Chapter 21 – Skirmishes At Palamnus
As the sun cleared the horizon, I saw a line of Moa heading our way. Next, I saw a group of twenty Martian warriors following in pursuit. They were jumping up and down and screaming incessantly. They gave a ragged and ineffectual volley towards our man then took off running after him.
The man leading the moa disappeared through the cleft in the hills. We were hidden in the hills above the cleft, ready to ambush the pursuing brigands. After the last man passed into the defile, Chronto ordered them to drop their weapons. Their leader whipped around and fired a shot in our direction while the rest of his tribe dove for cover.
A general firefight ensued. We were well protected on top of the rocky hills while the bandits had scant cover in the valley below. It was not long before we had dropped several of the bandits. After the brief exchange of gunfire, in which seven bandits were killed or wounded, the remaining ruffians threw down their weapons and surrendered.
I led half my men down the hill to confiscate their weapons and tend to the wounded. Chronto found their leader. He was shot through the leg and abdomen, but would survive. We made makeshift litters and had the unwounded prisoners carry their wounded comrades back towards the town.
As we moved toward the town gunfire erupted from behind the village. Chronto turned to me and said “The rest of their band is trying to escape out the back, but they have run into more than they have expected.”
“I can only imagine.” I said. “Will they take any prisoners?”
“We shall see.” He replied.
A thought then came to mind and before we started again, I asked Chronto, “I suppose the residents of the village are still there. Do you expect any trouble from them?”
“These people have been dealing with opposing sides since this town was founded.” He said. “They will be allied with the party that is here, or they will be neutral if two contending factions are here.”
“Very good then,” I said, “Let us move on.”
We advanced warily upon the village. We reached within fifty yards of the town and there was no sign of activity. I halted momentarily and ordered the prisoners to be held there while I took an advanced guard into the town to investigate. As we entered the town, it seemed deserted, though one could feel the eyes watching through shuttered and curtained windows. Chronto led us to the local official’s office. He knocked on the door and an elderly man appeared. Chronto conversed with this man for a bit, then the man retired back inside and closed his door.
“He said the men that were here belonged to Deyak.” Chronto said. “They were to wait here for Deyak’s return.”
“Who is Deyak?” I asked.
“He is not familiar to me.” Chronto said. “However, he is due here today or tomorrow.”
“It sounds like he is or was riding with Jordak.” I said. “I wonder if Deyak was the dead man that we found?” I mused.
While we talked, the rest of Chronto’s men came in. They had no prisoners. Chronto told me that they encountered half a dozen bandits and they all perished in the gun fight that occurred.
We questioned our prisoners, but only learned that Deyak had gone east (toward Ceraunius) and was due back at any time. I asked if he was with Jordak to which they replied in the affirmative, with an unnerving chuckle.
After detailing guards to watch the prisoners and posting lookouts around the town, Chronto, Professor Edgren, and I found a small cantina and had some lunch. As we finished our meal, we received a message from the ridge that dust was seen on the horizon. We paid our bill and went to the ridge.
From the ridge we could distinctly see the dust cloud from many riders.
“They will be here before dusk.” Chronto said.
“Good, then we’ll have this business finished by nightfall.” I replied.
I placed half the men concealed on the backside of the first ridge and the rest hidden on the second ridge. We were going to spring our trap when the bandits were between the ridges. Chronto, the Professor, and I were on the first ridge so that we could monitor Jordak’s progress.
The sun was low on the horizon when the marauders passed into the gap in the first ridge.
“The two men riding near Miss Linton are bound.” Chronto said.”One is an Akulu. He wears the colors of Jordak. The man in the lead is an Akulu of a different tribe. The warriors here are his.”
“Are you saying Jordak is this other Akulu’s captive?” I asked.
“It appears so,” Chronto replied.
“This complicates matters.” Professor Edgren said. “We do not know how this man will behave.”
“We can only trust that this Akulu has the same morals as Jordak.”
“I thing we can assume that he does, otherwise Jordak would be dead already.” Chronto said.
The brigands passed us by without noticing. At least this new Akulu didn’t notice. I believe Jordak saw that we were here. Jordak leaned over to Miss Linton to speak with her then to the other captive. As the bandits filed past, Jordak and Miss Linton began to drift to the right of the group.
Once the last bandit cleared the gap, Chronto announced our presence. My men popped up and leveled their rifles on the tribesmen. Suddenly, Jordak’s man, the other prisoner, spurred his Moa-nui. IT swung it’s head and smashed the nearest brigand’s skull. Other brigands drew their swords or fired their guns wildly. With their shooting, My men opened fire. In the confusion, I saw Jordak and Miss Linton gallop off to the right, up the valley.
“Jordak is escaping with Miss Linton!” Professor Edgren cried.
“He won’t get far.” I said. “The Iska Mahayi is not far up that way. The ship’s crew will stop them.”
The men continued to rain fire down upon the hapless Martians and it was not long before they were all dismounted with many of the men dead or wounded. I had Chronto call down and ask them to surrender. To this they responded with a volley of their own. Unfortunately, we were obliged to continue the slaughter. It was not long before all the brigands were down. I ordered the men to advance into the valley cautiously then ascertain the condition of the men below.
We found some wounded and more dead. We tended to the wounded and had the dead buried. Once the wounded men were stabilized, we had them transported back to the town. The sun was sinking low when Private Fandru came up to me.
“Colonel, I found the trail of the yahoo that took off with Miss Linton.” He said.
“Do you think we can track them down before dark?” I asked.
“We can try.” He said.
“Then let’s go.” I replied
I called for Chronto and ten of his scouts to come with the Private and myself. I put Lieutenant Wilcox in charge of the prisoners with the rest of our men at Palamnus. I was still in hopes that the men at our ship would catch them.