The Captive Earth-man

: The Fire People

As we came out of the valley I had my first view of the Great City. It

occupied a huge, mound-shaped circular mountain which rose alone out of

the wide plain that spread before me. As far as I could see extended a

rich muddy soil partially covered with water. A road led out of the

valley, stretching across these wet fields toward the base of the

mountain. It was built on an embankment some eight or ten feet high, of

red, metallic ore of the mountains.

All along the base of this embankment, with their roots in the water,

graceful trees like palms curved upward over the road. The landscape was

dotted with these and other tropical trees; the scene was, indeed,

essentially tropical.

I wondered at the continued absence of sight of human beings. The fields

were quite evidently under cultivation. A rise of ground off to the left

was ridged with terraces. As we passed on along the road I saw a rude form

of plow standing where it had been left in a field which evidently was

producing rice or something akin to it. Yet there was not a person in

sight. Only ahead in the sky I could see a little cluster of black dots

that Miela said was a group of females hovering about the summit of the

Great City.

"It is the time of sleep now, Alan," she said, in answer to my question.

I had not thought of that. It was broad daylight, but here on Mercury

there was no day or night, but always the same half light, as of a cloudy


The mountain on which the city was built was dotted thickly with palms,

and as we approached I made out the houses of the city, set amid the

trees, with broad streets converging at the top. As we came still closer I

saw that the summit of the mountain was laid out like some beautiful

tropical garden, with a broad, low-lying palace in its center.

When we were still a mile or so away from the outskirts of the city Miela

spoke in her soft native tongue to Anina. The girl smiled at me in

parting, and, unwinding the veil from about her breast, flew into the air.

We stood watching her as she winged her way onward toward the sleeping

city. When she had dwindled to a tiny speck I sighed unconsciously and

turned away; and again Miela smiled at me with comprehension.

We started forward, Miela chattering now like a little child. She seemed

eager to tell me all about the new world of hers I was entering, and there

was indeed so much to tell she was often at a loss what to describe first.

She named the cereal which constituted the only crop to which these marsh

lands were suitable. From her description I made out it was similar to

rice, only of a somewhat larger grain. It formed, she said, the staple

article of food of the nation.

As we approached the base of the Great City mountain the ground began

gradually rising. The drainage thus afforded made it constantly drier as

we advanced. It assumed now more the character of a heavy loam.

Still farther on we began passing occasional houses--the outskirts of the

city itself. They were square, single-story, ugly little buildings, built

of reddish stone and clay, flat-roofed, and raised a foot or two off the

ground on stone pilings. They had large rectangular windows, most of them

open, a few with lattice shades. The doorways stood open without sign of a

door; access to the ground was obtained by a narrow board incline.

Interspersed with these stone houses I saw many single-room shacks,

loosely built of narrow boards from the palm trees, and thatched with

straw. In these, Miela explained, lived poorer people, who worked in the

rice fields for the small land owners.

We reached the base of the mountain proper, and I found myself in a broad

street with houses on both sides. This street seemed to run directly to

the summit of the mountain, sloping upward at a sharp angle. We turned

into it and began our climb into the sleeping city. It was laid out

regularly, all its principal streets running from the base of the mountain

upward to its summit, where they converged in a large open space in which

the castle I have already mentioned was situated. The cross-streets formed

concentric rings about the mountain, at intervals of perhaps five hundred

feet down its sides--small circles near the top, lengthening until at the

base the distance around was, I should judge, ten miles or more.

We climbed upward nearly to the summit; then Miela turned into one of the

cross-streets. I had found the climb tremendously tiring, though Miela

seemed not to notice it unduly, and I was glad enough when we reached this

street which girdled the mountain almost at the same level. We had gone

only a short distance along it, however, when Miela paused before a house

set somewhat back from the road on a terrace.

"My home," she said, and her voice trembled a little with emotion. "Our

home it shall be now, Alan, with Lua and Anina, our mother and sister."

A low, bushy hedge separated the street from a garden that surrounded the

house. The building was of stone, two stories in height. It was covered

with a thick vine bearing a profusion of vivid red flowers. On its flat

roof were tiny palm trees, a pergola with trellised vines, and still more

flowers, most of them of the same brilliant red. The whole was surrounded

by a waist-high parapet.

One corner of the roof was covered with thatch--a little nest where one

might be sheltered from the rain, and in which I could see a bed of palm

fiber. At one side of the house a tremendous cluster of bamboo curved

upward and over the roof. A path of chopped coconut husks led from the

street to a short flight of steps in the terrace at the front entrance.

