Chapter IX.

31 Jul

Tegumen, a planet lacking seas and oceans, depended upon a multitude of lakes to hold its reserves of water. These were scattered across the sphere, but there were regions of particularly large bodies of water. In the far northern latitudes, the Doigt Lakes were large and concentrated near each other. They gave this region its name and character.

Yie and Joa learned that night that the qadic of Rocumbol was arranging their transportation by freight wagon to the shores of Lake Digit, at the center of the lake system. To the south of it lay Lake Index, Medus, Ponce, Orteil, Annular, and Auricular.

“The six lakes that intervene should discourage the Red Hats from searching for you there,” the magistrate assured them. “Geography will serve you as protector. There should be no intrusions by them thereabout. That is my hope: that all of you will be safe there.”

A little before the late dawn, a cartage wagon came to the back door of the official residence to pick up the two passengers for the north.

Yie arranged it so that their extra clothes and the three silver platinum plates were taken from their rented room and brought to be transported with them on the vehicle.

“There will be room for you at a lakeside hotel with which I have had dealings,” explained the qadic. “I and my wife wish you good fortune there. Your safety should be assured. The place is the most secure location I can think of. Geography should furnish an excellent form of protection there.”

The wagon, traveling over short day and long night, was soon in areas that neither fugitive had ever been in before. The forests that surrounded the dirt road were coniferous varieties of firs, junipers, piceans, blue sapins, and abeths. Their natural beauty was peaceful and inspiring. The population here was small and scattered about.

The two drivers who took turns at the reins of the equines furnished food for their passengers. Occasional stops allowed Joa and Yie to see how the mountains and forests were changing as they traveled north. The peaks became lower. Many had no claustrum settlements on top. Vegetation was quite different. Cone trees came to predominate on all sides.

Yie, holding Joa tightly, attempted to reassure her.

“We cannot go back, so we have to place our hopes on this new place. That is the way things are. The life of many a person, over the ages, has necessitated adjustment to new conditions in unfamiliar places. Think of how our ancestors had to settle on a new planet totally strange to them. That was a daring adventure that they lived through back then. We are in a different era completely.”

“What will we do at Lake Digit, Yie?” she asked with trepidation.

“That remains to be seen,” he smiled, “but it will be up to us. That is the way it always is, everywhere.”

She gave a nod, snuggling into his embrace.

The hotel on the lake shore consisted of a series of separate cottages. Around it, on three sides, rose steep mountains of middle height covered with tall pines. The panorama was a magnificent one.

The senior driver of their wagon told them to wait while he entered the main building and gave the owner a letter from the qadic of Rocumbol.

Yie helped Joa climb out of the rear of the vehicle. They absorbed the purity and clarity of the northern landscape. It was the short daytime and the skies contained more light than they were used to. This was a result of the lower height of the mountains hereabout. Yet the night ahead was long and the day only minutes in duration, as elsewhere on the planet.

“I have never seen a twilight as bright as that,” commented Joa. “But don’t you feel a sharp chill in the air?”

“Yes. It’s a paradox. This latitude has a quarter hour more of day, but the average temperature is lower than further south.”

They looked out over Lake Digit. Both noticed the shimmering glare far out on the water. The heliac shone down in a manner unfamiliar to them. There was an eerie tone about it.

The noise of an opening door attracted their attention. They watched as the driver approached, a lanky skeleton of a man in black business suit next to him.

“Welcome to our lake and hotel,” said the stranger, his voice high and rough. “I am fortunate to have a vacant cottage available that can be shared by the two of you. Let me first introduce myself, though.

“I am Gui, owner and manager of the hotel you see. You have had a view of the lake already. Isn’t it splendid? There is grandeur in all directions. The scenery here is priceless.

“As you know, the qadic of Rocumbol wrote introducing you and asking that I provide the best accommodations I can. That I shall do. I consider him one of my dearest friends. And now I shall include the two of you in my ring of friends. Welcome to Lake Digit. Now, let’s go into the hotel grill and feed you some northern cuisine. Please follow me.”

Yie and Joa said farewell to the two drivers and entered the building with its owner, Gui. Both of them already felt much better. They had reached a safe haven, they believed.

Cervine steak with raw rugals provided a most satisfying meal. Gui gave them a description of what they could expect in this latitude new to them.

“Although our day is a little longer than further south, the night is as dark here as anywhere on Tegumen. Perhaps we can see more in twilight, but that is all. There is no escape from the night when it comes.”

“We saw for ourselves a great shining light in the waters of your lake,” interjected Joa. “Is that a sight that disappears along with the heliac?”

Gui turned and gave her a curious look. “That mirror effect on the water is at the center of Lake Digit, where the shadows of the mountains do not reach. That is a place where daylight shines for at least twelve full hours, as it would everywhere if the mountains did not exist. Only out there in the middle of the lake waters are day and night of equal length. This hotel and the shore are, unfortunately, overshadowed by the peaks and fall into full darkness.”

Joa posed another question. “Does your region contain Red Hat claustra as in the south?”

“Only about half of our summits do. The other half do not.” Gui, all at once, thought of something. “Would you like to take a boat excursion out in the water? If you are tired, it can wait until you two are fully rested. I own a sail sloop that I can take you out on. What do you say?”

Both Joa and Yie replied they were ready to go out with him the very next day. Neither of them needed any extended rest. They were both invigorated by this environment new to them. What might it hold of value for their future? both of them wondered.

Caph, aware of the personal danger should the Red Hats get hold of him, tried to stay out of public places where they might cross his path. But he judged it safe to go shopping at the central farmers’ market for food. Being in a crowd gave him adequate protection, he told himself. He was one person among so many others.

He changed his mind once on the scene.

Hawkers called out offered prices, praising their wares as the best anywhere. Customers haggled with sellers. Unending hubbub filled the air of the square during the short hour of twilight. Bodies hurried in all directions in the short interval of trade.

It was too late when Caph realized the presence of mounted Red Hats.

From all sides, the market square was surrounded. In seconds, there began a fine, careful search of all faces. The crowd was trapped in the market.

Caph made a serious error when he tried to slip away unnoticed.

The youngest of the Brothers, an inexperienced novice, was first to catch sight of him. “There goes the baaser!” he shouted to his comrades.

Several riders sent their equines toward the fleeing figure, easily cornering him against the wall of a downtown store.

Caph realized he was caught and had no hope of escape. But before he could be taken, the novice rider barreled into him as if his equine was no longer under control.

The catastrophe that happened could not have been foreseen. The heavy weight of an equine falling on him crushed the life out of the victim in less than a second.

“You idiot!” yelled the Red Hat captain. “You’ve killed a fugitive we had right in our hands. What do we do now?”

Gui let his sloop drift lazily in the middle of Lake Digit. From overhead came strong, bright rays, unlike any that Yie or Joa had ever seen before.

“How marvelous it is out here!” said Joa. “If only all of Tegumen could enjoy this light. It is the unshadowed heliac that all the belowers of the planet deserve to see.”

“But they don’t,” noted Yie. “Only in dreams like the one I told you of is that true. That is the tragedy we live with.”

“It has always been so, since our ancestors migrated,” said Gui thoughtfully. “Perhaps they chose the wrong planet for their home.”

Yie grimaced. “It was the Red Hats who made that decision. Our people had no voice in it. And so, we are condemned to twilight and darkness, unless…”

“Your dream comes true?” said Joa excitedly. “Can prismoids liberate us?”

Yie did not give her an answer because he was engaged in deep consideration of new projects and ideas whose value he did not yet know.


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