The Comet | Part 13

When Samarsen and his two rescuers reached the village, the whole place was in a commotion. With drawn swords, Vyaghra-dutt’s soldiers were carrying out house-to-house searches. Several villagers were so scared that they ran around the hills and forests to escape the soldiers. Some of the soldiers asked the villagers, “Where’s Siva-Dutt?” And when the villagers replied, “We don’t know,” the soldiers got angry and turned nasty.

Samarsen and his rescuers saw these things from some distance. They gave up the idea of going into the village and hid behind trees, watching something. Samarsen wondered who Siva-Dutt was.

“Why do these soldiers pester the villagers for news of Siva-Dutt? Who is he anyway?” Samarsen asked his companions.

“Siva-Dutt is our leader,” one of them replied. “It is on his orders that we have got you out of prison. These soldiers who are menacing the village are Vyaghra-dutt’s men.”

This reply did not set Samar- sen’s mind at rest. He was now tormented with another doubt: what did Siva-dutt want with him? Why did he get him out of Vyaghra-dutt’s clutches? Were they both enemies? If they were, what was the cause of their enmity?

“What are we supposed to do now?” Samarsen asked his companions.

The two men looked at each other in such a manner that Samarsen guessed that they did not know what was to be done.

“Siva-Dutt told us,” one of them said, “that we should bring you here. Of course, he desired to be friends with you. But, somehow, Vyaghra-dutt seems to have learnt the secret of Siva-dutt’s residence in this village. Siva-Dutt had scented danger and slipped away.”

Which way did Siva-dutt go? Unless Samarsen and his rescuers knew the answer, there was the risk of their falling into the hands of Vyaghra-dutt’s soldiers. As they stood puzzled about what to do, there was a soft whistling sound in their rear. They turned back and saw a man hiding in a tree, beckoning them by waving his hands.

The man was not quite visible. Samarsen could not have said whether he was a friend or foe. He was left with the choice of being guided entirely by the discretion of his rescuers.

One of the men with Samarsen whistled once, and the man in the tree whistled twice.

“He is a friend,” said the man turning to Samarsen. “His reply is correct. Only Siva-dutt’s followers know the correct signal. Let us go!”

The three came out of their hiding place and went towards the tree. In the meantime, the man in the tree, too, came down. “Siva-dutt left me here to contact you,” he said, looking towards the village, which was now in utter confusion. “Vyaghra-dutt’s men surrounded the village in the early morning hours. But Siva-Dutt got the news in time, and he escaped with his men. I alone stayed behind, waiting for you.”

This message seemed to put new life into Samarsen’s rescuers, though they would still know whether Siva-Dutt departed and how they could join him.

“This is Samarsen,” they said to the new man. “We have taken him out of Vyaghra-dutt’s prison. He must meet Siva-Dutt urgently. Do you know where he is? Can you lead us there?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know where Siva-Dutt is,” the other replied. “But he has given me this map. He said his hiding place is marked in it. I don’t know how to read it. You had better see for yourself.” He produced a paper roll out of his dress and handed it to Samarsen.

Samarsen unrolled the map and examined it closely. On the map were marked. Some hills, a few houses, wells and ponds, but Siva-dutt’s hiding place was not observed in it, nor were there any hints suggesting it.

“Perhaps Siva-Dutt retreated to the desolate region. This map indicates,” Samarsen said. But I can’t imagine why he thought of going to such a place while danger threatened him. In any case, we, too, have to go to this region.”

The others nodded their heads. The task of leading them with the help of the map fell upon Samarsen. He took one more look at the village, which was now on fire. Frustrated in their search, Vyaghra-dutt’s soldiers had set fire to the town and were enjoying the sight.

Samarsen toyed with attacking Vyaghra-dutt’s soldiers but had very meagre support. So there was nothing for him to do except go in search of this Siva-Dutt, and find out if he had anything to tell him.

Samarsen glanced at the map again and began to lead the men. He had to be his compass and lead the men correctly. Also, he had to watch out for contingents of Vyaghra-dutt’s soldiers from whom only danger was to be expected.

Having walked through the forest for some time, they emerged onto a region of rocks and hills. A landscape uneven with hillocks stretched before them. There were no signs of footpaths or habitations. It was just a wilderness of stones.

Samarsen climbed onto a height and looked around. He found one or two passes in the hills and level ground. He wanted to reach level ground, hoping to find the way forward when he went there.

They descended the hill. It was a desolate and awe-inspiring locality with huge rocks scattered all over it and trimmed bushes here and there. The dwellings marked on the map were nowhere to be seen. Nor was there any path which led them forward.

At length, Samarsen and the men came upon a very queer scene. A devilish head was carved on the side of a steep hill, and from the mouth of this head, a jet of water was gushing out in a stream. The charge was quite well cut, and the stream appeared to originate in the head. This would have been a queer sight anywhere, but in this particular place, it seemed pretty unbelievable.

“This is amazing,” Samarsen said. “No man seems to be inhabiting this region, yet man carved that head.” The men said nothing. They went on gazing at the falling stream, as Samarsen did, in wonder.

Shrewdly Samarsen looked for and found a tunnel in the rock behind the waterfall. He referred to the map again and saw a mark which probably indicated the waterfall. He was almost sure that Siva-Dutt hid here. It was an excellent hiding spot. Samarsen, followed by the three men, waded in the knee-deep stream and reached the tunnel behind the waterfall.

In the tunnel, it was pitch-dark, but as they proceeded along, it grew lighter. Presently they emerged out of the tunnel and found themselves on level ground. It was surrounded, By high hills. Samarsen saw that there were plenty of peacocks there. Some were dancing, while others were flying and uttering cries.

“Bless me! I never saw so many peacocks in my life,” Samarsen said. Even to the men who accompanied him, this place was singularly strange.

But they could not stand forever watching the beauty of peacocks and peahens. They had to contact Siva-Dutt first.

They walked forward towards a cave in the hill opposite. As they neared, there was a loud trumpeting sound, and an elephant rushed out of the cave a moment later.

Neither Samarsen nor the men were prepared for this. As the elephant rushed at them, they scattered away in different directions.

Samarsen, who took refuge be- hind a large boulder and thought within himself that the elephant must have faced some severe danger before it shot out of the cave so madly. Who could have frightened the elephant? What was there in the cave? Was it possible that he failed to use the map Siva-Dutt left correctly?

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