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Chapter 9 The Wizard of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs

“You are really a most remarkable fellow,” said Ero Shan, “but I am commencing to be a little bit afraid of you,” he added, laughing.

“You needn’t be,” I assured him, “for Chand Kabi did not teach me how to harm people physically with these occult powers. He, himself, knew how: he could have caused people at the farthest ends of the Earth to die had he chosen to do so, but he never did. Dear old Chand Kabi never harmed anyone.”

“Were I you I should experiment,” said Ero Shan. “It might prove useful sometimes to be able to kill one’s enemies at a distance. Why, you could win a whole war all by yourself.”

“I am content with what I am already able to accomplish,” I assured him; “and now if you will devote yourself to meditation for a while, I shall go to work on our fine-feathered friend again.”

I did. Presently we heard a great commotion overhead. Thinly a voice reached us, screaming for help; and we distinctly heard the words, “He is chasing me! He is chasing me!” There was a lot of running, and we could hear other sounds as of furniture being overturned; then, as I relaxed, things quieted down. I heard Ero Shan chuckle.

Once more the warriors came. They peeked in fearfully. “You are here?” one demanded.

“Do you not see me?”

“But I just saw you up above chasing the vootogan. Why did you chase him?”

“Just for fun,” I said. “It becomes very tiresome sitting here in this little cell.”

“You had better put your mind on other things,” snapped the warrior, “for tomorrow you die. Morgas has had enough of you.”

“Well,” remarked Ero Shan after they had left, “it was fun while it lasted; but you seem to have been blown up by your own bomb. What are you going to put your mind on now?”

“On Vanaja and the jailer. This may not be so successful as the other experiment, but I can only try. In the meantime, you may devote yourself to silent prayer.”

Ero Shan lapsed into silence, and I went to work on Vanaja and the jailer. I find it more conducive to success to have an accurate picture of my subject’s face in my mind while I work on him. Nebulously hopeful, I had fixed the unattractive features of the jailer in my memory. They were easy to recall, but Vanaja’s were easier and much more pleasant.

An hour had elapsed since I had had my last fun with Morgas, and the castle had quieted down again. It was so quiet that I could hear the approach of sandalled feet along the corridor outside our cell.

“He comes!” I said to Ero Shan.

“Who?” he asked.

“The jailer with the face of a Gila monster.”

The key turned in the lock and the door swung in. The underdone face of the jailer was poked in. He held a torch above his head.

“I am still here,” I said. “If anyone has been chasing Morgas again, it was not I.”

“No one has been chasing Morgas again,” said the jailer, “but I think he has gone crazy.”

“How so?”

“He has given orders that you are to be set free. If I were Morgas, I would have your head lopped off. You are a very dangerous person.”

“You are not Morgas,” I reminded him. “What else did the vootogan order?” I knew, as I had given the orders myself; but I wanted to make certain that the fellow remembered them correctly.

“He ordered me to see that you and your companion and the woman, Vanaja, were put out of the castle immediately. The woman is waiting for you by the garden gate.”

“But suppose we don’t wish to go?” I asked.

He looked at me in surprise, and so did Ero Shan. I was not trying to be funny. I just wished to fix his determination to get us out of there. I knew his type of mind: a small mind which a little authority inflated. Nothing now could prevail upon him to let us remain.

“I have my orders,” he said, “I know what to do. If you do not go peaceably, you will be thrown out.”

“In that case we will go peaceably,” I said.

The jailer threw the door wide and stepped back. “Come!” he ordered.

We followed him up and out into the ballium. Vanaja was waiting at the garden gate. “You are going home,” I said to her.

“Yes,” she replied; “I know. Morgas came and told me.” That would have surprised Morgas.

We followed the jailer to the main gates, which he unbolted and threw open. There were no guards there, as I had guessed there would not be, for there had been none the morning that we had arrived at the stronghold. Morgas was very sure of his power.

“Now get out,” snapped the jailer, “and I hope that I never see your face again.”

“I have the same feeling about yours,” I assured him.

We three stepped out into the night and the gates closed behind us. We were free!

