A PRINCESS OF GREATER HELIUM
James D. Bozarth
Copyright © 2001
Illustrated by Kurt "Jake" Jacobson
Chapter 1 In the Medicine Woman's Cave
Chapter 2 Discoveries
Chapter 3 Puzzles
Chapter 4 Rude Awakenings
Chapter 5 Surrounded
Chapter 6 Communication
Chapter 7 Lanara's Story
Chapter 8 Captured
Chapter 9 The Spy
Chapter 10 Ras Thavas
Chapter 11 Bal Zak
Chapter 12 On To Toonol
Chapter 13 I Find Employment
Chapter 14 Intrigues
Chapter 15 Kidnaped
Chapter 16 Resurrection and Death
Chapter 17 Into Darkness
Chapter 18 Into Light
Chapter 19 Resolutions
Chapter 20 I Meet My Enemy
Just exactly where I got this tale I am not at liberty to reveal; I have sworn not to divulge the location. I can however, vouch for the veracity of the tale although not every word used in this edition of the manuscript was the original word used in the handwritten copy that I received. I have taken small liberties with this history to remove inaccuracies of language because the author is not a literate man and the story was written in a language that was not the native tongue of the author. I have not spoken with the author nor have I ever met him, but I believe his words to be true.
My part of the story begins on a hunting trip in the mountains of Arizona. That description is sufficiently vague that I may use it. I was traveling with several friends when we separated each to search for some prey to shoot so we could feast on fresh meat that night. We had not been lucky in the two weeks we had been hunting for we had eaten only two measly hares. I was not worried because I had both compass and rifle along with supplies for two weeks on my horse's saddle. I had just ridden up a narrow defile in the mountains when I suddenly looked up and saw my favorite uncle standing in the middle of the path. My horse danced in agitation until calm hand and quiet voice soothed the beast.
"Jack," I said, narrowing eyes against the bright sunlight. "It has been two score since we last met-and you look the same."
He was almost naked, but was totally unaffected by the strangeness of his attire; a martial harness supporting a long sword on one side and a short sword on the other, as well as a holster containing a long pistol of unusual manufacture.
It had been years since I had seen him and still he looked just as he did the last time I had seen him and, indeed, the same as when I had first seen him. His hair is still dark black over his grey eyes and he looked no more than thirty years of age, although it has been more than twice that time since I saw him last. He does not age as other men.
Dismounting the horse, I greeted Jack warmly. After a warm embrace, my uncle released me and said, "Ed, I did not expect to see you here of all places. But it is a blessing that you are here."
"What is so special about this place?" I inquired.
He laughed. "Why, this is where I made my first trip to Mars."
At my look of incredulity, he led me just a little further up the slope. "Here is where I laid my old friend Powell to rest, and up there is the cave where I died." He pointed to a mound of dirt near the entrance to a cave and then to the cave itself. I crept closer and peered inside. It was too dark to see much of anything and I made to move closer. My uncle restrained me. "Don't enter unless you wish to travel to Barsoom," he warned.
Had my bones been a few score years less in age I might have entered the cave and experienced the wonders of the red planet myself but I am old and near death and too fond of the life I have enjoyed-or as some might say-dissipated. I had family here, on Earth, therefore I refrained from entering. We sat on rocks near the dark entrance and Uncle Jack shared an adventure on Mars-Barsoom as the inhabitants call the planet of war.
"It was a blessing you were here, Ed, because I do not need seek you out to deliver this." He drew a bulky manuscript from a pouch slung over his shoulder. "I have a strange story to relate," he said. "It is about my grand-daughter and the man who won her heart. I thought you should have this tale. Meeting you here, where it all began, is most felicitous."
Uncle Jack then proceeded to comment upon the following tale, which was written in his neat handwriting, archaic in style by today's standards but quite legible and pleasing to the eye. I, of course, read it later, which explains any lack of clarity you might encounter-visiting with my uncle was more important than reviewing the manuscript.
