The bluff overlooked a narrow strip with the canal only a few hundred yards away: they had been close to water after all, but their position on a plateau had prevented them form realising this earlier. The ground was also still very steppe like close to the canal, so in this area at least, time and neglect had clearly rendered its irrigation properties inoperable.
Below them about twenty gashant riders, organised into four groups, were attacking two huge hippo like beasts of burden, leading a pair of wagons. A few defenders were hidden in rocks sniping at the riders, who were riding close and firing their pistols before retreating to reload. There was no sign of Henry. Maako, Sebastian and a few others slipped quietly down the bluff, unseen.
The initial volley was lucky, given the paucity of their weaponry, and five of the riders fell from their saddles. Rani screamed and spurred her gashant down the slope towards one of the surprised riders, skewering one of them but then becoming engaged by several others. The ships’s officers followed with their pistols.
Although outnumbered, the quick firing weaponry of the rescuers were a telling advantage. Minutes later the surviving rider was fleeing off, only to be pursued and cut down by Sebastian, now far happier on a captured gashant. As the wounded were seen too, Lady Glossop limped towards the curious survivors of the caravan.
On a howdah atop one of the huge beasts – a Ruumet Breehir – a martian lady clearry of some status peered down imperiously. Beside her a smallish male martian dressed in fine robes addressed the group, in accented English.
“Her mightiness Princess Aramaranda of Thoth graciously thanks you for your assistance Foreign Devils, regardless of your audacity in trespassing in these lands.”
“Who” said Marko bluntly, “Are you, little man?” Lady Glossop put her hand on his forearm and shook her head. She stepped forward.
“Forgive our trespass” she said diplomatically. “We are the poor survivors of a cloud ship which crashed many miles to the west some days ago. We sought only water – and one of our missing companions who was scouting ahead.” There was a brief conference.
“I am Kalamir, trusted Aide to Her Majesty” said the martian. “The Princess witnessed this calamity in the sky several days ago, so I suppose this story has the ring of truth.”
“As a sign of her generosity, Her Highness forgives you and demands that you escort her to her Royal Barge, one day to the north. Here you can perhaps be given assistance to return to your own people.”
“Just like a bloody Indian Maharanee” muttered Sebastian. “Spoilt to the hilt. Needs a good spanking but best to humour her.”
“We would be honoured to serve her Highness in this regard” replied Lady Glossop. “Once my companions have tended to their wounds and conducted a quick search for our friend, we will depart as she requests.”
Henry was staked out in a small camp about a mile distant. Bone spikes had been pierced below his nipples, clearly as a device of torture. Although faint and hurting, he seemed other wise unharmed. Molly was lying nearby, along with his pistol and some other booty.
After a couple of hours, and watered and fed at last, they were ready to depart.