Chapter III.

6 Aug

The claustrum atop Enfer Mountain consisted of a walled inner structure with four separate wings. Like the rest of the high altitude, there was pure white snow covering the roofs and the grounds. Like hundred of similar Red Hat claustra on Tegumen, this one consisted of the privileged elite who ruled and exploited the belowers beneath them in the valleys. It was a cloistered, separated community of the favored beneficiaries of the planetary system.

The trio of prisoners shivered as they were marched into the fortress-like settlement. Their guards moved them toward a corridor at the center. The group entered the private quarters of the conventicle’s Hegumen. Patiently standing at attention, the captured threesome waited while the leader of the Red Hats who had brought them there stepped behind a pine screen for a conference with someone unseen, probably the chief official on the mountain top.

The nerves of all three of them shook and rang as their fate was decided behind the partition. Joa and Yie looked at each other, not uttering a word. Their communication was inaudible, but comprehended by both of them. They both realized that their fate was being decided and determined.

All at once, the Red Hat who had arrested them returned, accompanied by a corpulent white-haired man in an orange tunic with the same color pants. The three prisoners knew instantly that this was the Hegumen himself, the one who managed and governed this claustrum on the mountain top.

The heavy man made an inspection of first Yie, then Joa and Gui.

“My name is Tiso,” said the one in orange, “and I am commander of this conventicle and all who belong to it. In other words, I am Hegumen and am to be addressed as such.

“Now, it is absolutely necessary for me to know who each of you are and what you were up to in the dorp where our Brothers apprehended you. Is that clear? I must find out the truth about what you were up to. You must be completely candid with me.”

Yie decided to take on the task of replying first.

“I can speak for the three of us, sir. We were in Besoin for legitimate, justifiable reasons. We are at present residing at the hotel on the shore of Lake Digit. The owner of the facility, Gui, is here with my partner and me. The purpose of our expedition is to meet with the dorpers of these valleys and ask them questions we are curious about. That is all. There is no illicit trade or exchange involved. We mean to delve into the traditions of this dorp, that is all. We are anxious to learn the patterns of their culture. The folkways of Besoin are the sole factor bringing us there.”

The fat man took his time, sizing up the clever stranger he faced.

“Give me your names, please,” he loudly ordered the three.

Yie, then Joa and Gui, did exactly that.

Tiso closely examined each of them as they gave their names, attempting to interpret their postures and expressions. Was it enough to make a judgment with? It could only serve as a start perhaps. He realized he had to delve deeper.

“Tell me, what portion of the culture in the dorps are you interested in? Can you describe the specific subjects that draw you?”

“Our particular curiosity centers on questions and problems of light,” answered Yie. “What could be more crucial to the life of these people?”

The Hegumen knitted his broad brow. “I don’t understand,” he muttered. “Why should anyone be interested in such nonsense? The dorpers have no special knowledge of light. They see little of it, any way.”

“In fact, that is what I most wish to find out: how the dorpers adjust to the paucity of light during their day and night. How do they make up for this lack of light? What compensations do they have to create for the darkness around them? How do they adjust themselves to the scarcity of light in their valleys?”

Tiso gazed with wonder at the captive before him.

“What is it to you what these people down below think about something as insubstantial as light? Why can such a thing be so important for you? I do not understand what you are trying to do. Your actions do not make sense to me at all.”

Yie thought rapidly. He had to find an explanation that did not expose the secret project they had begun at Lake Digit.

It was going to be a difficult task for him. What was he going to say?

“Our aim is to explore the memories of the dorpers throughout the northern latitudes. What are their historical remembrances? We believe that there are valuable treasures there that can be applied to the future. That is all we went to Besoin for. Nothing beyond that,” lied Yie as convincingly as he could.

This is the only way out of here for us, the visionary told himself. Only a fiction can shield us from the highlander’s wrath and vengeance. The truth cannot set us free, only credible falsehood will do the trick. We have no alternative to use of innocent, necessary subterfuge.

Tiso then gave his solemn decision as if he were a judge.

“For now, we shall be your hosts and provide comfortable rooms for each of you. Please, do not try to leave. It is a hard path down into the valley where you were found and arrested.”

With that, the round man in orange walked away and disappeared behind the pine partition.

The prisoners were taken off to their new quarters at once.

Food was bought to each chamber for the three to eat. It was tasty and adequate, furnished to the claustrum by its subordinate dorps and hamlets.

It was after their keepers had left that Yie went into the room assigned to Joa. The two were soon joined by Gui.

“What shall we do now?” asked a worried Joa. “Can we hide all our plans for long? What if they torture us to make us talk?”

Gui tried to give her encouragement. “If we stick to what Yie has said, Tiso will have to relent in time. It is a matter of patiently resisting him, but we can win by being consistent in all our answers and statements. Isn’t that so, Yie?”

The latter nodded. “Exactly. Persistence will make us victorious. We have no alternative way of getting away from here.”

Joa looked directly at Yie. “I can see the wisdom of such a course. But won’t it take a considerable time before our captor is convinced and compelled to release us?”

Yie reached out and took her hand in his.

“Time is on our side, Joa, if we say the same thing to him again and again. We went to Besoin to collect ancient folklore. We admit nothing beyond that.”

“Will the Hegumen accept such an explanation, though?”

The two exchanged deep, fixed looks.

“We can say nothing else, my love,” whispered the belower to the highlander.

The snow that fell that night began as small pellets of grampel. It continued and came without pause. After a time, this became a fluffy neige of large, cottony flakes that formed a thick mantle over the top of Enfen Mountain. The peak was transformed by this change. It became a realm of conquering whiteness.

Yie woke hours before dawn and looked out to see that the building he was in was entrapped in deep, enveloping white.

We are not the only ones imprisoned here, he thought with irony.

Tiso is holding us, but the snow is marooning him and his people as well.

In a while, the scraping noise of shovels became audible.

What next? wondered Yie. The Hegumen has something in store for us. Is our strength up to the task of withstanding whatever happens? Will it prove adequate? He prepared himself to learn what Tiso was going to do with them.

Frelo and Cacique were seriously concerned. Why hadn’t the three come back? What had happened to block their return to Lake Digit?

The two town-dwellers considered what to do as they watched the heliac rise over the placid waters. They stood facing each other on the veranda of the hotel. Both were in a quandary.

“Maybe we should go out and trace their route,” suggested Carique, a worried expression on his face.

“What if we try that and get lost out there between the mountains?” said the theater director. “How can that help them get back?”

Cacique bit his lip. “So, what do we do, at least for today?”

Frelo shrugged his shoulders. “What is there for us but to wait?”

Cacique made a wry smile. “We can think about what action we may have to take if they do not return soon.”

At long last a lead had come his way. Nomb Aacn sat back in the chair that once had held the qadic. He now acted as supreme magistrate and the Red Hats had full control and authority to search, investigate, and arrest.

Days of probing and hunting had led to one simple conclusion: the fugitives were no longer anywhere about, not in that region of the planet at all.

Where had they escaped to?

No one had any idea till a rumor arrived over the Red Hat grapevine.

A traveling Brother from a far northern claustrum had heard from someone else who had picked up word from a another traveler…

Nomb looked down and read the terse report.

“A small group of southern persons are staying at one of the Digit Lakes, acting suspiciously and drawing attention to themselves.”

That was all the information it contained. Should he send someone there to look into this group?

No, decided the Hegumen from Zeviv Mountain.

He would journey north himself and look into what the report suspected to be present there.

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