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From: The Fire People

There seemed to be five of our captors, all of them as evil-looking men as
I think I have ever seen. They rummaged about the room, evidently in
search for weapons they thought I might have secreted. Then they ordered
me to stand up, and without more ado led Miela and me from the house.

This was once when I was glad of the interminable daylight. I hoped we
might find some early risers about the streets, for I thought certainly
the time of sleep must now be nearly over. But no one was in sight as we
left the garden. We turned the first corner and headed toward the base of
the mountain.

"To Baar's house they are taking us, I think. It is on the marshland
below." Miela spoke without fear of our captors understanding the English
words. We took advantage of this until after a moment we were roughly
ordered to be quiet.

Lua, we thought, must have been taken away before we arrived; we would
find her at Baar's house when we arrived there. We had come down to the
level marshlands now, the outskirts of the city, and were passing along a
path between occasional shacks. Before us, standing alone in a rice paddy,
I saw a larger, more pretentious house--a wooden structure on stilts, with
a thatched roof, which Miela said was where Baar lived.

We went in single file up its board incline, and entered a squalid room
with matting on the floor, a rude charcoal brazier at one side, and the
remains of a previous meal lying on a table.

Two women were in the room as we entered. I took these to be Baar's wife
and a servant. Two naked little children lay on the floor, one of them
crying lustily.

Baar glanced around as he came in, and with what I took to be an oath
ordered the children removed from the room. The slave woman--I could see
she was a slave by the band upon her arm--picked them up. Evidently she
did not move fast enough to suit Baar's temper, for as she straightened up
the man cuffed her upon the head. She stumbled to one side against Baar's
wife, who was standing there, and the other woman, with a sharp
imprecation, struck her full in the breast.

Neither of them saw the look she gave as she shuffled away, carrying the
infants; but I did. It was a look of the most intense hatred, born and
nourished, I realized, by long ill-treatment.

Miela and I were now bound securely hand and foot, and Miela's wings were
lashed to her body. Thus rendered entirely helpless, we were laid together
in a corner.

From the talk that followed Miela gathered that Baar and his men were
expecting the arrival of others. He roughly ordered his wife--a woman of
the Twilight Country, obviously--to clear away the remains of their last
meal and bring other food. She obeyed submissively.

This, the first of the Twilight Country People I had seen, was a thick-set
woman of perhaps thirty-five, although she might have been older, for her
black hair, which fell in an unkempt mass to her waist, was beginning to
gray. She wore a single garment, a pair of silken trousers, drab with
dirt. Her clipped wings were covered in the usual way.

I could see now why Miela had said these Twilight women could not fly, for
this woman's torso was fat and flabby. Her skin was curiously pale--a
dead, unpleasant white. Her face was broad, heavy and unintelligent. Her
eyes were large and protruded slightly.

Baar and his men ate breakfast, paying no further attention to Miela and
me. Suddenly Miela spoke in a frightened whisper. "They are going now in a
moment to the castle. The king they will kill!"

It was evidently a widespread plot we now overheard. Baar's followers had
for some time been talking quietly with the lower classes, and, finding
they could count on their support, planned now to murder the king. Then
with the queen and the little prince held as hostages, they expected that
the men of science, threatened also with a revolt of the peons, would
release the light-ray.

The light-ray once in his control, Baar could make himself king. It seemed
an absurd hope, but such was the plan they were now discussing. And what
was far worse, I could see no way by which I could prevent the attempt.

"They are going to the castle--now--to murder the king?" I whispered,

"Yes," Miela answered. "So they plan. Now--in a moment--before the time of
sleep is over."

"Isn't he guarded? Can they get in the castle without arousing others?"

"There are the guards--a few. But Baar has promised them great wealth, and
they will stand aside and let him pass. So it is arranged."

The arrival of several other men interrupted our whispered conversation.
Baar, his meal over, consulted with them hurriedly. He then instructed his
wife to watch us, and after a moment they all left the house.

The woman, who was now the only occupant of the room with us, shuffled
about, clearing away the meal. I tried desperately to work my hands loose;
I even tried with my teeth to gnaw Miela's bonds, but without success.
Every moment counted, if we were to do anything to save the king. I
wondered again where Lua was--perhaps in another part of the house here,
bound as we were.

"Miela," I whispered, "ask for food. Tell her we have had nothing for many
hours. Perhaps she will loosen our bonds a little to let us eat. We may be
able to do something then."

The woman answered Miela's pleading by setting us up side by side, with
our backs against the wall. She placed food before us, and then, with a
knife, cut the cords that bound our arms.

My heart leaped exultantly; but, instead of leaving us and going on with
her work, she sat down just out of reach, holding the knife in her hand
and watching us narrowly.

"We must eat, Miela," I said, using as casual a tone as I could and
pointing to the food smilingly. "Eat, and pretend not to notice her.
Perhaps I can get to my feet."

We ate the food she had given us. I tensed the muscles of my legs, and
believed that, bound as I was, I might be able to leap forward and reach
the woman. It was almost hopeless to attempt it, for I realized she would
meet my body with the dagger point.

