Noriandara Remontar and I put as much distance as possible between us and the Zoasians. We didn’t stop until we were completely exhausted. Even then, we rested for as short a time as possible, and were on our way again. We journeyed continuously for what seemed to me to be about ten days, though beneath the eternal noon-day sun of Ecos, there is really no way to tell. At least we stopped to sleep about ten times. We had just crossed over a low rise of hills, when I spotted a cave on the face of a small cliff.
“That looks like a good spot to lie low for a while,” I said. “I don’t think I can continue this pace.”
“I can’t either,” the Princess replied. “It’s hunger that is taking toll upon us most.”
We climbed up to the cave and found it to be nothing more than a scooped out chamber about six feet high, six feet wide, and perhaps nine feet deep into the hill. It was a place of shelter from unpleasant elements and any pursuers however, so we entered, lay down, and rested soundly.
I woke up first and looked at Noriandara Remontar. She was incredibly beautiful. Even after all of her ordeals, after wandering in the desert, after battles, captures, and flight, she still looked like the woman I had dreamed of for so long. Something about the Amatharians’ hair seemed to keep it looking shiny and clean, when mine felt matted and dirty and in serious need of a shampoo. The deep blue of the Princess’s Amatharian skin precluded any dark circles under her eyes. As I was looking at her, she opened those beautiful round eyes and sat up.
“Why did you follow me all the way to Zonamis?” she asked.
This wasn’t really a conversation that I wanted to have now, if at all. What feelings did I have for this woman? Was I madly in love with her? I had followed her across the face of an alien world and had passed though numerous trials and tempted many perils to bring her within my grasp. Yet now as I looked at her, I didn’t feel…. I didn’t know what I did or didn’t feel. I didn’t know what I should or shouldn’t feel. She was so very attractive, and yet I was not feeling that deep-down sense of need that I had always believed would be there for the woman I loved.
“From the time I first saw you,” I answered slowly, “I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I just had to see that you got back to Amathar safely.”
“Were you in love with me?”
“For a moment I thought that I was,” I confessed.
“I’m not so sure now.”
“I do not know you,” she said, looking intently into my face. “This has not been the best circumstances under which to meet someone. Perhaps when we reach home, we can become friends. Just remember. My first duty is to my family and to the Sun Clan.”
“As is mine.”
We decided to split up and search for food and water and to meet back at the cave. I started down the hill and around to the right, while the Princess went left. I felt somewhat uneasy about letting her off by herself, especially after I had spent such a portion of time as I had, finding her in the first place, but she was a grown woman and a knight of the Sun Clan. She was probably more capable of taking care of herself than I was.
I had my light pistol and had high hopes of finding some type of animal to shoot. I felt if I were able to shoot a creature in the head, then perhaps the remainder of the carcass would not be too damaged to harvest. The light weapons of the Amatharians were not designed for hunting, but for war. It was not quite as bad as duck hunting with a bazooka, but it was certainly close. Unfortunately for me, there seemed to be no animals larger than a good-sized beetle around. A beetle about three inches long sat in the shade of a rock, and for a moment I thought about catching him for dinner, but I decided that I was not quite that hungry, yet.
As I was searching around for prey, I spotted in the distance, a gathering of rather large bushes. Observing that the only large plants in this Ecosian desert seemed to grow along the streambeds, I made for the brush in hopes of finding a source of water. As luck would have it, in the center of the bushes was a small fountain bubbling up from between the rocks and forming a small pool covered with moss and insect larvae. I brushed the extraneous matter out of the way and filled my canteen. Then I took a long drink. The water was bitter tasting, but otherwise fine.