We passed along this path and entered through the open doorway directly

into what I judged was the living room of the dwelling. It was some thirty

feet long and half as broad, with a high ceiling and stone floor. Its

three windows fronted the garden we had just left; in its farther wall a

low archway led into an adjoining room. The furniture consisted only of

two or three small tables and several low, wide couches, all of bamboo.

A woman and the girl Anina rose as we entered. Anina ran toward us

eagerly; the elder woman stood, quietly waiting. She was about forty years

of age, as tall as Miela, but heavier of build. She was dressed in loose

silk trousers, gathered at waist and ankle; and a wide sash that covered

her breast. Her hair was iron gray, cut short at the base of the neck.

From her shoulders I saw hanging a cloak that entirely covered her wings.

As she turned toward us I saw a serious, dignified, wholly patrician face,

with large, kindly dark eyes, a high, intellectual forehead, and a firm

yet sensitive mouth. She was the type of woman one would instinctively

mark for leader.

Miela ran forward to greet her mother, falling upon her knees and touching

her forehead to the elder woman's sandaled feet. As she rose I could see

there were tears in the eyes of them both. Then Miela presented me. I

stood for an instant, confused, not knowing quite what I should do.

Miela laughed her gay little laugh.

"Bow low, Alan--as I did--to our mother."

I knelt to her respectfully, and she put her hands lightly upon my head,

speaking low words of greeting. Then, as I stood up again, I met her eyes

and smiled an answer to the gentle smile on her lips. From that moment I

felt almost as though she were my own mother, and I am sure she took me

then into her heart as her son.

The introduction over, I turned toward one of the windows, leaving Miela

to talk with her mother. Anina followed me, standing timidly by my side,

with her big, curious eyes looking up into my face.

"You're a sweet, dear little sister," I said, "and I am going to love

you very much."

I put my arm about her shoulders, and she smiled as though she understood

me, yielding to my embrace with the ready friendship of a child. For some

moments we stood together, looking out of the window and talking to each

other with words that were quite unintelligible to us both. Then Miela

suddenly called me.

"We shall eat now, Alan," she said, "for you are hungry, I know. And above

there is water, that we may wash." Her face clouded as she went on: "Our

mother has told me a little that has happened. It is very serious, Alan,

as you shall hear. Tao, with his great news of your wonderful world, is

very fast winning over our men to his cause. A revolt, there may be, here

in our own city--a revolution against our government, our king. We can

only look to you now, my husband, to save our country from Tao as well as

your own."

The situation as I found it in the Light Country was, as Miela said,

alarmingly serious. During the two years Tao had been in the Twilight

Country, preparing for his attack upon the earth, his project had caused

little stir among the Light Country people.

Its women were, at first, perturbed at this wanton attack upon the

humanity of another world, but since the earth was such an unknown

quantity, and the fact of its being inhabited at all was problematical,

interest in the affair soon lagged. The government of the Light Country

concerned itself not at all.

But now, upon Tao's return, the news of his venture, as told by the

emissaries he sent to the Light Country, struck its people like a

bombshell. These emissaries--all men--had come to the Great City, and,

finding their presence tolerated by the authorities, had immediately

started haranguing the people.

The men were inclined to listen, and many of them openly declared their

sympathy with Tao. These, however, were for the most part of the poorer,

more ignorant classes, or those more adventurous, less scrupulous

individuals to whom the prospect of sudden riches appealed.

"Why doesn't your government just throw Tao's men out if they're causing

so much trouble?" I asked. "They never should have been allowed in the

country at all."

Miela smiled sadly.

"That is so, my husband. That should have been done; but now it is too

late. Our men would protect them now, declaring their right to stay here

and speak. There might be bloodshed among our people, and that must not


"Are they armed?" I asked.

She shook her head. "No one is armed with the light-ray. To carry it is a

crime punishable by death, for the light is too destructive."

"But Tao has it?"

"Tao has it, indeed, but he is not so great a monster that he would use it

against us."

I was not so sure of that, and I said so. "You don't mean to tell me,

Miela, that your government has allowed Tao to prepare all this

destructive armament without itself arming?"

Again she shook her head. "We have been preparing, too, and all our young

men can be called if occasion comes. But that must never be. It would be

too terrible."