We were still eating, and I was thinking over this plan, when the slave
woman appeared silently in a doorway across the room, behind the woman who
faced us. Something in her attitude made me look away again casually and
go on with my eating.

Miela had evidently not noticed her.

The slave woman came slowly toward us. A moment later she hurled herself
upon Baar's wife from behind. At the same instant I threw myself forward,
falling prone, but within reach of the seated woman. I gripped her with my
hands, fumbling to catch her wrists, but before I could succeed she
toppled forward and fell partly over me.

I heard Miela give a cry of fright. I struggled free and raised myself up
to a half-sitting position. Baar's wife lay beside me dead, with the slave
woman's knife buried to the hilt in her back.

Reaching over, I took the knife from the dead woman's fingers, and with it
cut the cords that bound my ankles. I sprang to my feet. The slave had
retreated and stood shrinking against the side of the room, terrified at
what she had done. I paid no more attention to her for the moment, but
hastened to release Miela.

We searched the house hurriedly, calling to Lua; but she did not answer,
nor could we find her. When we returned the slave woman was still standing
where we had left her, staring with horrified eyes at the body of her

"Tell her what she did was right," I said. "She may have saved the king.
Tell her to go to your house and wait for us."

The woman nodded eagerly when Miela told her what to do, and fell on her
knees before us.

"She says she will serve us always. She has been very badly treated,

We sent the woman away, and with a last hasty glance around hurriedly left
the house alone with its single dead occupant. A large wooden mortar and
pestle, used for pounding rice, stood in the kitchen. I carried the pestle
away with me; it was nearly five feet long and quite heavy--an excellent

We hastened up through the city--Miela half walking, half flying, and I
carrying this bludgeon and running with twelve-foot strides. But it was
now hardly more than three-quarters of an hour since we had passed this
way before, and there were still few people about to see us. Baar and his
men had started some twenty minutes before us, I figured, and we must
reach the castle before them.

I made extraordinary progress over the level country. But I could not run
uphill for long, and soon had to slow down to a walk. Miela kept closer to
me now. We approached the castle grounds.

"Where will the guards be, Miela? We must avoid them if we can. They might
try to stop us."

Miela did not know where they would be; but under the circumstances, as
Baar had told his men, she believed the guards would disappear from the
vicinity. This conjecture proved to be correct. The guards, not wishing to
be concerned in the affair at all, had simply disappeared. We saw nothing
of Baar and his men on the way up the mountain, although I had hoped we
might overtake them.

As we passed hurriedly through the palm gardens surrounding the castle I
saw its huge front doors were closed.

"Miela, we can't get in that way. A side entrance--or some other way--"

"I know," she said. "There is a smaller door below, and others on the

We hastened on. Suddenly I gripped Miela by the arm.

"What's that--over there--see, beyond the grove?"

There seemed to be furtive figures lurking among the palms.

"Those cannot be Baar's men, Miela--there are too many. What can it--"

We had reached a little doorway under the front terrace. There was no time
to investigate these advancing figures. Baar and his men might already be
inside the castle.

I slid through the doorway, every muscle tense. Miela had brought the
knife from Baar's shack, and with it clenched in her hand was close beside
me. I wanted to make her stay outside, where she could fly away if danger
threatened, but she pleaded to follow me, and I let her come. I needed
her, since I had no idea of the interior arrangements of the building.

We passed along a dim hallway and up a narrow flight of stone steps. Not a
sound came to us; the interior of the castle was silent as a tomb. At the
top of the steps we came almost directly into the inner patio of the
building. Across a bed of tall flowers, nodding gently in a little morning
breeze that swept down from above, I saw the head and shoulders of a man
standing in the center of the courtyard; the lower part of his body was
hidden by the flowers. I tried to duck out of sight, but he had seen me.

He was not over forty feet away. I stepped back, believing I could reach
him in a single leap; but Miela held me.

"Not you, Alan. He would cry out. The noise would bring others." She
raised her knife, and her eyes blazed into mine. "Never have I thought to
kill a human. But now I--a woman--must kill. Stand quiet, Alan."

She flew swiftly up and poised over the man. He had started toward us.
Evidently he was, so far, as anxious for silence as we, for he made no
sound. I saw now he was one of those who had come to Baar's shack. His
naked shoulders, his thick neck, and bullet head were all that showed
above the flower stems as he plowed his way through them directly toward
me; but the hand he swung aloft to aid his progress held a knife.

He glanced up at Miela, poised in the air above him, and saw the weapon in
her hand. At this new enemy he stopped, confused.

Miela swooped down at him, and he struck at her with his knife; but she
avoided it with an incredibly swift turn, and a second later had passed
him and was crossing the courtyard.

