The Comet | Part 4
Samarsen and his men kept running till they reached a rocky region. They could no longer hear the frightening boom of the sorcerer, One-eye. “God bless us!” they said to themselves. The Awesome Owl and the Ape-man, messengers of Four-eyes, were nowhere to be seen. It was evident that they were no longer following them. This was a great relief.
Now for the next step before some other calamity beset them, they should be out of this Isle of Sorcery. But this was not as easy as it appeared at first sight. How were they to leave this island? In which direction were their ships? Were the vessel safe and the men in them? In which part of the island were Samarsen and his men now?
These questions had to be answered. A sense of direction was lost entirely in the thick jungle that covered this island. Everywhere there were mountains, tall trees and thick creepers spreading over the trees like a close net. They could not plan where to go unless they knew east from west and north from south.
While Samarsen was lost in these doubts, he saw the sun peep through the clouds. This helped him to guess which part of the island they had reached.
“This is west,” Samarsen told his men. “We are now on the western part of the island; Our ships lie on the east coast. That is the present position.”
“We must reach the east coast as best we can,” said one of the men in his opinion.
“Easier said than done,” sighed Samarsen. “There is no straight path to the east coast. There are all sorts of dangers along the way. We must cross hills and forests and, above all, face ferocious beasts. Our destination lies beyond all these.”
Seeing their leader sigh in despair, the men were quite disheartened. Samarsen sensed this. “But we will make it!” he said sternly. “At any cost, we will reach our ships. Of course, there will be difficulties. To face them, we have our swords and the blessings of Mother Kundalini, our greatest armour. It has protected us until now. Come on, men! Follow me!”
Hardly had Samarsen taken a few steps when he suddenly stopped, cautioning his men to be quiet. All of them saw a sight which could make even the bravest of men shiver. A giant python was noiselessly crawling down a tree towards a couple of leopards, unaware of the danger approaching them. The python suddenly lunged forward, gripped one of the leopards in its fangs, and threw its coils around it in an iron grip. The second leopard was scared and ran off.
But, instead of running away, the second leopard returned and jumped at the python with great force.
“Let us proceed. We should avoid falling victim to such dangers,” said Samarsen to his men.
They proceeded further through a marsh. This place was covered with sediments brought down by mountain streams and creeks. The whole area was overgrown with very tall grass and bamboo thickets. They made their way through the tall grass, carefully watching for any danger; as usual, Samarsen was in the lead. He was inspiring his men with courage.
“It looks to me,” he said, “that there must be plenty of water around here. Possibly lots of animals come here to drink. But these animals are less likely to be as dangerous as wild animals.”
These words were hardly uttered when they saw a rhinoceros emerge from tall grassy bushes. The men began to look around for a way of escape.
“It may be dangerous to run away,” Samarsen warned his men, eying the beast. “Draw your swords and stand behind me in a line.”
The rhinoceros looked up at the men, snorted and pawed the ground, grunting fiercely. The men were shivering with fear. They wondered whether their commander could cope with the beast. The rhino pawed the floor again and charged.
As the brute came headlong, Samarsen struck his sword deep into his back. Any other animal would have fallen. But not the rhino. He only roared and turned back. The sword thrust did not affect him. For he turned around once again, facing the men. Then it charged again.
This time the men were bold. They were infused with the cold courage of their leader. As the rhino charged at them, they stepped aside and pierced him with steel blades. The rhino was done for. It turned on its side and fell, kicking its legs and roaring with pain.
“Luck has been with us so far,” Samarsen told his men. “His roaring may attract other beasts, and it is not safe for us to remain here. Let us be off!”
Samarsen and his men presently came upon a pleasant pool. Some of the men were thirsty after their encounter with the rhino. They wanted to drink some water. One said that it would be wonderful if he could have a dip.
“Try to remember,” Samarsen warned his men, “that we are on the Isle of Sorcery. Whatever you want to do, be careful!”
It was no idle warning. As two men got into the water, the pool seemed to bestir itself, and four or five alligators jumped at them. The men on the shore tried to chase them away with bows and arrows, but they could not prevent the alligators from seizing the men and dragging them to the bottom of the pool.
This one incident depressed Samarsen and his remaining four followers more than all the horrors they had seen up till then. The utter strangeness of the surroundings and the dangers faced at every step helped unite these men as nothing else could. They were dearer to one another than their dearest ones. They were like one being, of which Samarsen was the head, and the others were limbs. So the loss of two men was like the loss of two precious limbs. With heavy hearts, they moved forward with the greatest possible caution. Soon they found a lake of water barring their way. They had to cross it or turn back.
“This appears to be very big,” thought Samarsen. “How are we to cross it?” He could not believe it any further because of the water near the shore. It was moving and sounding like someone was bathing in it, though nobody was to be seen. But there was a branch of a tree overhanging the spot where the lake was being disturbed, and an odd cap with two eye-like slits was hanging from this branch by a tassel.
Not one of them could believe his eyes. Even Samarsen could not solve the mystery of the water stirring itself. The only possible conclusion was that some invisible person was having a bath in the lake.
Samarsen and his men hid behind a bush and went on watching the mystery. “Could it be the sorcerer, One-eye, by any chance?” Samarsen asked himself. But he was sure that it was not he. For one thing, the cap hanging from the branch could not be that of One-eye. Could it be another sorcerer?
Suddenly some chanting reached their ears from the lake. The voice was rough and bold, “Whoever he is, he is an uncommon fellow!” Samarsen concluded.
While Samarsen and his men were preoccupied with the invisible bather, a snake-like head rose from behind the bushes on the shore of the lake, and an unimaginably colossal creature, several times bigger than a giant elephant, came into their view. It had a long neck and a head far too small for its body.
This queer creature lowered its tiny head to the spot where the water was astir, and the men hiding behind the bushes watched it with fascinated horror. It was apparent that the giant creature was trying to have a bite of the invisible one.
There was a fierce shout, apparently made by the invisible person. At that exact moment, the odd cap hanging from the branch slipped down, and the next moment, a man was seen standing in the water and wearing the hat.
At the sight of the man, the giant reptile got so frightened that it ran away in panic.
“Ah, my dear Big Tummy! You want to gobble me up! You think Four-eyes is such an easy morsel!” said the man standing in the lake, looking in the direction of the giant creature.
Hearing these words Samarsen and his followers shook with uncontrollable dread. “How can we escape this Four-eyes, the deadly enemy of One-eye? This Four-eyes must be aware that I tried to kill his owl!” Samarsen wondered.