The Comet | Part 6
Bright sparks shot into the sky from the mouth of the volcano, reminding Samarsen of the comet, which seemed to have put a curse on his adventure.
As ill luck would have it, the volcano erupted across their path to the ships, and they were forced to seek another way. Samarsen turned right back, and the frightened men dumbly followed their commander. Their boats were in the east, and they were going west. But they could not help it. East was sealed to them by terrible creatures, sorcery- ers, and now the violent volcano.
The earth was still shivering because of the eruption, while the entire sky was filled with smoke. Samarsen felt that very soon, there might be a severe earthquake.
“This is not only the Isle of Sorcery but also the Isle of Volcanoes and Earthquakes!” he said, sighing. His mind was full of fear for himself and his men.
Samarsen and his men were not anxious to search for a path. They walked into trees and bushes. They wanted to go as far away from the angry volcano as possible.
But these were not the only creatures trying to escape the volcano. Lava flowed down on all sides of the volcano, and various beasts left their lairs and ran about in panic. This, too, was a cause of alarm to Samarsen and his men.
Slowly the lava was filling depressions and overflowing them. Several streamlets of liquid fire were coming together and forming rivulets. Unless Samarsen took his men to a higher region, they ran the risk of dying a horrible death caught by the flowing lava.
Samarsen marched ahead of his men, inspiring them with courage. After going some distance, he looked ahead and stopped suddenly. At first, he could not believe his eyes, but what he saw did not disappear like magic. It was not a vision, and he saw it more clearly as he stepped forward.
It was the sight of a man that surprised Samarsen so much. A human being on the Isle of Sorcery! This man was hanging upside down on a tree, and Samarsen could not determine whether he was dead or alive. His feet were securely tied together with the help of some creepers. From his appearance, Samarsen guessed that he must be a tribesman.
The men, too, kept gazing at the tribesman hanging on the tree. A human being amidst the prehistoric animals, the sorcerers, and the wilderness of the Isle of Sorcery was a strange sight.
“Who could have punished this poor fellow in such a heartless fashion?” Samarsen asked himself. He said aloud, “At any rate, one thing is clear: there are human beings on this isle even if they are only tribal people. If only I could find out where these people live, it would be of immense use in the future.”
The men did not like this line of talk. They were more anxious to reach their ships and go back home. Why bother about these tribesmen? The best thing was to get out of there quickly.
Samarsen saw that his men would not say anything, and he could understand their minds. He was just as anxious as they were to get away from the escapers place. But how?
Samarsen took a few more steps and came to the man hanging head down from the tree. He examined him and found that there were no wounds on his body. Some enemies did this to him, and he must have died of prolonged thirst and hunger.
All the men were sorry for the fellow. Samarsen alone was engaged with other thoughts. There must be something behind this. How was he to find it out? There could not be a doubt that some part of the island was habitable for men. Where was it? The more Samarsen asked himself such questions; the more his curiosity was roused.
Samarsen’s eyes fell upon an object lying on the ground some distance away. He went there and picked it up. It was a broken water flask, a hollowed gourd with a piece of string tied around its narrow mouth. The bottom was broken, and somebody had thrown it away.
“Blessed be Mother Kunda- line!” said Samarsen. He lifted his face to the sky and offered a short prayer.
The men could not understand what had moved their commander so much. From the surprised look on their faces, Samarsen guessed their mind and said to them, “We have nothing to fear. I am sure that we are very near the habitations of human beings. This poor fellow was punished by men only. Besides, this water flask is the kind of thing used by humans. If we keep our eyes open, it should not be difficult to find out whence these men came to this spot and whither they went.”
At once, the men began to search the ground for footprints. In a short time, their efforts were rewarded with success. They came upon a meadow covered with footmarks indicating the passing of a massive crowd of human beings.
The men were very enthusiastic now. Their minds were free from all doubts and fears. They began to follow the tracks. In about a half-hour, they reached a summit. Looking around, they could still see the volcano in eruption, the frightened animals running amok and uttering wild cries, and part of the forest set on fire by the flowing lava.
Then they started again, still following the tracks and not knowing where they led them. They were still troubled by the fear of wild animals and sorcerers. They kept their swords and bows in readiness but inwardly prayed to Mother Kundalini. Presently they came to a torrent that jumped from one level to another like a flock of frisking sheep. Plenty of stones stood in the stream, and the water murmured to them.
Samarsen was faced with the problem of crossing the river. It was not an easy thing. Even if they did cross the river, it might lead to nothing if they failed to pick up the tracks again. On the other hand, they were farther from their ships than ever, and turning back was equally meaningless.
At this point, one of the men ventured to say, “It is not easy to cross the river, commander.”
“No. But we shall do it all the same,” Samarsen said, coming to a decision. If only they had a rope long enough, they could cross the stream. Since there were no ropes available, Samarsen asked his men to cut down plenty of thick creepers and hanging roots of trees. This was soon done, and a sturdy rope was got ready. One end of this rope was secured to a big tree on the bank, and the men took hold of the rope and started to cross the stream by jumping from one rock to another and holding on to the string so that the swift waters did not wash them away.
Soon they were on the other side of the stream. Samarsen searched for the tracks carefully and found them. He could see them going into a thick forest not very far away. They moved forward along the tracks with Samarsen in the lead.
Amidst the closely growing trees of the forest, there was a footpath, and the tribe members who left the tracks went along this footpath.
When Samarsen and his men were well into the forest, they heard the fearful noise of a herd of elephants trumpeting and stampeding. There was also the noise of trees being smashed. Evidently, the elephants were very near, and Samarsen chose a vast tree and climbed it as fast as he could, encouraging his men to do likewise.
It was a good thing that they did so. In a few moments, the wild elephants appeared, running in fear of jungle fires, pushing down and destroying everything that stood in their way. Had Samarsen hesitated a few moments, they would have been crushed to death.
Samarsen looked down from the tree and saw the destruction caused by these giants. The men were so shaken that they did not dare to come down from the tree long after the elephants disappeared.
At last, they came down. Their nerves were shattered, and the slightest noise frightened them. But soon, they forgot the past because they faced a new problem. In their stampede, the elephants had destroyed all traces of the tracks and the footpath. What were they to do now?