The Comet | Part 10
FOUR-EYES was about to describe to Samarsen how he spent his time as a “living ghost” when a tumultuous noise was heard below. Samarsen and his men turned their heads to see what it was.
The sun had already set, and darkness began to creep up the surrounding hills. Samarsen could hear some men shouting at a distance, but he could not see them. Nor could he make out in which direction they were moving.
At that very moment, he heard the booming voice of One-eye cry out, “O Death’s Head! O Devil’s Serpent!”
“Samarsen,” said Four-eyes in measured tones, “the men from your Kundalini come from below and from the other side One-eye. I shall tell you the story of the ship and the Mermaid some other time. It is much more important that you should keep away from both of these parties.”
There was much wisdom in what Four-eyes said, and Samar- sen knew it. When Four-eyes noted, “men from your Kundalini”, Samarsen knew that it was that traitor Kumbhand and the tribesmen led by him.
“Look,” said Four-eyes pointing his finger downwards. “They are coming here. They are climbing the hill.” Samarsen and his men could make them out now. There were some forty or fifty men in all bearing torches. They shouted tumultuously as they came up the hill- path.
“What shall I do now, Four- eyes?” Samarsen asked. “If it was Kumbhand alone, my five men and I could easily manage him and his wild men. But this One-eye here…. “
“Yes,” said Four-eyes. “One-eye is my business. Even without him, I do not advise you to face Kumbhand and his wild men in this darkness. Is it not much wiser to let One-eye and Kumbhand settle the matter between themselves? You may have your work done by One-eye instead of doing it yourself.”
Indeed, things turned out even as Four-eyes had surmised. Soon Kumbhand, marching at the head of the tribe members, was confronted with the tall figure of One-eye standing across his path.
“What a lark!” Samarsen exclaimed. “I wouldn’t have missed this for anything!” He was in a state of gleeful excitement. But Four-eyes shook his head and said, “Don’t expect too much, Samarsen! You do not know anything about that ship of wealth and the Mermaid. I can’t reveal it to you as yet. And don’t think that One-eye is a fool, though he is a braggart. Let us go and hide behind that boulder there.”
Four-eyes led the way. Samarsen and his men followed him, groping in the dark. They finally took their positions behind a boulder far from where Kumbhand stood facing One-eye.
At the sight of One-eye, Kumbhand reeled back in fear, and the tribe members accompanying him tried to escape. But they stopped dead when they heard One-eye shout, “You’ll be dead if you stir. Those within my sight cannot move without my permission. Death’s Head and Devil’s Serpent surround them!”
At once, the serpent jumped forth and kept going around Kumbhand and his tribe members while the Death’s Head hovered in the air their heads. This was enough to scare them.
“Well, who are you?” One- eye boomed. “Whither are you bound?”
Kumbhand was baffled by this question. He could not decide whether to speak the truth or lie boldly. The tribesmen had told him about the sorcerers of this isle, but he was seeing one of them for the first time.
“I am King of these tribesmen,” he replied in a groping manner, “I am called Kumbhand.”
“And where are you going?” One-eye asked him with an angry look.
It was evident that Kumbhand had to tell the truth. Even if he uttered lies, the tribe members shaking with fear, might give him away by blurting out the truth.
“I was told,” said Kumbhand, ‘that a certain ship can be seen from one of these summits. I’m going to see it.”
At these words, One-eye roared with laughter. He knew full well why and where these people were going.
“Tell me another,” One-eye said. “Do you want me to believe you have come up here in the dark to look at the ship in the sea? You are too clever to lead these miserable wretches, aren’t you? Are you not out to grab the wealth in the ship?”
Kumbhand licked his lips but could say nothing.
“Answer me, yes or no!” One eye thundered at him.
“Yes!” Kumbhand yelled out in fear.
“Some days back,” One-eye continued in a lowered voice, “I came across five or six men on this isle. They were dressed like you. They, too, appeared to have come for the wealth on the ship. Are you one of that crowd?”
Kumbhand easily guessed whom One-eye referred to. Those people could be only Samarsen and his men who left Kundalini earlier. Kumbhand was angry and fearful at the thought of Samarsen and his men. Unless he destroyed them, there was no safety for him.
“I know them quite well,” he told One-eye. “It was only to destroy them that I followed them to this isle. I can easily believe that lust for wealth had brought those scoundrels here. I came in search of them and found you.”
Four-eyes listening to this conversation were so disgusted with this hypocrisy that he stepped forward, calling forth his Owl and ape-man. At that exact moment, Samarsen and his men took up their bows and rained a shower of arrows on Kumbhand and his followers.
At the mention of the Owl, One-eye looked all around in fear. Some of the wild fellows fell, struck by the arrows. Kumbhand began to run down the hill as fast as he could.
Samarsen and his men chased Kumbhand and the fleeing tribe members. It was pretty dark, and Samarsen’s men could not train the arrows properly at the enemy. But they could hear Kumbhand trying to rally his men back, crying, “Don’t run! Stop!”
One eye recovered from his fear of the Owl. He drew his sword, stepped forward and, grinding his teeth in rage, said to Four-eyes, “I realise what a blasted coward you are! You claim that you are supreme in the art of sorcery. Yet you seek the help of these wretched men and their stupid bows to attack me! Why the tribesmen alone can make mince meat of your friends!”
Four-eyes gazed steadily at the other for a few moments without caring to reply. He could hear the cries of Kumbhand and the shouts of his tribe members. But he did not want to interfere.
Before he departed, he told One-eye, “You braggart! I have nothing to say in reply to you. A fight between our creatures is equally futile. You know as well as I do that your sword is powerless against me. The day will come when it will be either you or me! Let us not waste our breath until that day comes.” Then he touched his cap with his finger, and the next instant, he was gone.
Samarsen and Kumbhand were fighting fiercely with swords. The tribe members tried to advance, and Samarsen’s men kept them off with arrows.
The sword fight between Samarsen and Kumbhand was at its highest pitch. By then, the moon had risen and everywhere was light. The tribe members wounded by arrows were roaring with pain, and the whole place echoed with the din of battle.
The situation was very unfavourable for Samarsen and his men. Though better armed, they were fewer in number. If given enough time, they might destroy the enemy. But there was the danger of One-eye coming there any minute. Unmindful of all these considerations, Samarsen’s party fought Kumbhand’s party.
Presently the fight was broken up quite dramatically. A pack of hungry wolves rushed towards the spot, howling. Many of the savages had fallen in the battle, and the wolves had scented blood. They ran straight to the fighting place. The fighters saw them emerge from bushes, over the rocks and between the trees. There were so many of them that the savages and the civilised men were mortally afraid. They forgot all about the fight and ran away, scattered like leaves in the wind. Even Kumbhand and Samarsen had no choice but to run away in the wake of their men.