We talked until the approach of night, when he bade me goodbye. He waved once, looking heavenward, then was gone as if he had never been there. The manuscript I held remained, proving that Jack had once again crossed the immensity of space to give a report of a different place where blood of my blood had taken root and prospered. The manuscript you are about to read, whether you believe it or not. makes me wonder what might have been had I accompanied my uncle on his gold prospecting in Arizona. Would I have died like his old friend Powell or accompanied him to Mars? I will never know, because I stood outside that lonely cave in Arizona and made my choice-like my uncle, I am loathe to leave behind my family. But to have met him once again has enriched my life, not only monitarily from the sale of his adventures on the red planet but simply from knowing the most honorable man I have ever met, John Carter of Mars.
In The Medicine Woman's Cave
I was ashamed deep in my soul. I had fled from the presence of an enemy. It was of no matter I had not been the first to flee. Nor mattered it at all that I had not been the last to fly down the trail from the medicine woman's cave where the hated pindah had taken refuge. I had been infected with the superstitious dread of the medicine woman's cave in which the white-man had hid after stealing the body of the captured gold-hunter we had taken in fair fight near the camp where they sought the yellow metal in our hunting grounds. The soldiers of the Great White Father break his treaties he makes with us more often than the moon changes her face. The two men we had stalked had found the yellow metal and one of them had ridden off to bring others to mine the metal. We stopped him before he could summon more whites to ravage our land and our women, to slay our children and warriors, to drive us onto reservations where we would die stripped of our noble heritage, living like old women on the charity of the white man, which was often too rotten to eat, fouled with disease or even stolen before we could receive it. I, for one, would never be so caged.
The captured white-man had been brave, fighting until taken prisoner. We honored him by killing him like one of us. He proved he was a warrior by dying without an outcry. All had gone well that day. Tomorrow we would have captured or killed the other and our lands would be safe again. However, we were destined not to accomplish our goals because that night the remaining gold-hunter had stolen the dead man, riding through our main camp whooping at the top of his lungs with guns blazing, killing several of our people, including one child in a wigwam sleeping peacefully in her bed.
At the first thunderous sound of his approaching horse and his opening shots we scattered, positive he was but the first of a large troop of pony soldiers come to avenge the death of one of their own race. By the time we realized the rider was alone he had reached his friend's body and, bending down from his saddle, had dragged it over the horse's withers.
Almost without stopping he rode straight through the camp and out the other side and into a defile that led to the other side of the mountains.
Mounting swiftly, we pursued him, our ponies pounding out a ragged tattoo on the desert sands. After we had cleared the mountains we found he had turned off the trail somewhere in the mountain passes. We then retraced our path until we found his diverging tracks. We raced up the narrow path, endeavoring to capture him.
Suddenly we came upon the discarded body of his friend and his abandoned horse standing alone in the center of the path. Expecting an ambush we dismounted and crept up the slope and turned to see the medicine woman's cave. The white-man lay inside the cave a short way back, his head resting on his arms, staring at us. He did not move, I do not think he could have.
Many years ago the medicine woman had retreated to the cave cutting off all intercourse with the tribe except for those times when contact with the spirits was required. She was old, how old I do not know, but she was now as she had been when my father was young and he said she was old when his father was not yet a warrior. The ancient woman approached us, stopping just at the waist of the white-man just outside of his range of vision. She motioned us away and as her hand moved a rustling as of dried leaves on dead trees filled the air, sending shivers of superstitious dread through us.
The first to flee was our eldest warrior who, ashen faced, turned on his heel and ran down the slope, not regarding his path. He careened into a warrior who stood too near the edge of the cliff who fell to his death with a piercing wail which sent more warriors fleeing. The youngest warrior, a stripling barely fifteen seasons of age, even threw down his rifle and disappeared from my life forever. I never knew what happened to him. I am not sure when I fled but other warriors joined us at the bottom of the mountain after I had arrived there so I do not believe I was the last. The last ones urged us to return and take the white-man from the medicine woman. Our Eldest warrior refused us permission to return. "Do not seek the wrath of the medicine woman," he said. "Track down your ponies and return to camp. I have spoken."
My pony was close, his head low to the ground and munching on the grass at the bottom of the trail. I was in camp before any of the others. I sat at the communal fire pit twisting a twig between my fingers among several of the other warriors when the Eldest returned to camp.
