The Comet | Part 3
Samarsen and his men promptly climbed the nearest tree and took shelter there. Meanwhile, the mammoth was looking for a way to escape from the lions after him like a pair of hounds.
One of the soldiers said to Samarsen, “Commander, we have managed to get into a nice mess. What wealth can we expect on this frightful island?”
Another said, “If we can get out of this place alive, that is wealth enough!”
Samarsen was deep in thought. While the rest of the world had progressed, this place was still passing through the Old Stone Age. It wasn’t very sure whether there were any men on this island. It was not easy to imagine anything like modern wealth in this place.
Samarsen’s thoughts were rudely disturbed by a fearsome shout that seemed to fill and echo through the jungle.
“Hey, Death’s-head! Hey, Devil’s Serpent! Come on, Come on! Look for the rascal, Four- eyes and destroy him.”
The language was human, but the voice was not. The vote was so frightening that the hearts of Samarsen and his men were chilled by it. It had the same effect on the prehistoric creatures around the pond. They ran about in panic and made themselves scarce. The ape-men concealed themselves behind branches.
Then, the person who uttered those words came into view. He was standing near the pond. He was enormously tall for a human being. He was looking around only with his left eye. The other eye appeared to be permanently closed. More uncanny was that a grinning human skull was floating in the air just above his head while a vast serpent coiled around his feet, baring its fangs and thrusting out its vicious, forked tongue.
The tall fellow again shouted, “On the Isle of Sorcery, over the Mount of Brambles, on the top of the Prickly Hill, from the top of the Bare Stone, what do you see, Death’s-head?”
The Death’s-head laughed hollowly and chattered out the reply, “A ship dancing in the mid-ocean! Immense wealth inside the ship! Outside the ship, the Mermaid is on the watch! Kill the Mermaid-the wealth is ours!”
“Yes, if we can do it!” said One-eye in his booming voice. “But.. Four-eyes, the devil take him!..”
Samarsen was listening to all this, frightened and intrigued by what he had heard. It was clear to him that they were now on the Isle of Sorcery. If one got up the Prickly Hill and stood on a particular rock, one could see a ship of riches floating on the sea.
But then, who were these Four- eyes? What was the nature of the enmity between One-eye and Four-eyes? Could it be on account of the wealth in the ship, or was there any other reason?
As Samarsen asked himself these questions, One-eye dis- appeared into the forest, the Death’s-head and the Devil’s Serpent following him.
Now Samarsen’s followers heaved a sigh of relief. But fear still lingered on their faces as they looked at their leader.
One of them said, “This- eye seems to be a Sorcerer. See the skull and the snake that accompany him. They are enough to give anyone the creeps. Our courage and bravery are of no avail against magic. I think the sooner we leave this place, the better for all of us!”
Samarsen’s reply amazed everyone. He said, “At last, we have an assurance that there is wealth around this place. What we require is the courage and fortitude necessary to obtain it.”
He got down the tree, and his men did so. They had not the slightest idea of what their leader proposed next. To the baffled men, Samarsen said, “our first effort should be to get a glimpse of this ship in the sea. For that, we must know where the Prickly Hill is.”
“But can we believe this sorcerer, One-eye?” one of the men said.
Samarsen replied, “There is no doubt that what One-eye asked and the Death’s-head replied was all true. They did not need to fool anyone. But there are other troubles confronting us. For instance, we have heard that a mermaid is watching the treasure on the ship. We also have reason to believe that there is some rivalry between One-eye and another called Four-eyes. Four-eyes will likely prove a stumbling block in our efforts to get at the treasure in the ship. We must find out a way of overcoming all these difficulties.”
The men were quite incapable of giving any suggestions. They were now more frightened than ever before.
Samarsen carefully looked around and led the way while his men followed him. They had not gone very far when they heard an ear-splitting shriek. Samarsen looked up and saw a fabulous black owl flying over them, crying in a human voice, “Four-eyes, Four-eyes! The human scum! Beware of the human scum!”
The Awesome Owl went on repeating this warning, to the dismay of Samarsen and his men. They were amazed at the power of the sorcerer who could make an owl speak the language of man. Such a sorcerer could do almost anything!
But there was yet another surprise in store for them. From the branches above, a vast Ape-man jumped down, and the Awesome Owl, flying around and hooting human words, swooped down onto the shoulder of the Ape-man and whispered something in his ear.
The Ape-man suddenly turned round and saw Samarsen and his men. Then he caught hold of the creepers hanging from the trees and, swinging from one tree to another in manageable bounds, was soon out of sight.
One of the men petitioned Samarsen, “Enough, Commander! Let us turn back. We have nothing to gain on this Isle of Sorcery. Our swords and arrows are brushwood to these sorcerers who use birds and beasts as their messengers. Let us turn back.”
Samarsen appeared not to have heard these requests. He looked at the Awesome Owl, who was regarding them with his horrible, red eyes. Suddenly Samarsen snatched a bow from one of his followers and, setting an arrow to it, pulled the cord.
“Don’t shoot that Magic Bird, Commander,” said one of the men in anguish. “we may become the sorcerer’s enemies!”
“Let us settle this once and for all. Let us measure our power against theirs. ” We have gone too far to turn back,” Samarsen said, smiling.
He trained the arrow upon the Owl and let it fly. In another instant, it struck the Owl. But, if Samarsen had expected the Owl to fall and die, he was completely disillusioned.
The Owl plucked away the arrow sticking in his wing with his beak and cried out, “You human scum! Do you hope to kill me whom the sorcerer One-eye could not touch? You and your silly arrows! Just wait till Four-eyes squeezes the blood out of you!” Samarsen was now really frightened. He knew what fate awaited him and his men. He dashed into the forest with a sign to his men to follow him. But the Awesome Owl chased them over the treetops and followed them.
Samarsen intended to reach the east coast, where their ships lay at anchor. But he lost the way and knew it after an hour’s effort. The Owl was still after them. They could not stop for consultative.
The situation was a very unusual one. Samarsen was a courageous man, and he had the fortitude to make an effort to achieve his end. The Isle of Sorcery, which appeared to be devoid of wealth, possessed great riches. But Samarsen had not yet seen either the ship or the Mermaid, said to be guarding it.
To add to the troubles involved in getting at these riches, there were at least two sorcerers with whom Samarsen had to contend. He had seen one of them and seen the creatures of the other. There was not the slightest doubt that Samarsen and his men were no match to either of these sorcerers. True, the sorcerers were mutual enemies, but Samarsen was too indiscreet in incurring the enmity of one of them by hitting the Owl with an arrow. The other sorcerer had his eye on the treasure, and he was not likely to help Samarsen.
One way out of this predicament was to reach their ships and leave the accursed island for good. But even here, fate had played a dirty trick, and they lost their way.
Still, they had to take stock of their position, and Samarsen stopped, leaning against a tree trunk. His men surrounded him anxiously. “We have lost our way,” said Samarsen. “We have also incurred the enmity of a sorcerer. We seem little left to do except pray to Mother Kundalini.”
“Let us first get rid of the Awesome Owl somehow,” one of the men suggested.
At that moment, the forest reverberated with One-eye’s booming voice, “Death’s-head! Devil’s Serpent!..”
At this sound, the messenger of Four-eyes, the Awesome Owl, took wing and flew away. The men were now free from the Owl but were beset by fear of One-eye. They began to run away as fast as their legs would carry them, not caring where they went.
Chandamama September 1955