I presume that Kleeto had witnessed such deaths many times; and so it was not the killing of Noak that affected her, but rather the fear of what must happen to me if my crime were discovered.
“Now you are in for it,” she said.
“There wasn’t much of anything else I could do about it, was there?” I inquired; “unless I was content to let him kill me.”
“I would never have thought that you could kill him. He was very powerful.”
“Well, it’s done now, and can’t be undone; and the next problem is how to remove the evidence.”
“We might bury it,” she said. “There is no other way of hiding it.”
“But where?” I asked.
“Your sleeping quarters,” she said. “That would be the safest place.”
A newly dead body is a difficult thing to handle before rigor mortis sets in, and for some reason it seems about twice as heavy and four times as awkward as in life; but I managed to get Noak’s body across one of my shoulders and carry it into the sleeping quarters occupied by Zor and myself. Zor, dressed like a Jukan, was just coming out as I approached with my burden.
“Now what!” he exclaimed.
“Noak tried to kill me,” I said.
“That is Noak?” His tone was incredulous.
“It was,” I replied.
“David had to kill him,” said Kleeto; “and I think it is just as well for all of us that Noak is dead.”
“Why are you bringing him here?” asked Zor.
“I’m going to bury him in our sleeping quarters.” Zor scratched his head. “From the looks of him, he’ll be better company dead than alive. Come on, bring him in and I’ll help you dig.” We dug a narrow trench about three feet deep near one of the walls of our sleeping chamber. Kleeto got another knife from the kitchen and helped us; but even with the three of us working it was rather a slow process. We’d loosen up the hard-packed earth of the floor with the points of our stone knives, and then scoop the loose dirt out with our hands; but after awhile it was done, and we rolled Noak in and covered him up, tamping the earth down solidly all around him. The excess earth we spread evenly over the floor of the chamber and tramped it down as best we could. We placed some sleeping mats over the grave, and in the dim light of the room I am sure that nothing would have appeared amiss to anyone who might have come to investigate: “Now,” I said to Zor, after we had completed our labors, “let’s get out of here.” “Where shall we go?” he asked.
“We should try to get out of the palace and into the city,” I replied, “and we should do it right now before Noak is missed. Come on, Kleeto, you may get back to Suvi, after all.”
“You’re going to take me with you?” asked the girl in a tone of surprise.
“Surely. You’re one of us, aren’t you? Without your help, we wouldn’t have had a chance.”
“I’m afraid that having a woman along might make it difficult for you,” she “said. “You two had better go on alone. You might possibly get me out of the palace; but I doubt very much that you could pass me through the gates of the village.”
“That remains to be seen,” I said, “and anyway we won’t go without you.”
“Of course not,” said Zor. “If they stop us at the gate, we’ll tell them we’re visitors from another village, on our way home.”
“Tell them we’re from Gamba,” said Kleeto. “That is the farthest village. Few ever come from there to this village; so there is little likelihood that they could check up on us.”
Well, we didn’t even get out of the palace. The guard wouldn’t let us pass without permission from Noak; and when we insisted, I saw that they were becoming suspicious, so I said, “All right, we’ll go and get Noak.”
We were very much disheartened as we retraced our steps, for now it seemed hopeless to even think of escape. We talked it over, and finally Zor and I came to the conclusion that the only hope we had was to familiarize ourselves with the palace on the chance that there might be some less well-guarded exit. There was just one ray of hope shining through our gloom. It was the fact that no one had suspected that we were not Jukans.
Kleeto said that she believed there was another way out of the palace, because she had heard that Meeza and Moko often went out into the city, and she was quite sure that they did not leave by the main entrance.
“I think that they have some secret way,” she said.
“Zor and I will try to find it,” I said. “You stay here; and if we find a way to escape, we’ll come back and get you.”
The palace of Meeza, the king, must have covered several acres of ground. It was a village in itself, and like the outer village its design followed the vagaries of a mad mind. There were turning, twisting, gloomy corridors that led nowhere, ending in a blank wall. There were pitch-dark rooms without windows, and many little courts that were in reality rooms without roofs. How the inmates found their way around is quite beyond me; and I did not see how we could find our way back to Kleeto, if we discovered an avenue of escape. I said as much to Zor; but he assured me that he could retrace our steps. Evidently every foot of the way was indelibly stamped upon his memory, the result of a faculty, no doubt, that was definitely associated with his inherent homing instinct.
As we wandered through the palace, we were constantly meeting people; but no one seemed to suspect us, with the result that we became over-confident and very bold, prying into places where we had no business to be, as we searched for the secret way which we hoped would lead us to freedom. At last, we became hungry and tired; and, as up to then we had found no food, we decided to lie down and sleep; so we curled up in a corner of a dark room and prayed that food would be easy to find when we awoke.
