Chapter XXIII.

13 Apr

The vehicle descended into the mountain valley of Flos Ferri, where white calcium flowers of aragonite were still mined with the iron ore that contained and held them.

As they crossed to the next ridge, the Founder interpreted the new place names that were encountered.

“Chrysolite, that is an olive-green silicate of magnesium and iron, a very valuable gem for which there is still a market everywhere on the Continent.”

Next came a mining village named Erythrite.

“That is a rose-red crystal from which precious cobalt is obtained in refineries in other lands.”

Once again, the spiraling mountain road climbed upward, through the nondescript villages of Graywacke and Idocrase.

A small sign at the side of the narrow road indicated they were passing through Realgar.

“That is a bright orange-red mineral that contains arsenic,” explained the Founder. “It is used to make paint pigment and in pyrotechnic displays.”

All at once, the locovan began to brake and swerve to the right side.

Each passenger tried to steady and brace himself or herself.

One of the guards in the rear section tried to stand up, but instead fell out onto the floor of the vehicle cabin.

The prisoners exchanged looks of panic as the van came to a halt on the right side of the road.

Through small peepholes along the side, the movement of men in green became visible. The travelers were soon surrounded by miners armed with hunting weapons.

Before the two guards could take bolters out of their holsters, the rear doors of the locovan swung open.

“Up with your hands!” one of the attackers cried out.

The Clandestines, seeing they had no chance, did as they were told.

One miner jumped into the cabin to take their weapons away.

The man who appeared to be leader of the rescuers turned to the prisoners and addressed them.

“You are in friendly hands, but we must get away quickly. Please climb out. We have two fielders waiting to take you further south into the Cordillera.”

As miners tied up the guards, the liberated ones climbed out of the captured vehicle.

The all-terrain carriers zig-zagged along unpaved paths, escaping from any possible pursuers. Several mountains were crossed before the convoy came to a stop in a hamlet that was distant from the main roads of the Mineral Mountains.

The Founder, Bato Mentin, and Beryl Sehr entered a small heartwood cottage ahead of Dey Skull, who brought up the rear.

A miner escorting the group asked them to sit down around a table. They waited in silence, as if exhausted from the excitement of their flight through the steep mountains.

From outside came the sound of another fielder arriving.

The cottage door opened, admitting the diminutive form of Taval Renda in a black suit.

A sigh of suspense went around the table. But behind the district leader from Corundum came someone whom Dey did not expect to see in these southern mountains.

Veta Vermilion smiled radiantly upon catching sight of him.

As Renda began to shake hands with those around the table, Dey and the tour guide exchanged meaningful stares.

A miner appeared carrying a large tray with generous bowls of porridge on it.

“Let’s have something to eat, then proceed on to the next leg of the journey southward,” suggested Renda in a shrill voice. “The Clandestines will be out hunting for us with all they have. They are not people who give up easily.The search for us will be relentless.”

Veta sat down across from Dey. As they ate, each related what had happened to them since the day of the miners’ rally in Plumbago.

When all the empty bowls were removed, the Founder stood up and spoke to those in the room.

“I know that we are all thankful to Brother Taval and our other comrades who rescued us from the clutches of the Clandestine Service. We were slated for the worst tortures imaginable at the secret camp they were taking us to. But now our fortunes are reversed because of the bold action that saved us from horrible tortures to come.

“The miners’ movement is not defeated. No, not by any means. We shall fight on, battle after battle, until final victory is won. Until the Minerals are rid of tyrannic rule, and the life of the miner is once more free.

“I have discussed with Brother Renda what we shall be doing next.

“It seems probable that the Clandestines will attempt to locate us from the air, using gyroplanes and other vertical craft. Therefore, the wisest course for us is to stay here until evening. Our fielders can be hidden in a nearby cave, our comrades assure me. We shall remain indoors the rest of the day, then renew our journey at twilight. Our drivers know the path well enough to travel at night. The final destination remains Dysprosium Mountain at the south end of the Cordillera.”

Slyn again sat down, giving Dey the opportunity to lean forward toward Veta.

“We must talk,” he told her under his breath.