"None shall return to the cave where the pindah has taken refuge, that place where the medicine woman preforms her sacred duties, calling on the great spirit to provide rain for the grass and buffalo for the hunt and enemies for the glory of battle. Her dread power is immense taking all of creation under her wing to protect us from our enemies. However, she wishes to remain alone in her solitary habitation, undisturbed by the lesser peoples. It is no shame to flee the power of the medicine woman."
Shoz Dijiji demurred,. But he was overruled by the chief.
Thinking back on what has occurred since that night, I believe I went back to the cave because I was fired by the words of the son of the chief of the Apaches. Strange as it may seem I cannot remember which words he used or what he said but I was compelled to return to the cave of the medicine woman when the sun set redly that night. Was it his words or another's influence that demanded my return? I cannot say.
Be that as it may, I left the camp, walking, leaving my pony picketed with the rest of my horses, without disturbing the slumbering warriors and passing the guarded perimeter with Shoz Dijiji's blessing. He stood his watch and ostentatiously peered into the darkness far to the left of me.
Soon I stood at the entrance of the medicine woman's cave. I stared at my enemy. Clad in a grey uniform stripped of its insignia, he still looked like a magnificent warrior, lithe, lean, strong. His black hair fell over his steel grey eyes which, though still living, showed no sign of any recognition or even viability. A low fire burned before the seated witch. Motioning me inside the medicine woman greeted me by name even though I had never seen her before that day.
"I have come for the white-man," I began. Throwing a hand high the medicine woman silenced me and spoke a few words in her dry, cracked voice. She tossed a handful of dust on the brazier before her. An acrid cloud filled the cave and settled on the still form on the cave floor. The white-man shuddered and went limp but before I could take a breath or even blink my eyes he was standing beside his body as naked as the day he took his first breath. He stared at his dead body. He hesitated, thinking perhaps, to retrieve his weapons, but he shuddered and backed away from the body. He fled outside. I tried to follow but found my limbs would not respond to any stimuli I could induce. Suddenly, he looked up and raised his arms as in supplication and was gone. He had not run nor hid. He had simply disappeared.
"I have waited three lifetimes for him to come back and now I am too old to return with him," she mourned her old shoulders sagging as with age.
The strange paralysis that had gripped my limbs released me and I turned on her. "Where is he?" I demanded.
The old woman cackled softly, "He has gone on a long journey."
"Bring him back," I required of her. "I have not finished with him."
"Nor he with you," she returned. As I began to repeat my demand she threw up her hand, "I cannot make him return, though one day he will to reclaim his body. Are you willing to wait ten years for his return?"
I indicated my lack of desire to endure the delay in our confrontation with the necessary patience to stay behind after he had fled this world.
"If you follow him you will never see your family again," she resumed. "Nor this world. Nor anything that is familiar ever again save his face. You will travel through space and time and will sever your connection with this world forever."
"I will follow. I must follow," I repeated. "I shall follow."
"Then turn, warrior, for I see you will not rest content upon this earth. Face the brasier. Breathe deeply of the smoke," she commanded and threw a handful of dust into the glowing coals. A thin wisp of smoke rose and I inhaled the acrid mist.
The fumes burned my throat and nostrils with its acrid stink. I felt a tearing at my body, a ripping of myself from the bonds of this existence. I heard the snapping of a bowstring stretched to unbearable tensions and I was no longer of this earth.
I stood upon the dirt yet felt it not. I breathed the air but it had no smell. I heard the rustling of leaves, but not with my ears. I was a spirit which had no body. No longer was I completely here nor yet was I there. I stood in limbo waiting on future events.
Turning to the witch, I was surprised to see her slumped against the wall. No sign of life animated her dried, wrinkled features which somehow seemed serene, at peace with a world no longer her own, if ever it had been. She had expired. Shrugging, I spun about to follow my enemy.
"He is not your enemy." Her voice floated on the wind. "And never will be."
Her words puzzled me but I threw off the sensation of doubt and walked out to where he had stood but minutes before. The scene spread before me of my beloved desert, harsh and unforgiving as it was, sparked an answering chord in me. I have heard it described as dead and desolate but I knew it teemed with life as well as death.
