Chapter VIII.

27 Jul

No, it will not work if my own contingent searches the mountain named Caldaria to find Joa and her abductor. Thus calculated her father, the Hegumen of Zeviv. It would be like looking for a particular insect in the forest. But what if an army of searchers were to be mobilized? What if the forces of many claustra were combined so as to trap the fugitives in a solid ring of pursuers? An army like that could form a solid net on all sides. Success would become a certainty. They would surely locate and rescue Joa.

That was the dream that drove Nomb Aacn into a frenzied visitor to as many mountain tops as he could arrive at in just a few days. He left a squad of Brothers to watch the roads from Caldaria, in case the tinker should escape with Joa and Yie. As soon as he had collected sufficient manpower, he would be able to start an effective attack on the mountain called Caldaria.

His argument grew to new, unprecedented proportions.

“We must destroy the enemy stronghold. Where else on Tegumen do the descendants of the Yellow Hats enjoy the possession of an entire mountain all to themselves? It is an unnatural condition which should never have been allowed to arise. But the time has arrived to put an end to this outrage, and we are the highlanders with the responsibility to right the wrong that exists. Am I correct about that?”

The indictment of the enemy was a bitter one, full of age-old hatred and revulsion.

“The valley farmers are nothing but ignorant peasants. What do they know? Only how to feed and reproduce themselves. Anything more than that is beyond their simple brains.

“The great problem with them is that they have never had the benefits of adequate light. That is what happened to them in both a metaphysical and a physical sense. Light alone allows ideas to form and assemble. Darkness mean separation and division for all the downlanders in the shadows. They lack the benefits of the heliac beams.

“We are fortunate that our own ancestors dwelled in the mountainous uplands. Otherwise, we might also be clods as stupid as the benighted, evil inhabitants of the low valleys.

“There are now towns and cities in the low levels. They are dark dens of crime, vice, and misery. No one in their right mind would wish to live in such hellish locations. Crowded slums, unhealthy conditions, polluted air and water, disease and epidemics prevail down there. Our mountain peaks, suffused with light, save us and our progeny from such ruinous life.

“That is the way conditions have been since the first landings on our planet. It will always remain that way, because no alternative can exist.

“Over the long ages, a better breed of people has evolved and come about on the mountain heights. The history of the valleys has been the opposite of ours. Each generation of belowers is more miserable than the ones that came before. Hatred toward highlanders grows stronger and deeper with time. There has always been great danger embodied in these miserable belowers.

“We have to maintain our superiority and control over the valleys and those who dwell there. Watchfulness on our part has become an absolute necessity. Do we wish to see our traditional system collapse? Will our descendants forgive us should we permit a catastrophe to occur? Vigilance and willingness to fight is the price of our survival and continuation. Our future is at stake every day, every hour and minute of time.

“We must combat the belowers at every turn, and never allow them to invade the mountains that are ours.”

Nomb always received an answer of approval in all the claustra where he made his argument. No dissent was ever expressed. Everyone joined together in a common campaign to fulfill the goal of victory. He was successful in mobilizing the bodies and the minds of the Red Hat class in many separate locations.

He believed that victory was near, as was the return of his daughter to himself.

Both Yie and Joa were busy from long before dawn until the darkness that fell after the setting of the heliac. They both remembered details they had read at the claustrum depository back at Zeviv. Most of their time was expended on the project to bring energy to the valleys through the use of the silver-platinum plates.

When will our efforts reach completion? How can we have proof whether the scheme was only someone’s imagined technology or a practical invention that had been suppressed by the Red Hat authorities? Such questions dominated the thoughts of both of the fugitive lovers, becoming the obsessive concern of the couple.

Yie gave encouragement to Joa whenever she despaired, while at other times she did the same for him. She spoke to him with new conviction.

“Not until I came down below did I understand the terrible want and poverty that people of the valleys live in. At first I felt shock at these conditions. But the good character of the average belower shone through and convinced me to do what was in my grasp for the inhabitants of the lower land. And this project is the way to do that. Am I correct on that, Yie?”

He gazed tenderly at her. “You have it completely right. For me, this means repayment to those who raised and cared for an orphan all alone on our world. I am fulfilling a moral duty that I owe to the dorpers who spend more time in darkness than in the light. That is my personal purpose in all that we are doing.”

She reached forward and took his larger hand in hers.

“Our effort will end in success, have no doubt about that,” she murmured with confidence in her voice.

He placed his remaining hand over her hand that was clinging to his other one. “We must not let our spirits sag,” he told her, his emotions passionately stirred. “I promise to give my all to the dream we share.”

Gev heard the sound of hooves and awakened. Peering out of the front of his hoop wagon, he saw a sight that seemed a nightmare of the unimaginable.

A squadron of darkly dressed equine-riders surrounded him on all sides. There was no disguise that could conceal the fact of who they were. These had to be Red Hats searching for the pair he had helped elude capture. That was their reason for being there.

The tinker felt himself able and prepared to deal with these Brothers.

All I have to do is tell them part of the truth: that they are not present in the wagon. But then I have to convince these highlanders that I have no knowledge of where they may have gone. That is what I must accomplish.

Gev was confident that he could carry out such a deceptive trick. But it would take cunning and some convincing acting. Not an easy assignment at all.

One of the riders shouted at the tinker. “Get down on the ground, so that we can search the wagon. You know who it is we are after. Do not interfere with what is going to happen next.”

“There is no one here at all,” called out Gev as he jumped out of the front, onto a spot in front of the Red Hat addressing him.

At that moment, two riders dismounted from their equines and approached the front of the hoop wagon. They stepped forward with speed and vigor, lifting themselves up onto the front floor of the peregrinating vehicle. For them, this was difficult, serious business.

Gev turned his head to watch them rifle through his belongings. He turned back to the Red Hats’ leader, whose face was hidden in murky shadow, without any individual features visible.

“Stop this criminal outrage!” he yelled out in anger. “I told you there is no one here but me. Anyone can see that, you idiot!”

“We know that,” said the leader calmly. “But there could be some trace that can help us find these fugitives. Now, let me warn you about how far our search is to go.

“Unless you reveal where the two are hiding, your wagon will be set afire. These men have lucifer matches ready for that sort of task. Unless you give us the truth, it all goes up in flames. The loss will be yours to bear.”

The wagon was his one and only major possession. His mind blinded by personal fury, Gev lunged forward, throwing himself onto the Red Hat who had threatened and taunted him. It proved to be the greatest mistake the tinker had ever made.

One of the Red Hats close behind the leader carried on him an antique pistolet. The weapon had apparently disappeared generations ago. There had been no need for firearms in the centuries of belower submission and passivity. Highlanders only used hunting flintlocks and muskets, nothing of such a small size. No one had developed very much skill with obsolete shooting irons like this. It had become an object with no function, no practical use.

The holder of the relic from the past did not aim with any care. His shot turned out to be a wild one. But it struck with terrible force and felled the target instantly, in a merciless, inhuman manner.

One single shot, and life fled out of the forehead of the tinker, never to return to where it had once flourished. The obsolete weapon killed the targeted craftsman.

Gev lay on the ground in front of his wagon, the first casualty of the invasion of Caldaria Mountain.

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