Rajah was beginning to stir and would soon be alert. “Open the cage door.” The voice still echoed in the silent wood. “I have put a control over the animal and he will obey your commands. But take care, for he will not love you! Now, let the leopard do his work!”
Zulah’s hand fell limp to his side, sore and stiff from being held up and out for so long. Carmen’s hands trembled as she opened the door of the heavy metal cage. Rajah raised his head and looked into her eyes. She stepped back as the beautiful cat rose unsteadily to its feet and half jumped, half fell from the cage. He swayed, his legs still weak, then took a step into the right-hand path. Immediately he stopped and they could see that he was forced into the left-hand path instead. Soon his walk became a lope and he was gone.
Zulah and Carmen looked at one another. Carmen was first to speak,
“Well, we’re here. The wood is peaceful and inviting, but I don’t see any of the gemstone we were told of.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” scolded Zulah. “This is our base of operations. You wouldn’t expect to see much here. Come on, let’s get this cage and cart back through that hole so no one sees it.” They worked to turn the cart and direct it back to the shed.
The little shack in the wood held two rough cots, a table and chairs. A pile of clothing lay on each cot with a small leather bag on top. Each dressed in the slim leggings and silky tunics, slipping the strange moccasins on their feet. The leather bags held the contacts. Two pair apiece and colored brown to match their eyes. They sat on the cots looking at one another. Even Zulah looked a bit daunted now that they were actually here. To cover his uncertainty he grabbed Carmen’s hand and said, “Let’s get a look at this place.”
As they left the undergrowth and canopy behind, the trees began to thin until they were looking out at a vast meadowland. Trees dotted the landscape and flowers were sprinkled liberally through the lush grass. All vegetation had a slight bluish tinge and the sky was not quite blue but a shade between blue and green. Both were glad they had put on the contacts before they left the shack for the sun was blindingly bright here and the flash of gemstone everywhere. “By all that’s holy, he was right!” Carmen breathed.
Zulah was also having difficulty taking in the wonder of this place. He pointed to a small band of horses grazing a hundred yards or so away. “Look at the quality of those animals! Thoroughbreds if I ever saw any! And there, aren’t those gazelle?”
Carmen was about to agree when Rajah reappeared. He was loping toward them, the carcass of a small deer held in his mighty jaws. Blood dripped from the broken animal staining Rajah’s silky coat and dropping to the springing moss like temporary flowers. He dropped to the ground near the couple and began to eat.
Carmen turned her head away from the feeding animal. Why did it seem so wrong here for Rajah to revert to his natural instincts? Bird song and the chattering of squirrels had welcomed them to the meadowland. But now the silence was complete. No bird sang, no small animal wandered within sight. The three figures might have been alone in this new world. Even the horses had left their sight.