The silver moon cast long shadows in the darkness, hiding the sounding coyote, the rattling snake and the mournful owl, each seeking sustenance from the stygian shadows. Spectral hunters, clad in darkness, silent as spirits, they tracked their prey across the soft sands by carefully placing a foot, avoiding twig or stone that would warn their quarry should it sound under the weight of the hunter. Some of the hunters would succeed in bringing down their prey and would feast, others, frustrated, would not and therefore find hunger in the night. Such was my desert home, a contrast of feast and famine, hunter and prey, light and dark, but all of it beautiful. I did not realize as I gazed upon the silent landscape that this would be the last I would see of the desert of my birth. A lonely coyote raised a solitary howl into the night calling to the wolf in the moon.
My gaze rose above the horizon, seeking the view my enemy last had seen. I scanned the star specked sky, my eyes drawn to the running star, the red one, the one the white-man calls Mars. It winked at me, beckoning, drawing my attention to the exclusion of every other thought.
I knew that star was my enemy's destination. From deep within me rose the conviction that I could indeed follow if I wished-and I did wish, the sleeping child slain by his bullet was my younger sister. I knew my destiny was tied to his for as long as he breathed. I knew and accepted. That acceptance was followed by an instant of bone numbing cold, a chill worse than a Montana winter storm, accompanied by utter darkness, blinding me--sending me into oblivion.
When I next opened my eyes I saw myriad stars shining brightly in the stygian sky, brighter than I had seen them before, and even more numerous than before. I lay on my face with my cheek cradled by a whitish moss. The low hills on the horizon were difficult to differentiate from the sky, it was so dark. With a suddenness that surpassed the Arizona moon rise, the moon, now smaller and brighter, climbed above the hills and illuminated a strange landscape. Instead of the desert I expected to see, the moss covered expanse spread as far as I could see, casting weird shadows on the undulating ground.
Soon I became aware of an unpleasant chill in the air that crept through my skin and settled in my bones.
Puzzled by this strange environment, I pushed at the ground intending to leap to my feet. Instead, I found myself flying through the air tumbling wildly with flailing arms and legs. The ground had loosed its hold on me. A momentary panic gripped me as I thought I would fly away from this world and into the spirit world in the sky but I soon noted I was sinking to the ground. I landed lightly and without bruising. My next endeavors to rise met with similar contorted gyrations until I hit upon the plan of moving as though I were moving on broken eggshells. Pressing lightly with just my fingertips I succeeded in rising to my knees, but when I strove to stand I again misjudged the amount of force required to spring upright and again tumbled into the air. If I had been on my world a fall from the height I attained would have ended with severe bruising if not broken bones, but I settled with the impact of a feather.
Pressing my lips together in shame, I realized I would never learn to walk upon this strange world unless I first reverted to childhood's first locomotion, creeping.
I rose to my knees only to sink back upon my haunches as the second moon rose over the distant horizon. This moon was larger and slower moving than the first, casting darker shadows on the dimly illuminated sward. For long moments my gaze was entrapped by the unearthly beauty of the night time landscape.
In the medium distance I became aware of a series of structures which studded the landscape off to my left. Most were low and rambling but one structure dwarfed the others, dominating the center of the fortress.
I began to crawl to the structures. It took most of the remainder of the night. Just as I reached the fortress the sun rose with startling suddenness. The transition from near absolute dark to subdued light was almost imperceptible, at one minute the sky was dark and mysterious and the next the sky was illuminated by a hurtling moon that raced across the heavens eager to seek the horizon again.
Dragging myself upright on the worn stone facade, I stood for the first time on this new world, marveling at the strangeness of my new environment. With careful steps and one hand on the wall, I circled the building. Looking inside, I discovered it was a stable with stalls lining the walls with mangers for food and basins for water, but both were empty. It was obvious the building had not been used for its original purpose for some time, a layer of dust had settled over everything and the air of disuse sent out a subtle scent of decay.
Exiting the empty stable I succeeded in walking unaided to the next structure which proved to be a well stocked storehouse. The locks on the doors defied my efforts to unlatch them and the windows were too small and high for me to reach through but the rows of boxes stacked neatly within told their own story.