Round and round she flew, her great wings flapping audibly, a giant bird
circling its prey. The man turned continually to face her. Several times
she swooped toward him, and as swiftly avoided his blow. From every side
she threatened. The man stood now bewildered, striking wild in a frenzy,
as one strikes at a darting wasp. At last, with an agonized cry, he turned
and ran. Instantly she dropped upon him; there was a flash of her white
arm; the man's body crumpled and lay still among the flowers.

Miela was back beside me. Her breast was heaving; her eyes were full of
tears; she trembled.

"A terrible thing, Alan, my husband, for a woman to do; but it had to be."

I pressed her hand with silent understanding.

"Come, Alan," she said. "They will have heard his cry. The others--we must
meet them, too."

"We must get to the king. I--"

A vibrant scream rang out from the silence of the house--a man's voice,
shrill with agony--then suddenly stilled.

"Good God, Miela! The king--where is he? Take me there."

She pulled me back through the doorway. A man scurried past. I leaped at
him and struck him a glancing blow with the heavy wooden pestle. He
stumbled to his knees. Without thought of giving quarter, I hit him again
before he could rise. He sank back, senseless or dead.

Miela was ahead of me, and I ran after her along a hallway. The sound of
scurrying footsteps sounded from overhead; a woman screamed.

A broad, curving stairway fronted us. I passed Miela halfway up, and,
reaching the top, ran full into another man who darted from a doorway
close by. The impact of my heavier body flung him backward to the floor. I
leaped over him with a shout of warning to Miela, and ran on into the

A man was standing stock still in its center. It was Baar. He flung his
knife at me as I appeared, but it went wild. Two other men were coming
toward me from opposite sides of the room. I swung the bludgeon about me
viciously, keeping them away. Suddenly Baar shouted a command, and before
I could reach any one of them they had scurried away like rats.

A low bed with a huge canopy of silk stood against the wall. A woman knelt
on the floor beside it, and against her knees huddled a little half-grown

I heard Miela's voice shouting in her own language. The sound of men
running came from below. Then Miela's half-hysterical laughter, and then
the words: "They are running away, Alan--all of them. I have been calling
you to bring me the light-ray. And they are running away."

I turned to the bed, pushing its curtains aside, and then hurriedly
closing them again with a shudder.

Miela was beside me.

"The king is dead, Miela. No--you must not look."

Her eyes widened; her hand went to her breast.

"There is one who needs you." I pointed to the woman on the floor.

She was staring at us, unseeing, one arm flung about the child
protectingly, holding him partially under one of her long, sleek red
wings. The fingers of her other hand clutched convulsively at the bed
coverings; she was moaning softly with a grief and terror all the more
intense because it was restrained.

"There is one who needs you, Miela," I repeated. "Comfort her--for we have
come too late."

The castle now was in thorough confusion. Several waiting maids rushed
into the room, stared at their mistress and the little prince, and, seeing
what had happened, stood silently wringing their hands in fright, or fled
aimlessly through the halls. One of the king's councilors had come in,
stopping, bewildered, at the scene that met him.

"Tell him what has occurred, Miela," I said.

There came now faintly to my ears from outside the castle sounds of a
gathering crowd--murmurs and vague muffled shouts. The cries grew louder.
A rain of missiles struck the castle; a stone came through a near-by
window, falling almost at my feet. All at once I remembered the lurking
figures we had seen among the palms in the garden.

"Miela!" I cried. "Hear that, outside! A crowd is gathering. The men we
saw--out there! People whom Baar has--Miela, ask him, for God's sake, to
tell us how we can get weapons. Where are the other councilors? Send for
them. We must do something--now, at once. This is revolution, Miela--don't
you understand? Revolution!"

I felt so impotent. Here in this crisis I could talk to no one but
Miela--could issue no direct commands--could understand the words of no
one but her.

Suddenly, from over our heads, a great, solemn deep-throated bell began

"What is that? What does that mean?"

A girl rushed into the room.

"It is the bell of danger," said Miela quickly. "The girls are ringing it
to arouse the city. Up here then will the people hurry to find out what it
is that threatens."

"They're outside now," I retorted. "Order all the king's councilors here
at once. Find out if any guards are about the place. Send them here. Where
is the head of the city's police? Send him here to me! Tell him to call
out all his men."

What was I saying? I had forgotten the one vital thing!

"Miela! The light-ray! These men of science who guard it, where are they?
Send for their leader. Get him here to me at once--we must have the ray!"

Miela stood very quietly beside me. Her face was white; her eyes blazed,
but she seemed calm and unfrightened.

"He will come," she said, "and armed with the ray. The bell will bring
him. Your other commands I will see are obeyed."

The old councilor, who had been standing by, dazed, came slowly forward at
Miela's call. The king's councilor! And all the others were like him. The
king was dead, and here was the little prince huddled in his mother's arm!
Realization had been slow in coming, but now it broke upon me like a great

I flung the bludgeon away from me, and stood erect.

"Miela," I cried, "tell him--tell them all--their king is dead. It is I
who command now. There is no one else--and I have the power. Tell them
that. It is I, the man from earth, who commands!"

Next: The New Ruler

Previous: The Fight At The Bayou

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