Many of you who live upon the outer crust fear the darkness that comes with night. You think of it as the time that hunting beasts prowl and criminals carry on their nefarious practices; but I can truthfully assure you that for twelve hours out of the twenty-four, I would gladly trade the perpetual sun of the inner world for the sheltering darkness of your nights. Under the cover of darkness, we might have found many opportunities to escape from the village of Meeza. Under the beneficent shelter of darkness, we might have carried on our operations in safety not only because it was dark but because where night regularly follows day it is the time set apart for sleeping; and so there would have been but comparatively few eyes to detect us; but where there is no night, there is no regular time to sleep; and so at least half of the people are abroad at all times, or, what is more likely, two-thirds of them. So you can see that our chances of sneaking out, unnoticed, were extremely thin. Yes, I would have given a great deal for one good, dark night.
When we awoke, we continued our aimless search for the secret exit from the palace. We tried to do it systematically, following one corridor after another to its end. We found portions of the palace that seemed to have been untenanted for years and others crowded with Jukans so thickly that we passed among them unnoticed, protected by their very numbers.
Just as there seemed to be no plan to the palace, which covered several acres of ground, the activities of its inmates appeared equally aimless. We encountered all degrees of mental ineptitude, from harmless halfwits to raving maniacs, from jibbering idiots to men of apparently normal intelligence.
One man was running madly around in a small circle. Another squatted cross-legged upon the floor, staring at a spot on a wall a couple of feet in front of him; while directly behind him a man was hacking another to pieces with a stone hatchet, not even the terrible screams of the victim attracting the attention of the sitter. Two men and a woman looked on, apathetica1ly; but presently their attention was attracted by a bushy-headed maniac, who came galloping through the apartment on all fours, shrieking, “I’m a ryth. I’m a ryth.”
That was all right with them, too, until he attempted to prove that he was a ryth by biting one of the men. The two were lying on the floor, biting and clawing at one another, as Zor and I passed on through the chamber in our interminable search.
We had slept three times since we had parted from Kleeto, and had always managed to find sufficient food, on a couple of occasions sitting down at meals with idiots who seemed not even to notice our presence.
Once we had gone for some time without food and were both famished, when we came to a large room in which there was a long table where perhaps a hundred men were eating. As there were several vacant places at the table, we sauntered over and sat down, assuming that, as upon the other two occasions, no one would pay any attention to us; but we were very much mistaken. Sitting at the far end of the table was a man wearing a feather headdress. “Who are those two men?” he shouted, as we sat down. “I have never seen them before.”
“I know who they are,” cried a man sitting opposite us; and I looked up into the rat-like face of Ro.
“Well, who are they?” demanded the man with the headdress. “And what are they doing here at the king’s table?”
“I do not know what they are doing at the king’s table, Meeza,” replied Ro; “but I know who they are. They were brought in to Goofo many, many sleeps ago; and they disappeared when Noak disappeared.”
So we had by accident stumbled into the king’s dining room; and the man with the feather headdress was Meeza. It certainly looked as though we might have to do some explaining.
“Well,” cried Meeza, “who are you and what are you doing here?”
“We are visitors from Gamba,” replied Zor.
“I think they are lying,” said Ro. “The last time I saw them, they were not dressed like Jukans, but like strangers from another country.”
“What are your names?” demanded Meeza. Although he had more than the usual amount of control for a Jukan, I could see that he was commencing to get excited. So unstable are they that the least little thing is apt to upset them; and after that there is no telling what will happen.
“My companion’s name is Zor,” I replied, “and mine is David.”
“‘Zor,’” repeated Meeza. “That might be the name of a Jukan, but not David. Take that one and tie him up.”
Meeza was pointing at me. “Zor, you shall be a welcome guest in the palace of Meeza, the king.”
“And what about David?” asked Zor.
“We need an offering to appease Ogar,” replied Meeza, “and David will do very well. Take him away, men.”
“But David is all right,” insisted Zor. “He is my friend, and I know he is all right. You should not harm him, Meeza.”
Meeza leaped to his feet, his eyes blazing in a frenzy of rage. “You dare disagree with me?” he screamed. “I should have your heart cut out,” and then his voice dropped and he said in gentle tones, “But you are my honored friend. Come, eat and drink with us.”
As I was being dragged away, I saw two servants come in bearing a huge mastadon tusk filled to the brim with some liquid. It was handed to Meeza, who drank from it, and then passed it to the man at his right. Thus, it started the rounds of the table as I was finally dragged from the room.
My escort wound through several corridors and finally led me into a small room, the doorway of which was closed with a crude gate which was held in place by wooden bars on the outside. Into this dimly lighted cell they shoved me, tied my hands behind my back, and left me.
The outlook was anything but rosy. Here I was, definitely a prisoner and condemned to be sacrificed to their heathenish god. The only ray of sunshine penetrating the bleak outlook emanated from the clumsy, crazy manner in which they had bound my hands behind me. Even while they were doing it, I felt that it would not be difficult to free myself; and this I succeeded in doing shortly after they had left me; but the barred gate that closed my cell defied my every effort to force it, and I was still a prisoner condemned to death.