Chapter 7 The Wizard of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Ero Shan and I left the Great Hall with Fadan, the officer who had brought us in. “What now?” I asked him.

Fadan shrugged. “He didn’t order you destroyed or imprisoned,” he said; “so I guess that you’re safe for the time being. I’ll find a place for you to sleep, and you can eat with the officers. If I were you, I’d keep out of sight as much as possible. Our vootogan is a little forgetful. If he doesn’t see you, he may forget all about you; and those he forgets are the safest.”

After Fadan had shown us our quarters, he left us to our own devices after warning us again not to enter the main building, where we would be most likely to encounter Morgas. “He seldom comes outside any more,” he added; “so you are reasonably safe out here. And keep out of the garden,” he concluded. “No one is allowed in there.”

“Well,” I said to Ero Shan when we were alone, “are we prisoners or guests?”

“I think we could walk out almost any night we chose to,” he replied: “you must have noticed that the gate was not manned when we arrived.”

“Yes, but I don’t want to walk out as long as there is a chance that we may find Vanaja and take her with us. Without her we don’t get the anotar back.”

“Do you think she’s here?”

“I don’t know, but I am inclined to believe that she is. Morgas may be crazy enough to believe his own foolish claims to wizardry, but I doubt if he really believes that he turned Vanaja into a zaldar. He just doesn’t want to give her up: that’s all, and if she’s as good looking as that picture we saw, I don’t blame him.”

“Perhaps she’s dead,” suggested Ero Shan.

“We’ll stick around until we find out.”

Morgas’s castle was large, and in addition to the donjon there were a number of smaller buildings within the enclosure which must have comprised fully twenty acres. Here, in addition to his retainers and their families, were a couple of hundred prisoners, held by their fear of Morgas.

I came to the conclusion that the fellow had some hypnotic powers, but I doubted that his victims really thought that they were zaldars. They were just fearful of what their maniac master would do to them if they didn’t play his game. He used these captives to cultivate his fields farther up the valley above the castle and to tend the herds of zaldars after they were brought in from pasture by the herdsmen. They all pretended to think that these zaldars were human beings transformed by Morgas’s wizardry. Consequently they would not eat them. This left all the zaldar steaks for Morgas’s people.

I tried to talk with several of these prisoners, both Tolans and Ladjas; but they seemed to fear me, probably because I was a stranger. They seemed hopelessly apathetic, accepting the fallacy that they were zaldars either because of fear of Morgas, or, as I came to believe, through self-hypnotism resulting from long suggestion. Some of them insisted that because they were zaldars they could not understand me; one or two even grunted like zaldars.

I discovered a couple who were willing to talk a little; but when I asked them about Vanaja they closed up like clams, their suspicions immediately aroused. Ero Shan and I came to the conclusion that there was some sort of special mystery surrounding the fate of Vanaja, and that made me all the more anxious to know the truth; aside from the possibility of using her to get the anotar back, I was commencing to take a definite personal interest in this girl whom I had never seen.

Ero Shan and I were constantly wandering around the enclosure, and though we saw many women among the prisoners there was none who even vaguely resembled the picture we had seen of Vanaja. After a week of this, we had about come to the conclusion that if Vanaja were one of Morgas’s prisoners, he kept her shut up in the donjon—a really logical conclusion.

We saw Fadan nearly every day, and he continued to be very friendly; but when, one day, I asked him point blank what had become of Vanaja, he shook his head angrily. “Ill considered curiosity is sometimes fatal,” he snapped: “the vootogan has told you where Vanaja is; if I were you I wouldn’t inquire any further.”

The conversation folded its tent like an Arab. I was squelched. Perhaps I shouldn’t have brought the subject up in the presence of others. It was at the noon meal, and there were a number of officers present. After we had quit the mess hall, Fadan said, “And don’t forget what I told you about the garden. Keep out of it!”

“That,” I said to Ero Shan after Fadan had left us, “was not said for nothing.”

“Of course it wasn’t,” he agreed. “It was said to keep us out of the garden and out of trouble.”

“I am not so sure. Anyway, it has had the opposite effect: I am going into the garden.”

“Once you told me of a very wise man of that world from which you came, who said, in effect, that only the stupid have adventures.”