She grinned pleasantly. “Let me show you the mountain vehicles in the caves behind this cottage,” she told him. “We can converse in private there.”

The two of them rose and headed for the back of the small structure.

Captain Brek Kont fumed with ire as he worked the wirephones of the secret mountain camp of the Clandestines.

“Yes, we have lost the traitor Slyn and his people. An all-out search is on, but more personnel and equipment are desperately needed. A noose must be thrown around this section of the Minerals, then tightened till the fugitives are caught.

“Unless the so-called Founder is captured, he will do great harm to the lawful order of Landia. He is a clever, resourceful miscreant who steers the miners in a direction that builds up their strength as a political force. His patient persistence is their hidden weapon.

“All means must be employed to put him out of action. There is no time to lose. This is a matter of the highest urgency for the security of our country.”

Two bodies reached toward each other in the farthest recess of the storage cave, behind the dark forms of the fielders and locomobiles.

Under the light from a small globe, the pair who had not seen each other for a time embraced one another. Neither kept count of how many kisses they exchanged. Their mutual passion grew to a peak before suddenly receding to a point that allowed the female to speak.

“I’ve missed you more than I can say,” she sobbed with high emotion. “My mind was concentrated upon you through all these misfortunes. I never stopped worrying about you.”

Eye looked into eye; hand touched hand; their pulses merged into one common beat.

For several moments, communication between them was silent but tactile.

The male decided that he had to ask her a question of importance to himself. But before he could do so a sound distracted both of them.

Footsteps came from the far side of the cave, as if someone had entered and was searching about in the thick shadows.

Taval Renda decided that he could wait no longer.

“What does Slyn say about me?” he asked the Founder’s young assistant, standing close to him.

Momentarily, Beryl Sehr hesitated. But she was already too deeply compromised to stop.

“He calls you a hothead who would take dangerous risks.” Her voice fell to almost a whisper. “But there is something important that I learned from the journalist named Skull.”

“What do you mean?”

Beryl bit her lower lip before revealing the secret concerning the family of the important man she worked for. “Dey Skull came to Landia with a hidden purpose. His own parents were Xartic refugees from the Southern Mineral Mountains. He believes that his mother was related to Garen Slyn. That could make the Founder himself a Xart, if what he told me is true.”

For a second, Renda seemed to sway back and forth. He took the right hand of his lover in his, clasping it tightly. They stared at each other’s face in the darkness of the cave.

“I want you to remember very carefully, Beryl. What exactly did the foreigner tell you?”

She withdrew her hand from his. “The man is here in Landia on a pretext of writing a book about the Great Cataclysm. But his actual aim is much more personal. He is hunting for forgotten,lost relatives. It is possible that Garen Slyn is one.”

The green eyes of the activist lawyer seemed to turn into flaming coals. He raised a hand to his face, rubbing the thin stubble on his chin.

“What does all this mean, Taval?”

For a short time, no reply came from the latter.

“It is valuable information you have given me,” he muttered softly. “It can have an important effect on what is going to happen. I will be deeply in your debt, my dear.”

He reached out his right arm, taking her hand back into his.

“But we must not reveal what we know to anyone, for now.” His green eyes cast a strange spell on her. She murmured to him as if mesmerized by his shadowy gaze.

“You are perfectly right. No one else needs to know what the writer said to me.”

Without warning, Renda embraced her closely with his left arm, drawing her body against his.

Her head remained within his metallic grip as he kissed her thin lips with surprising force.

Neither noticed the noiseless passing of the tall, lithe shape of a woman only a short distance from them. But Veta Vermilion had spotted and identified both Beryl and Taval. She realized they were hiding there.

What are those two up to? she wondered, heading back toward the entrance door.

It is best not to tell anyone about what I have discovered. There is no need to stir up trouble among these people I have joined up with.

When she spotted Dey entering the cave though its front opening, she silently hurried toward him. They would have matters of their own to contend with and settle now that they were together once more.

She drew and directed Dey Skull to the area farthest away from where she had spied the other pair. Those two individuals must not be allowed to see or hear them, Veta decided. Dey and I must preserve our privacy, she told herself.

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