The Comet | Part 11

Having run some distance Samarsen and his men paused and listened. They could still hear the yelling of Kumbhand’s savages. They were running away to their jungle haunts. Neither One-eye nor Four-eyes appeared to be anywhere in the vicinity. The wolves were still howling, but they were now feasting on the wounded and the dead. They were no longer a source of danger.

Samarsen reclined under a tree, and the tired men also did likewise. Samarsen had no more doubts regarding Kumbhand’s determination to get at the treasure inside the ship. That meant that there were four souls interested in the treasure. Samarsen, Kumbhand, One-eye and Four-eyes! Which one of them was going to be the lucky one?

While Samarsen was busy with such thoughts, his men were yearning to return home as soon as possible. They were utterly disgusted with all wealth and the hazards they had to face while searching for it.

“Commander,” one of them said, “it is high time that we left this isle for good. We have had enough of it and more.” The others nodded their heads in approval of the sentiments expressed by the speaker.

“There is nothing new in what you say,” replied Samarsen. “We have already decided it would be wise to leave this isle. But the question is, how are we to do it?”

Indeed the men had not the slightest idea of how they could leave the Isle of Sorcery, though they were pretty anxious to go home. They had no news about the ships they had left. All their time was spent protecting themselves from the sorcerers One-eye and Four-eyes. If they were to escape, they had to do so without the knowledge of those sorcerers. And it was not easy, as they all knew full well.

‘Can’t we get Four-eyes to help us escape from here?” one of the men asked. Samarsen did not know the answer to this query. He had never thought of asking Four-eyes to help them return to Kundalini. He had his doubts about whether Four-eyes would do it.

While Samarsen and his men were occupied with these and similar thoughts, an arrow came flying from an invisible source. It struck the tree against which Samarsen was reclining, hitting the trunk of the tree a foot above Samarsen’s head. Samarsen sprang up and shouted to his men, “Get behind the trees! Kumbhand, the traitor, is out to destroy us from ambush.”

At this cry, the men rose and ran behind their leader into the forest. They could hear Kumbhand yelling, “Catch them! Kill them!” The next minute the savages rushed, Forth from behind trees.

Samarsen realised the grave situation confronting him and his men. With only five men on his side, it was not wise on his part to turn back and give a fight to the savages who could easily encircle them. Escape was the only alternative for the time being. They ran through the trees desperately while Kumb- hand chased them with his savages.

Samarsen and his men ran for a long time. They did their best to outwit their pursuers by hiding in the shades of thickets which allowed them to get back their breath and rest a little. Presently the moon went behind a cloud bank, and darkness came to the rescue of Samarsen and his men. The savages were still on their scent, but Samarsen decided it was better for them to hide in some cave till morning instead of being on the run.

So, the moment Samarsen saw a cave, he halted his men. But, when they attempted to enter it, he warned them, “Don’t be rash. The cave may be harbouring a lion or some other wild animal. Let us not jump from the frying pan into the fire.”

“But Kumbhand is after us with his savages. We have to hide somewhere!” said one man.

“We have to go inside any- way. Otherwise, we will never know what is hiding there,” said another.

Samarsen smiled at this question because it was foolish. If there was a wild beast in the cave, it was sure to kill anyone who went in to see it. “Draw your swords and be ready,” he told his men, “while I shoot an arrow into the cave. If there is any wild beast inside, it will come out, and we can deal with it.”

Then Samarsen shot an arrow inside the cave, and a lion did rush out roaring in rage, amply proving the wisdom of Samar- sen’s caution. The men were ready to deal with the lion, but the lion sensed danger. It gave the men and their swords one look, turned back and disappeared into the jungle.

Samarsen now drew his sword and approached the mouth of the cave, followed by his men. They could hear a groaning sound proceeding from the interior of the cave. “Make a light,” Samarsen told his men. “I’m afraid there is one more lion inside, probably hurt.”

The men struck flint and lighted a torch. With this torch in his hand, Samarsen cautiously went in. Inside he could see two lion cubs, one of which was hit by his arrow. The poor thing was on the point of dying.

“You can come in,” Samarsen said to his men. The cub, not hurt, growled at the intruders and began to retreat simultaneously. Samarsen approached it whistling. Having retreated as far as it could, the cub squatted against the rock.

Samarsen and his men sat around in the cave. They could still hear Kumbhand and his men yelling in the distance. They were still searching for Samarsen and his men. For the sake of safety, Samarsen got the torch put out.

Now the cave was dark. The cub that was hit by the arrow died. But the one in the corner was grumbling now and then. Samarsen was worried whether the lion would return to the cave. Kumbhand and his savages were still active in the surrounding forest, and Samarsen and his men were in no comfortable position.

They could do it with some sleep, but it was absolutely out of the question. It occurred to Samarsen suddenly that they were also running a significant risk in hiding in this cave. For, if by chance Kumbhand and his savages appeared at the mouth of the cave, nothing could save Samarsen and his men. They would all be trapped in the cave. At once, he encouraged his men, “Look, there is no point in all of us burying ourselves in this cave which can turn into a dangerous trap any minute. Go out and climb up that tree there and keep an eye on the movements of Kumbhand and his savages.”

Accordingly, Samarsen’s men drew their swords and emerged from the cave. They went to a huge tree, climbed into its thick foliage, and surveyed the surroundings.

Samarsen, alone in the cave, started at the sound of voices very close to him. It could not be his men who were talking. He suspected that they were Kumbhand’s men. Samarsen cautiously crept to the mouth of the cave, looked out and found no one. He went back into the cave. He could hear the conversation distinctly once again.

Samarsen was surprised. Was there a secret passage out of the cave? He looked for it in vain. This time he was confident that the voices were coming from the back of the cave. This was still more puzzling, for this was a tiny cave on a big hill. How could anyone reach behind the cave? Perhaps there was some secret opening in the back of the cave. Samarsen began to look for it.

With his hand along the face of the rock, Samarsen felt something like a peg. He pulled it hard, and a secret door in the rock opened, and the moonlight streamed through the opening. A few yards away, he saw two men standing and talking. They did not look like savages. They were dressed in fine and colourful clothes.

As Samarsen was wondering what he should do next, the two men saw him. The next instant, they pounced upon him and tied him up securely.

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