I continued through the fort from structure to structure, discovering various domiciles, dwellings and offices. The latter interested me greatly, reminding me of the white man's fort where I had been held after being captured during a raid into the Yanquis's land. Papers and writings abounded in files on shelves and tables but I could not read any of them. I could read both the white-man's language and that of the Mexicans having learned both in my youth but this one bore no resemblance to either of them. Frowning in frustration, I abandoned the office and sought food for my empty stomach or water for my parched throat.
Approaching the huge structure that dominated the fort's central plaza, I discovered a fountain burbling gaily in the open area. A caution born of years of life in the desert and the mountains where a single misstep could cost the unwary his life, where every stranger is like to be an enemy who would shoot first and count coup later. Circling the fountain from the slight cover surrounding it, I ascertained the area was clear of any sign of life before cautiously creeping to the edge and testing the water with my hand. Scooping the water in my cupped hands I devoured the life sustaining liquid avidly.
Having quenched my thirst with the cool, clear and surprisingly refreshing water, I studied the statues surmounting the fountain. The carvings were so cunningly crafted that the men almost seemed alive, their thews contracted in jubilant victory. Three men in strange harness stood in various poses of heroic defiance with swords in hand. They stood atop a monstrous body with two arms and two legs and an intermediate pair of limbs that could have been either but was wholly neither. Its head had two huge fangs and an enormous eye on each side of its head, but no nose, ears or hair. I shuddered in dread of meeting the abomination face to face.
I returned to the storehouse and again examined the door lock. Three tumblers were embedded in the door. They turned easily, revealing a number of different symbols. Intrigued, I spun the dials in every combination but to no effect. Abandoning the fruitless endeavor I stepped back from the building and looked over its facade. High on the right side was a tiny darkness in the wall which appeared to a window. A short sprint and a mighty leap landed me on the roof of the building. I had overestimated the power necessary to propel me to the window and I had nearly flown completely over the building.
In the farther corner of the roof lay a dark rectangle some sixteen feet long by three feet wide, raised from the uniform level of the tiled expanse by a hands breadth. A closer examination revealed hinges on one of the short sides. Obviously this was an ingress into the upper storey of the building. The overlap on the cover provided me with finger holds. I strained, my thews popping with the effort but I was finally rewarded with the sound of wrenching metal and the lid sprang open clattering loudly as it rose on two poles to click into place as a lean-to shade over the opening.
Peering into the darkness inside, I endeavored to see what lay below but was stymied by the curve of the spiral ramp. Following the ramp down into the bowels of the building led me into deeper darkness that was only slightly leavened with the sunlight from above. The ramp continued to descend and I followed the curve with my hand lightly running along the wall. My hand came into contact with a plate in the wall which pulsed under my fingertips and suddenly the room was illuminated by a saturating light that had no single source but arose from a dozen separate globes set high in the walls and several more embedded in the ceiling.
The floor was covered with crates of various sizes and shapes grouped together in stacks that rose no higher than my waist. Each box was labeled in the same strange language I had seen earlier but I still could not comprehend any meaning attached to each label.
The first box I opened contained strange cartridges, each approximately the length of my little finger but smaller around than the stalks of grass on the plains back home. Even the smallest cartridge used by the white man was huge when compared to these. The next box, a larger one, contained weapon harnesses with clips and chains for the hanging of weapons thereon. Further investigation revealed rifles made of white metal, swords, both short and long, daggers, knives and other weapons carefully packed in excelsior and preserving oils. The rifles and pistols baffled me, I could not understand the loading of them. Lances stacked against the wall provided me with the basis for a familiar weapon. The sharp knives allowed me to carve one of the spears down until I had a serviceable bow. A bowstring plaited from the excelsior completed the weapon. Other lances became the shafts for the arrows and the cartridges served for arrowheads. Plumes from carefully packed helmets fletched the arrows.
Searching the ground floor I discovered the door covering the exit was without bolt or latch on the inside, apparently not locked by a mechanical artifact which I could disable and baffling in its simplicity. I therefore abandoned any attempt to force the door.