“Quite right,” I said: “I am stupid.”

“So am I,” said Ero Shan. “I am going with you.”

“No. I am going alone. There is no reason why both of us should get into trouble. If I get in and you don’t you might be able to help me; if we both get in there will be no one to help us.”

Ero Shan had to agree that I was right, and so I approached the garden gate alone. The garden is bounded on three sides by a high wall and on the fourth by the donjon. The gate was not latched, and I walked in and closed it after me. Mechanical locks are not needed in Morgas’s stronghold. When he says keep out, that puts as effective a lock on a gate or door as any locksmith could contrive. Fear was the lock to which stupidity was the key. But was my act stupid? Only time would tell.

The garden was quite beautiful in a bizarre sort of way. It was such a garden as might have been conceived only by a mad mind, yet it was beautiful because of the natural beauty of flowers and trees and shrubs, which defy man to render them unbeautiful. Its walks were laid out in maze-like confusion, and I had gone only a short distance along them when I realized that I might have difficulty in finding my way out again; yet I ventured on, though I had no Ariadne to give me a clew of thread to guide me from the labyrinth. The only goddess upon whom I might rely was Lady Luck.

However, my power of orientation is excellent; and I felt that I might depend upon that by carefully noting every turn that I made. I soon had my mind filled with turns, all of which I would have to mentally reverse on my return trip to the gate.

Presently I came to an open space about fifty by a hundred feet in extent, and here I saw a woman walking with bowed head. Her back was toward me; and I could not see her face, but I immediately jumped to the conclusion that this was Vanaja; probably because I was in the garden for the express purpose of finding Vanaja.

I approached her slowly and when I was a few paces from her, I said in a low tone, “Jodades!” It is a common Amtorian greeting. The girl stopped and turned about, and the instant that I saw her face I recognized it by the picture I had seen of the girl in the great hall in the stronghold of Tovar. This was Vanaja without a doubt; but the picture I had seen of her seemed now an out and out libel, so far more beautiful was the original.

“Jodades, Vanaja,” I said.

She shook her head. “I am not Vanaja,” she said; “I am only a poor little zaldar.” She looked at me dumbly and then turned and kept right on walking.

I overtook her and laid my hand gently on her arm. “Wait, Vanaja,” I said; “I want to talk with you.”

She turned again and looked at me. Her eyes were dull and uncomprehending. Morgas may be a wizard, I thought, or he may not; but he is most certainly a hypnotist of the first order. “I am not Vanaja,” she repeated; “I am only a poor little zaldar.”

“I have come from your home, Vanaja; I have seen Tovar and Noola and Endar and Yonda. They grieve for you and want you back.”

“I am a zaldar,” she said.

That thought was so thoroughly implanted in her mind that it was evidently her stock answer to nearly all questions or suggestions. I racked my brain in search of some avenue to her comprehension; and suddenly there flashed to my mind some of the teachings of Chand Kabi, the old East Indian mystic who had taught me so many things from his great store of occultism while, as a boy, I was tutored by him while my father was stationed in India.

I have practiced these powers but seldom, for I have the Anglo-Saxon’s feeling of repugnance for anything that smacks of the black art; nor was I at all certain that I could accomplish anything with them in this instance in which I would have to combat the hypnosis which held the girl’s mind in thrall; but I could try.

I led her to a bench at one side of the open space and bade her be seated. She seemed quite tractable, which in itself was a good omen. I sat down beside her and concentrated my thoughts upon that which I was determined she should see. I could feel the sweat standing upon my forehead as I strained to compel her, and presently the dullness passed from her eyes and she looked up wonderingly, her gaze apparently fixed upon something across the little clearing.

“Father!” she exclaimed, and rose and ran forward. She threw her arms around empty air, but I knew that she was in the embrace of the figment I had conjured from my brain. She talked excitedly for a moment, and then she said goodby tearfully and returned to the bench.

“You were right,” she said: “I am Vanaja. Tovar, my father, has assured me of it. I wish that he might have remained, but he could not. However, he told me to trust you and to do whatever you said.”

“And you wish to return to your home?”

“Yes; oh, how much I wish to! But how?”

I had a plan, and I was just about to explain it to her when half a dozen men entered the clearing. At their head was Morgas!