Chapter VII.

31 Jul

The final rehearsal before public performance was carried out with Cacique providing prismatic stage lighting. Everyone present realized how serious their last run-through was.

Act Four rolled toward its end with Yie and Joa at the front of the stage. The pair looked off-stage, toward what they imagined to be the city of Rocumbol.

“There it lies, our destination,” said Yie with an explosion of emotions. “Caph promised us we will be safe once we are there. But is that going to happen? How can our future be foretold? What if we are followed and captured once inside the city?”

Yie took her hand in his.

“There is nothing for us to dread, Joa. It cannot be more dangerous there than where we have already been. The days ahead of us cannot be full of greater peril than those that are now past and gone. We have to buckle up our courage and march on. There is no other alternative. We have to fight for our future.”

She gazed into his face pleadingly.

“Together, we go on to whatever awaits us,” Joa softly muttered.

“That’s the spirit that will take us forward.”

Hand in hand, the two refugees walked off to the right until they were out of sight. The prismatic spotlight manned by Cacique followed them to the end of the stage.

In the first row of the audience, Frelo stood up.

“Excellent!” he called out loudly. “We are ready for tomorrow night. Now, let’s all go and get a good night’s sleep.”

In a short time, when the practice had ended, the cast and crew left the theater.

Yie, Joa, and Caph departed into the thickening darkness as a group of three, making for the building that contained their rented flats.

They trudged along in silence. But suddenly Caph made a surprising proposal to the other two.

“It would be great to have ourselves a little celebration now that all the rehearsals are finished. I think we should stop at a bistro or pub and have some drinks to tide us over till tomorrow evening. We have certainly earned a bit of relaxation.”

Surprisingly, Joa seconded the idea and made the choice of where to go. “That’s just what we need at this moment. And there’s a sign that points to where we should go. Look, the name of that place is the Pharos, the lantern. I consider that a good omen,” she said with a laugh, “because tomorrow we will be working under a beacon coming from the prismoids of Cacique. So, let’s go in there and refresh ourselves.”

Yie, doubtful of the wisdom of the proposal, did not object to what his companions had accepted without asking him. Thus he was swept up into the Pharos by the other two. They were taking a heedless risk, he realized but failed to tell them.

Music from a hurdy-gurdy filled the smoky air of the small pub. A crowd of drinkers took up the chairs and stools of the front area. The three who entered only found empty space in the back, at a corner table. The smoke from bhang, boxthorn, stramony, and cubeb cigarettes filled the air, making it hard to see very far.

Soon after they sat down, a waiter in a yellow apron came up and asked the group for their orders.

“A tall glass of cervezix beer for me,” said Caph with a grin. He looked at Joa, then at Yie.

“I’ll have the same,” said first the former, then the latter.

When the waiter had left, Joa began to speak in a lowered tone.

“It is no secret that I would have liked a different ending to the play. The impression may be created that all difficulties and dangers are past, that they have overcome and conquered their troubles with the highland oppressors. How can we honestly say that when we know it is not true?”

Yie bit his lip. “You are thinking of the Red Hats who still are here in Rocumbol? Who continue to search and hunt for us?”

“That shadow has not yet passed, has it?” she murmured softly.

Caph now intervened. “Let’s not think of such things at this time. The two of you have great responsibilities tomorrow at the theater. After that, we can deal with the danger from the highlanders. We will then be better prepared to deal with our foes from the mountains.”

The waiter appeared with a tray of drinks for them, so the trio stopped their conversation.

But enough had already been said to draw the concentrated interest of two patrons of the Pharos sitting at a short distance away, but whose presence was concealed from the fugitives by a large potted plant positioned between the two groups and tables.

The unseen listeners set to memory all they picked up through their ears. Both were later able to report every word and sentence of their three neighbors. They paid complete attention to the task, for the pair were disguised undercover espials on the payroll of the city police. They were informers experienced in picking up useful information.

Once Caph, Yie, and Joa were finished drinking, they left for their flats. Their mood was lighter as they looked ahead to the morrow. They shared a growing optimism about what would happen.

As soon as they were gone, the two behind the aspidistra also rose. They knew that they had overheard something of importance that their superiors in the administrative hierarchy would be pleased to know about.

The Red Hats had assigned a plainclothes Brother to the central police station to keep an eye on all overnight communications and reports coming in or going out. It was that individual who was present in the command room when the two espials reported to the night officer on what they had picked up in the Pharos.

“These people are engaged in play-acting on the stage?” asked the astounded commander of police. His almond eyes expanded as if exploding.

“It sounded to me as if they were talking about the Popular Theater. At least that was the clear implication of what we heard them saying.”

“And they were at rehearsals before stopping for drinks?”

“The final, last rehearsals for a play beginning tomorrow, after dark.”

The police official looked the one, then the other, in the face and studied the expressions they presented to him.

“These three people match the descriptions given us by the Red Hats?”

“As far as we could see,” answered the espial. “We could not afford to look at them directly without setting off their sense of alarm. We had to take extra care not to be detected by them.”

The officer in charge thought a moment. “I have to report this to the qadic himself. He will want to know, then decide what to do about it.”

Another person who was present already knew what he had to accomplish.

The Red Hat in civilian clothes slipped out of the station, heading for the encampment of the Brothers on the outskirts of Rocumbol.

Nomb Aacn was not yet asleep in his tent, so that he did not have to be awakened in order to receive the important, urgent message.

When the qadic awoke a little after the next dawning, he was surprised when his wife informed him that the Red Hat Hegumen was downstairs, waiting to see him about police business.

He put on a bedrobe and hurried down the stairs to where Nomb sat awaiting him. The highlander’s face was the color of a ripe beet. This was an indicator of some kind of crisis.

“They are located and about to be caught in our nets,” said the Hegumen, rising out of the quercine chair that he rested in. “It appears that the fugitives are involved in putting on a play at a city theater. They were overheard referring to an opening performance this evening. I have sent agents to learn exactly when that will be. By that time, our trap will be set. I have ordered the Brothers to surround the theater, both mounted and on foot. There will be no way of escape. Every precaution shall be taken to ensure that nothing goes wrong. All of them will be captured.”

Nomb looked at the qadic with iron determination. “We will need re-enforcements from the city police. They cannot be in uniform. We will close in on the targets with a solid noose. Do you see what I mean?”

“Yes,” meekly said the city magistrate.

Why had he not been awakened and told of this? the qadic wondered. Have the Red Hats taken over the complete administration of the law? Have they taken over my beloved city?

It was then that a noisy knocking at the front door occurred. A servant opened it and let in three policemen who were there to inform the qadic of the report that had been sitting at the station for many hours. As he listened to the belated message, the dumbfounded qadic pondered where his duty and loyalty truly lay. l

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