out of the thin air whereby I might get word to Zor and Kleeto.
As I stood there thinking, I could hear the man beyond the partition speaking in low tones to the woman; but his voice did not carry his words to me until presently he raised it.
“I tell you that I love you,” he said, “and Meeza or no Meeza, Bruma or no Bruma, I am going to have you.”
“I already have a mate,” replied the woman; ‘“and if I didn’t, I would as soon mate with a jalok as you.”
“You compare me with a jalok, slave!” cried the man, his voice rising in anger. “I, Moko, the king’s son! You dare insult me!”
“It was the jalok I insulted,” said the woman.
“By Ogar!” screamed the man, “no one shall have you now, nor shall you ever see Sari again. For this insult, slave, you die.”
So this was the girl from Sari. I waited to hear no more, but hurled myself against the panel in front of me. It crashed inward beneath my weight; and I stepped into a room to see a girl in the clutches of Moko, the son of Meeza. The girl’s back was toward me, but over her shoulder the man saw me. His eyes were blazing with maniacal fury as he sought to free the hand in which he held his knife from the grasp of his intended victim.
“Get out of here,” he screamed at me. “Get out!’”
“Not until I am done with you,” I said, as I advanced toward him, stone knife in hand.
“I am Moko,” he said, “the king’s son. I tell you to get out. Disobey me, and you die.”
“It is not I who am going to die,” I said, as I closed on him.
With a scream, he pushed the girl from him and came for me. He was far more skilled in the use of a knife than I; and had I depended solely upon that weapon, I should have died there in the palace of Meeza, the king. But I didn’t depend upon my knife and I didn’t die. I parried his first blow with my right forearm and crossed with my left to his chin. He went down to that blow but was up again almost immediately and coming for me again, but I could see that he was a little groggy. He struck at me wildly; but I stepped to one side and he missed, and as he went by I plunged my knife between his ribs. With a single, hideous shriek he sank to the floor and lay still; then I turned toward the girl, and my eyes went wide in astonishment.
For a moment I could not believe their testimony.
“Dian!” I cried. “It is you?” She ran to me and threw her arms around my neck. “David!” she sobbed. We stood there clasped in each other’s arms, and it was a couple of minutes before either of us could speak.
“David,” she said at last, “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I recognized you shortly after you entered the room. I was quite sure that you had not recognized me, because my back was toward you; and it was all that I could do to keep from crying out to you; but I didn’t because it would have distracted your attention from Moko.”
“Tell me how you happen to be here,” I said.
“It is a long story, David,” she replied. “Wait until we have more time. Right now we should be thinking of getting out of here, and Moko has told me the way.”
“Yes,” I replied, “I heard; but I have a problem. There are two other prisoners here whom I should help to escape: Zor of Zoram, who was captured with me; and Kleeto, a girl from Suvi, who befriended us and made it possible for us to obtain the apparel of Jukans, which has served to at least partially disguise us.”
“We must try to help them,” said Dian, “and I suppose that you have some plan fully worked out.”
“That is the trouble,” I replied. “I have none,” and then I explained the difficulties which confronted me.
When I had concluded she shook her head. “It seems almost hopeless,” she said; “but I hate to abandon them.”
“There is one thing that we must do, and that is get out of this room before some one comes and discovers us with the body of Moko. Suppose we follow the corridor now and ascertain if it really leads to freedom; then we will be in a better position to make our plans for the future.”
Before we left the chamber I fixed up the broken door as best I could, lest it attract attention and indicate the avenue by which we had escaped; then I dragged Moko’s body out into the dark corridor.
“If they should find it in this room,” I said, “it is from this room that their search would start; and naturally if they knew about the corridor, they would immediately jump to the conclusion that we had escaped in that way; but if it isn’t here, they won’t know where to start.”
“You are right,” said Dian, “for no one knew that Moko came to this room, nor would they look for me here because this is not the room in which I was imprisoned. Moko brought me here.”
Hand in hand, Dian and I followed the dark corridor until finally we came to a heavy wooden gate that barred further progress.
“Beyond this should lie freedom,” I said, as I felt over it for the latch.