Chapter XII.

15 Jun

The pair of intruders were wearing city coats of bright, gaudy color, not the local dark cloth. The first thought of Ranid was that these were undercover scrutinizers, working for either the official police or the Salamandrine authorities. He quickly slipped away and hurried home, a lump of fear in his throat. What was he to do now? He decided to inform Joai of the problem that he faced with the arrival of these strangers from elsewhere.

The missioner was busy in his kitchen, baking corndoggers. Ranid waited until the bread rolls were in the wood oven before revealing the danger that threatened his freedom.

Joai looked at him with startlement and disbelief. “You think they may be spying agents of your Salamandrian persecutors?”

“That seems most likely to me,” answered Ranid. “There was something about them that told me they were on the hunt for someone. I could not draw any other conclusion.”

The missioner furrowed his broad brow. “What do you intend to do, then?” he asked.

“I can’t stay indoors all the time. My fear is that they will corner me right here, and that will therefore cause a lot of trouble for you and your templum.”

Joai bit his thick lower lip. “I know of only one safe haven for you, one secure refuge where they cannot trail you.”

“What is that?”

The Anuran mentor looked down at the pale citron linoleum floor.

“The conventiculum at Feretrum is the best asylum I can think of for you. No police can enter it. Because I was once a student there, my recommendation will count for a lot. But the journey there is a long, difficult one. There can be many hardships. Are you willing to travel that far on your own?”

“I swear to you that I am,” replied Ranid with a glow of sincerity and honesty.

“Their main purpose at Feretrum is the study and preservation of the Anuran faith. There are many colonies of actual frogs raised and maintained, out of which beneficial medicines are sold and sent to healers and members of the general public.” Joai thought and considered a moment. “I could send you as a candidate for noviciate status. Are you willing to enroll yourself? It is a tough, arduous life for a beginner there. Are you up to its rigors?”

Without hesitation, Ranid said that he was ready to go to Feretrum and become a student of Anuranism. His most cherished personal aspirations could be realized by such a course of education. It would be the next logical step in his spiritual development. He was willing and eager to go there and learn what was so important to him.

“Good!” proclaimed Joai. “It will be a sad loss for me, but this must be done for your sake. Pack up what you need and be prepared to leave the centrum tonight. That will be the best time to slip away.

“I shall now go to my escritoire and write a strong letter introducing you and giving my positive evaluation of your worth and promise. My regrets are great, but this is necessary for your future. You will find a true shelter and salvation once you reach Feretrum.”

Ranid saw tears forming in the eyes of the missioner who had become so close to him. He left the kitchen, soon finding himself beginning to cry himself.

Ranid was ready to leave the house of Joai as soon as twilight fell. He waited in the rear of the building, in a small storage nook, until he heard the front door open. Bending forward, the fugitive put his ear to the door separating him from the front parlor. The missioner had let two persons in. They had to be the pair of pursuers who were after him. He listened to the audible words in a low, heavy voice of one of the intruders.

“We know that you harbor a stranger to this centrum, and from what we can gather it sounds a lot like the man we are hunting for. This criminal stole valuable manuscripts from the archive in Caecilia City. The felony is most serious, because these articles are irreplaceable. He will be given the highest possible punishment when he is caught and returned to the capital. His offense damaged the peace and well-being of all people in our land. I cannot give you a detailed description of the contents of these purloined materials, for we do not know them. But we have the name of this miscreant, Ranid Rolius. And we have a very good idea what the evil malefactor looks like. I can show you a drawn sketch of this horrible criminal.”

Silence followed as the scrutinizer took the picture out of his pocket and handed it to Joai. The latter studied and then returned it and began to speak.

“No, this is not the student that I have been tutoring. The two are completely different in looks and body types. You are barking up the wrong tree, sirs.”

“Tell me one simple thing,” said the senior agent. “Where is this person who stays here wih you?”

“He is not now at home. I do not expect him till some time late tomorrow, because he is on a hiking tour, on a hunt for wild berries. The youth is fascinated with the rich variety we have in this part of the Cheerless Swamp. I am very sorry, but if you wish to examine him with questions, it has to be done tomorrow. At what hour do you expect to return here to the house?”

Ranid was unable to hear the reply to this, if there was one.

The next sound reaching his ears was that of the front door opening and closing. The one being hunted felt relief. They had been unable to search the house for him because it was clear to them that Joai would refuse to grant them permission for that.

Ranid made his way into the front parlor to consult with his protector.

“I must leave at once, this night,” proposed the young fugitive. “There is no use in presenting these men the opportunity to catch hold of me. Perhaps it would be best to go directly into the swamp by the most direct route, from the back of this house. I have my knapsack packed and can start off at once. My best wishes for the future are all that I can leave you, my dear friend. So, let us shake hands and say farewell to each other.”

Joai approached and placed his hands around the shoulders of the other.

All at once, the missioner remembered something.

“Before you depart, there is a gift I have to give you. What is there here that you could use? I asked myself that question. A book, I decided. But which one? Let me get it for you so that you can see.”

Joai took only seconds to go to a shelf and take out a single book. He brought it over and handed it to his student. The latter opened the volume and read what the title was: “History of the Origin of the Anuran Faith”.

“This will help you understand how the Great Schism occurred, especially the role played by the famous Alsike Caldus. The character of his treachery is described and defined. The book tells of how he plotted to take a large number of faithful believers out of the united, consolidated Anuran movement. You will read about the Unity Congress, where Batrachians and Salientians tried to merge their separate strains of frog and salamander priority into one unified organization.

“The historical convention was held in Caecilia City. Ever since that time, there has persisted the dispute over who caused the total division. Did the Anurans split from the Salamandrites, or vice versa? Who instigated the final, total division?

“The book that I am giving you tells the truth about the final schism and how it happened. It places the blame for the separating conflict on one person: Caldus the troublemaker. Reading it will bring you important enlightenment, Ranid.”

The latter took the small volume and placed it into his knapsack.

After the two embraced each other, the fleeing one exited through the rear door of the house at nearly a run.

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