The Comet | Part 8

THE sudden appearance of the sorcerer, Four-eyes, in their midst startled Samarsen and his men considerably, while the new man was positively stunned. The owl and the ape-man were there, too, looking at the human beings with some curiosity.

“You needn’t be afraid of me,” said Four-eyes looking at them and smiling. “Harming others is no business of mine. If I have an enemy at all, it is only that One-eye. I shouldn’t have looked upon him as my enemy if he was not out to destroy me. Well, who is this new person?” Four-eyes pointed his finger at the new arrival as he asked the question.

“I am Dhan-pal, the solider,” the new man replied, still in awe of the sorcerer. “When I was in great danger, these good people saved me.”

“Speaking of danger,” Four-eyes said, continuing to smile, “You may consider yourself on the brink of great peril. Hitherto you have been in danger of One-eye alone. But now, a new source of peril has been added. It lies south of the hills on this isle in the shape of men belonging to your species.”

Even while Four-eyes warned them of the danger, two tribesmen watched Samarsen and his men from behind the bushes. But neither Samarsen nor the other men suspected it.

“Four-eyes,” said Samarsen, “You are a sorcerer, yet you impress me as a good person. If you are certain about the danger to befall us, kindly let us know how to avoid it.”

Four-eyes did not reply at once. When he finally nodded and began to speak, he spoke on an entirely different subject. “This isle has become a source of danger,” he said, “because of the ship scuttled on the west coast. It is well known that the ship contains a great wealth. Most people believe that money can get everything. Sorcerer One-eye wants that wealth. I want the mermaid guarding the ship. If you tell me what you want, I shall try to help you.”

At that very moment, Dhan-pal, the soldier, uttered a frightened, piercing cry. Samarsen and his men turned to him and anxiously asked him, “What is it? What happened?”

“Look, look! There they are again! The devils that tied me up to the trees!” Dhan-pal shrieked in panic, pointing at the bushes in the distance.

Samarsen and his men could make out a couple of tribesmen crouching behind the bushes. At once, Samarsen took up his bow and an arrow, but Four-eyes dissuaded him. “Samarsen,” said, “they can elude your arrow. Your arrow can arrest the flying hawk and the leaping panther, but those fellows can outrun it. Leave them to me!”

Then he called his owl and the ape-man. These two, hovering around at once, stood before their master. Four-eyes told the ape-man to run after the tribe members, destroy them, and instructed the owl to inspect the surrounding area. At once, the ape-man ran off

and soon caught hold of one of the two tribe members trying to escape. The unfortunate fellow began to yell at the top of his voice while the ape-man whirled him around once or twice and then flung him away to fall on some rocks.

In the meantime, the owl chased the other tribesman. It began to claw and peck him on the head, hooting all the time fearfully. It gladdened the hearts of the men to watch this unusual fight.

“I am thirsty,” said Dhanpal presently. “Is there any drinking water around here?”

“On this isle,” said Four-eyes, “it is not safe to drink water wherever you find it. Follow me, and I shall show you a pool of healthy water.”

Four-eyes took them to a pool where they could see hippos, crocodiles and other dangerous beasts. Dhanpal quenched his thirst without stepping into the pool.

Samarsen was thinking of Kumbhand and what Dhanpal had said about him. Suddenly it now occurred to him that Kumbhand constituted the danger from beyond the hills on the south of the isle, the threat of which Four-eyes had warned him. It was likely that Kumbhand was thinking of taking possession of the treasure on the ship with the help of the tribe members. But then, there was the mermaid watching the boat.

“Four-eyes,” he said to the sorcerer, “does this mermaid always keep watch over the ship? Can one see the ship, or is it wrapped in mystery?”

“There’s no mystery at all,” said Four-eyes. “You can see the ship. Come with me!”

With Four-eyes leading the way, Samarsen and his men climbed to elevated ground and walked towards the top of a cliff. From here, they could see the tranquil waters of the ocean.

“There it is!” said Four-eyes. “Can you see the ship?”

Samarsen and his men looked in the direction in which Four- eyes was pointing. They could distinctly make out the ship. It lay on its side with its masts and tattered sails tilted, half-sunk in the waters, rocking gently on the waves. But there was no sign of the mermaid who was supposed to guard it.

“Where is the mermaid ?” Samarsen asked Four-eyes. “I can’t see her.”

Four-eyes smiled as he replied, “If everyone can see the mermaid so easily, what earthly use is our sorcery? Only I and One-eye may see the mermaid. While I am in love with her, One-eye has declared himself her deadly enemy since he covets the wealth guarded by her. Though our interests are different, for a reason which I cannot reveal to you, we are racing against each other and hence our enmity.”

Samarsen did not grasp the whole affair, but he now knew enough to realise that his earlier idea of getting at the treasure in the ship and sailing away to Kundalini with it was simply childish. He could never do it. Even if he attempted to do it, there was Kumbhand, the traitor, to oppose him. But the genuine hurdle was the Sorcerer One-eye. Above everything, there was the mermaid, who could not even be seen without the aid of sorcery, guarding the wealth.

As these thoughts passed in Samarsen’s mind, Four-eyes must have divined them. For, he laughed loudly and said. “Samarsen, I, too, have an idea. I’ve known for a long time that you have your eye on the wealth on the ship. As far as that wealth is concerned, my interests do not clash with yours. There, your rival is One-eye. But I am wondering whether we can pool our resources!”

Samarsen was greatly surprised and equally glad. This might mean eventually getting away from this accursed isle a new hope. That traitor, Kumbhand, must be destroyed. If possible, the wealth in the ship should be obtained. And yet. Why had this wealth been lying in that ship in the sea?

Samarsen was anxious to know the details.

“Four-eyes,” he said, “it is natural that ordinary men should fear sorcerers. However, there is a good deal of difference between you and One-eye. You appear to be kind-hearted and gentle. If only I could be of any use to you, I should feel very proud indeed. But, first, I wish to know about the origin of that ship and the wealth in it if you should be kind enough to tell me.”

After some hesitation Four- eyes said, “It is all a very long story. Even if I have time to tell it to you, you may not have the patience to listen. However, I shall say to you a few salient facts.

“I wonder if you have ever heard of the Shaman Isle. It is also possible that you call it by some other name. Well, at one time, King Sakteya ruled that aisle. You may have heard of him. He worshipped Goddess Chandika. There was none to excel him in magic.

“During one Dassera, the worship was in full swing when the goddess was heard speaking louder than the noise of the crowds. She said:

“My children! I am pleased with your devotion. But I am not satisfied with mere worship. Build me a temple!’

“O, Mother!’ Sakteya said, prostrating himself on the ground. ‘I will build you a temple as high as the sky!”

“But my temple cannot be built with stone and mortar,’ the goddess said. ‘I want a temple of silver and a spire of gold. Only then will I be pleased!’

“Sakteya was trembling with fear. How could he disobey the Mother? Where could he get enough silver and gold to build a huge temple?…”

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