“It doesn’t seem possible,” said Vanaja. “I cannot yet understand why Morgas liberated us.”

“He will regret it in the morning,” I said, “and we shall be pursued.” Knowing that Morgas knew nothing of all this, I knew that in the morning he would be furious when he discovered the trick that had been played on him.

“I should not like to be in that jailer’s boots tomorrow morning,” said Ero Shan.

“Why?” asked Vanaja. “He was only carrying out Morgas’s orders.”

Ero Shan did not reply, and I thought it better not to explain. Had I, Vanaja would doubtless have immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was a wizard; and I had good reason to suspect that wizards might not be overly popular with the Pandar family.

As we proceeded down the valley in the direction of Tovar’s castle, a change came over Vanaja which increased apparently in direct ratio to the distance we covered from the stronghold of Morgas. It was as though the spell of his influence over her became more attenuated the farther she was removed from him. Presently she was chatting gaily of her past experiences and trying to visualize the surprise of her people when they should see her returned safely to them.

“They may have difficulty in believing that it is you,” I said.

“Why?” she asked. “I do not believe that I have changed that much since Morgas took me away.”

“It is not that,” I said. “They think you are still at home.”

“How could they?”

“They have a zaldar in a pen behind the castle, which Morgas has convinced them is you. It may be a shock to your mother to discover that she has been lavishing affection upon a zaldar in the belief that it was her daughter. Your mother is not entirely—well.”

“What is the matter with her?” demanded the girl. “She had never been ill a day in her life.”

“Lest you be shocked when you meet her, I might as well tell you now that her mind has evidently been affected—quite possibly by grief over your abduction and transformation into a zaldar. She really believes that zaldar is you.”

“That is not strange,” replied Vanaja. “Morgas has made hundreds of people believe the same thing. I believed it myself for a long time. Morgas can make people believe anything he wants them to believe.”

“He should be destroyed,” said Ero Shan.

“Yes,” said Vanaja. “He is a terrible man. Frightful things happen in his castle. He has convinced himself that he has changed human beings into zaldars. Now he cannot tell them apart; so often men or women are butchered and eaten; because Morgas insists that they are zaldars. Nearly everyone there is so confused and terrified that they eat the flesh in the hope that Morgas may be right. Yes, he should be destroyed; but that is impossible. Morgas cannot be killed. He will live forever. He has said so.”

There was a finality in her tone which discouraged argument. It was evident that the spell which Morgas had cast upon the girl’s mind and imagination had not been entirely cast out. It probably never would be while Morgas lived.

Our progress was very slow as we groped our way over the unfamiliar terrain through the darkness; and dawn caught us still far from Tovar’s castle, for we had become lost during the night and gone in a wrong direction. We found that we had crossed the valley; and feeling certain that we should be pursued, we dared not risk going on by daylight.

We finally decided to hide during the day in one of the numerous little canyons which cut the hills along the valley’s border; and after investigating a couple of them, we found one in which there was a little stream of pure water and a cave which we felt would afford a safe hiding place.

The canyon was a garden spot of trees, bushes, and flowers. We located and gathered a variety of edible nuts, fruits, and berries which we carried to our cave; then we settled down to pass away the daylight hours until darkness came again and we could continue our flight.

For safety’s sake, Ero Shan and I took turns keeping watch toward the mouth of the canyon. From the location of our cave, we could see up the valley a short distance in the direction of Morgas’s stronghold; and toward the middle of the morning Ero Shan announced that a party of mounted men was approaching.

Vanaja and I joined him, keeping ourselves well hidden behind a large boulder. Coming down the valley were some twenty-five or thirty warriors mounted on zorats, those amazing creatures that serve as horses upon Venus.

“There’s Morgas!” exclaimed Vanaja. “See? He’s riding at their head.”

It was indeed Morgas. I smiled to think of the fool’s errand he had embarked upon and how chagrined he would be could he ever know how close he had been to those he sought.

I smiled too soon. Just opposite the mouth of our canyon, just when I thought that they would ride by, Morgas turned his mount directly toward us; and the whole party rode straight in our direction.

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