The Comet | Part 7

SAMARSEN and his men stood beneath the trees, not knowing what to do next. The trees the herd of frightened elephants has crushed down lay pell-mell before them. It was hushed; even the volcano seemed to have gone to rest.

But in the distance, the glare from the burning forest was still visible in the sky. The men were thoroughly depressed. They no longer hoped to reach their ships on the east coast. Nor were they quite sure that they were rid of the sorcerers. Danger from wild beasts and the flowing lava was still with them. Even their efforts to reach human habitations were brought to naught by the herd of frightened elephants.

What should be done now? Which way had they to turn? These questions tormented all of them. Samarsen, despite all his mental efforts, was at a loss as to what to do.

They were jerked back to life by what sounded like a death cry. It did not sound like the cry of either One-eye or Four-eyes. It was the cry of man-a human being-in imminent danger.

The men looked at their commander in astonishment. Samarsen drew his sword and said, “Follow me!” He began to run in the direction of the cry. The men, too, drew their swords and ran behind him. They could hear the cries nearer and nearer as they ran forward. Soon they reached the spot where a frightful sight awaited them. The initial fear that possessed them when they came upon the scene soon gave way to courage and hope. For the first time since they set foot on this beastly island, they were face to face with a living man. But the man was in very grave danger.

The poor fellow was cruelly tied to the forest trees and left there to die. Seeing his helpless condition, some wolves had sur- rounded him. But before they started work on him, a tiger in search of food had come there, and a fierce struggle ensued between the wolves and the tiger. In that condition, the man began to yell out of terror, and Samarsen and his men were attracted by his cries.

Samarsen displayed a great pre- sence of mind. He aimed an arrow carefully and hit the tiger, which growled with pain and fell dead. Samarsen’s men rushed forward to deal with the wolves. The wolves put up a good fight before they were hacked into pieces. In the meantime, Samarsen went to the man and cut the ropes tied to the trees with which he was hooked.

“You have saved me from sure death.” the stranger said. “And I don’t know how to thank you. I shall be eternally grateful to you for your kindness.” He paid homage to Samarsen and his men.

This man certainly did not belong to the aisle. It was evident from his appearance as well as the way he talked. Samarsen was surprised to see him here. He even suspected that the man was from Kundalini. This was soon proved to be a fact.

“Where are you from?” Samarsen asked and got the reply, “I… I come from Kundalini. Am I correct in pre-summing that you are our commander-in-chief, Samarsen?”

This question was the greatest surprise of all. Even Samarsen had not been expecting it. This stranger was not one of the men who came in their ships. How, then, did he come here, and when? The stranger seemed to read these thoughts.

“I remember,” he said, “how there was a comet in the sky when you were about to start on your expedition. The court astrologer warned you not to start, but you ignored his warning. Soon after your departure, there was a cyclone. King Chitrasen was very much worried about you. He ordered prayers for your safety throughout the land for a whole week.

“All through the week, the cyclone raged endlessly. The king lost all hope in you, and so did the people. Every day thousands of people thronged the palace and asked for news of their kith and kin who had gone in the vessels.

“The king consulted Astro- loggers, occultists, and diviners who told him that part of the expedition was destroyed and the rest had reached a strange island. A conference of the ministers and other officials was held. It was decided that another expedition should be despatched to search for you and go to your help. Kumbhand was entrusted with the leadership of the rescue party.”

“Who is this Kumbhand?” asked Samarsen in surprise. “Is he the ruler of the Kumbhand territory?”

“The same,” said the other. “It is that scoundrel who has put me in peril from which you rescued me.” He ground his teeth in rage at what Kumbhand had done to him.

Samarsen listened to the other man with a good deal of curiosity and wonder. Samarsen’s men could make neither head nor tail of what the stranger was telling them.

“Well,” continued the stranger, “we reached this island soon enough. Our ships dropped anchor on the south coast. Kumbhand took two men with them. He and went ashore, leaving the rest of us in the vessel. We waited for him all that day. He returned alone on the following morning. His first act on returning was to make up a bundle of all our bows and arrows and throw them into the sea. For the life of us, we could not see what he wanted to do that for. Nor did we know what happened to the two men who had gone with him. We did ask him. He said that wild people killed them.

“Frankly, we didn’t believe him. We asked him why he had to dump all our bows and arrows in the sea. We had the right to know, didn’t we? But, no! We had no right to question him, he said. He was the commander, he said, and he could do what he pleased! It was our duty to obey him.”

“Did he throw away his bow and arrows too?” Samarsen asked the man.

“Not he!” replied the other. “He kept his bow and arrows all right. We couldn’t ask him why he kept them. Asking questions was a mutiny. That’s what he said.

“Soon, we saw a lot of wild fellows with spears and lances coming towards us, yelling their heads off. The yelling was enough to make us sick. We had no bows and no arrows to defend ourselves against them. So we picked up stones and branches of trees for weapons.

“Then comes the real joke. This Kumbhand asks us to sur- render to those devils! Honest, that’s what he said. And that’s what we did too! What else was there for us to do? Some of our men were already lanced and speared to death. How long could we fight with those mad devils, with stones and sticks as our weapons!”

“Strange!” said Samarsen keeping down his anger. “How did he help you while fighting those wild fellows?”

“He just didn’t help,” the other replied. “When we surrendered, we were bound up. Kumbhand was put in a litter and carried by the wild men to their forest camps. While the rest of us became the prisoners of the barbarians, Kumbhand became their chief.

“It was amazing, the way the wild people obeyed Kumbhand. We could not understand how he exercised such authority over them.”

“I, too, wonder how he could do it,” said Samarsen smiling.

“But we knew the secret after two or three days. Those fellows had never seen a bow or arrow in their lifetime. That one could hit something very far away was like a miracle to them. Kumbhand showed them he had the miraculous power to hit a bird or beast without running after it or catching up with it. To convince them he was unique in his ability, he deprived us of our bows and arrows, dumping them in the sea.

“We couldn’t guess it at first. But one day, we heard the entire forest resounding with their drums. Hundreds of tribe members from other villages arrived at our camp. There this swine, Kumbhand, made an exhibition of his miraculous powers! With one arrow, he brought down an eagle soaring in the sky, and with another, he killed a stag that was far away.

“The wild brutes who had never known bows and arrows danced around Kumbhand as though he was a god or something. Kumbhand hopes to become this island’s king with the tribesmen’s help.”

“What does he want to rule over?” asked Samarsen. “There are only primitive beasts, volcanoes, a couple of sorcerers, and …”

“Sorcerers!” said the stranger in awe. “We heard about them! And we…”

“…can see them too, if you want!” The words hardly stop- ped echoing in the forest when they saw standing before them Four-eyes, holding his tasseled cap in his hands.

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