* * * * *

Miela and I occupied, that first night on Mercury, a broad wooden bed

built low to the floor, with a mattress of palm fiber. At first I could

not sleep, but lay thinking over the many things she had told me. The

light in the room, too, was strange. Lattice covered the windows, but it

was like trying to sleep at midday; and the heat and heaviness of the air

oppressed me. I dropped off finally, to be awakened by Miela's voice

calling me to breakfast.

We sat down to the morning meal at a low table set with shining plates and

goblets of copper, or whatever the metal was, and napery of silk. The rice

formed our main article of food, with sugar, milk, and a beverage not

unlike coffee. There was also a meat like beef, although more highly

flavored, and a number of sickish sweet fruits of a kind entirely new to

me, which I could do no more than taste.

We were served by a little maid whose darker skin and heavier features

proclaimed her of another race--a native of the Fire Country, Miela told

me. She was dressed in a brown tunic of heavy silk, reaching from waist to

knee. Her thick black hair was cut to her shoulders.

On her left arm above the elbow was welded a broad band of copper

inscribed with a mark to identify Lua as her owner, for she was a slave.

Her torso was bare, except for a cloak like Lua's which hung from her

shoulders in the back to cover her wings. By this I knew she could not


It was not until some time afterward that I learned the reason for this

covering of the clipped wings. The wing joints were severed just above the

waist line. The feathers on the remaining upper portions were clipped, but

through disuse these feathers gradually dropped out entirely.

The flesh and muscle underneath was repulsive in appearance--for which

reason it was always kept covered. Lua showed me her wings once--mere

shrunken stumps of what had once been her most glorious possession. I did

not wonder then that the women were ready to fight, almost, rather than

part with them.

Difficulties of language made our conversation during the meal somewhat

halting, although Miela acted as interpreter. Lua and Anina both expressed

their immediate determination to learn English, and, with the same

persistence that Miela had shown, they set aside nearly everything else to

accomplish it.

We decided that we should see the king and arrange our future course of

action. Whatever was to be done should be done at once--that we all

agreed--for Tao's men were steadily gaining favor with a portion of the

people, and we had no means of knowing what they would attempt to do.

"What will your people think of me?" I suddenly asked Miela.

"We have sent our king word that you are here," she answered, "and we have

asked that he send a guard to take you to the castle this morning."

"A guard?"

She smiled. "It is better that the people see you first as a man of

importance. You will go to the king under guard. Few will notice you. Then

will he, our ruler, arrange that you are shown to the people as a great

man--one who has come here to help us--one who is trusted and respected by

our king. You see, my husband, the difference?"

I did, indeed, though I wondered a little how I should justify this

exalted position which was being thrust upon me. After breakfast Lua and

Anina busied themselves about the house, while Miela and I went to the

rooftop to wait for the king's summons. From here I had my first really

good view of the city at close range.

Miela's home sat upon a terrace, leveled off on the steep hillside; all

the houses in the vicinity were similarly situated. Behind us the mountain

rose steeply; in front it dropped away, affording an extended view of the

level, palm-dotted country below.

The slope of hillside rising abruptly behind us held another house just

above the level of the rooftop we were on. As I sat there looking idly

about I thought I saw a figure lurking near this higher building. I called

Miela's attention to it--the obscure figure of a man standing against a

huge palm trunk.

As we watched the figure stepped into plainer view. I saw then it was a

man, evidently looking down at us. I stood up. There was no one else in

sight except a woman on the roof of the other house holding an infant.

Something about the man's figure seemed vaguely familiar; my heart leaped


"Miela," I whispered, "surely that--that is no one of your world."

Her hand clutched my arm tightly as the man stepped forward again and

waved at us. I crossed the rooftop, Miela following. At my sudden motion

the man hesitated, then seemed about to run. I hardly know what thoughts

impelled me, but suddenly I shouted: "Wait!"

At the sound of my voice he whirled around, stopped dead an instant, and

then, with an answering call, came running down the hillside.

"The earth-man!" cried Miela. "The earth-man of Tao it must be."

We hurried down through the house and arrived at its back entrance. Coming

toward us at a run across the garden was the man--unmistakably one of my

own world.

My hurried glance showed me he was younger than I--a short, stocky,

red-headed chap, dressed in dirty white duck trousers and a torn white

linen shirt.

He came on at full speed.

"Hello!" I called.

He stopped abruptly. For an instant we stared at each other; then he

grinned broadly.

"Well, I don't know who you are," he ejaculated, "but I want to say it

certainly does me good to see you."