Returning to the roof I leapt lightly to the ground. I was ready to hunt. The dust in the square revealed the prints of several animals of some kind which always walked in pairs for some strange reason and frequented the area for water. Secreting myself in a hidden area, I waited for my prey. Hours later I sighted an animal creeping upon the fountain. Rising, I loosed a shaft at the animal. Imagine my shock as the shaft which should have struck it center in the shoulder, through the heart, cleared the animal by a full foot and the shaft continued far beyond any distance I had ever shot before. The arrow impacted on a building fully 300 paces away and the building exploded.
Since no one had made an appearance after my advent in the sprawling fort I had concluded the fort abandoned. Perhaps my thoughts were in error. Perhaps there was another who resented my presence and had chosen this unorthodox manner of expressing his displeasure. Whatever the reason for the destruction of the building; it was evident my welfare would be greatly enhanced by the discovery of my unseen opponent. Was it the white-man I had followed? If not him, then who?
I will not ask the reader of this, my history, to believe I stood staring at the smoking wreckage of the building for more than a second. My training as an Apache warrior had sent me diving for the nearest cover and searching the area for signs of life or cannon.
Minutes passed in stillness. A wayward breeze sent a dust devil to flirt with the edge of the fountain. Each of my desert honed senses were strained in all direction. I will admit to a certain amount of nervousness and apprehension not common to my personal make-up. Fear is an enemy to an apache warrior, not to be allowed to interfere with his duties and obligations. For most of my life I had not been susceptible to its wicked action on the soul and had never had need to distrust my courage. No enemy presented itself and the world appeared completely deserted. No sign of life existed save myself and the animal that I had shot at just prior to the explosion.
From early childhood each Apache is taught that movement, in times of danger, is the harbinger of disaster. Thus it was I settled into stillness the instant I had gained cover. No part of me moved and I would not scratch any itch while I was searching for an enemy.
Even as I settled into the covert, I had notched another arrow onto my bowstring. Now I waited. My patience was rewarded when I perceived a motion off to my left.
My apprehension had grown to such an extent that I reacted to the stimulus of motion with an arrow before I had a chance to identify the source. Scarcely had the shaft left my bow before I was notching another arrow and seeking other concealment.
However, the moment I cleared cover the ground erupted and I was thrown to the earth, dazed. I lay for some minutes gathering my scattered senses together. Remaining motionless, feigning death, I awaited further developments, but no one appeared.
The silence fostered by the explosion slowly dissipated until I could hear the soughing of the wind between the buildings. Cautiously I opened my eyes and raised my head. All was the same as before, the empty streets and the deserted buildings. The same, that is, except for the enormous crater which was as wide as two men were tall and as deep as the span from my fingertips to the elbow. Scattered about were the remains of two animals, I counted seven feet although I found only one shattered skull.
What had caused this second explosion? To all appearances I was alone on this world. I had seen neither hide nor hair of any other sentient being than myself. Had the medicine woman lied to me when she said my enemy was here? That was possible, but somehow I did not believe she would have been so mendacious. Still, even reasoning thus, it was not necessary to believe someone else was there on this empty plain with me. Perhaps there was another explanation. So thinking, I sought the outskirts of the fort. As I passed the last building I notched another arrow to my bow and raising it to the sky loosed the shaft so it would land farthest from me.
The arrow flew true arching away from me in a gentle curve, It flew nearly half a mile before curving to the earth and exploding. Now the mystery of the explosions was answered, The cartridges I had used for arrowheads somehow exploded on contact with whatever they hit.
As I stood staring at the eerie beauty of this alien landscape I noticed the shadows had grown long. Soon I would need shelter for the night.
Returning to the central plaza I circled the huge structure but could find neither window nor door. The walls, although ornately carved on various panels which rose from the ground to the top of the structure showed no sign of entryway. At one point I leaped for the roof as high as I could propel myself. But I fell woefully short of my goal. My landing from this aborted attempt was inglorious, but not fatal as can easily be seen by the simple fact you are reading my story.
Who were the people who had made this structure? Were they men like the victorious figures standing with raised weapons, carved in stone, on the gently bubbling fountain? Why had they made this construct so no one could enter? Was it solid? Was it a place for the dead? Why had they left? Did they expect to return? Had they all died like the pueblo builders, the mysterious Anasazi?
These questions had no answers and I ceased pondering them, such a use of my time being a waste while I needed food. Someday I would find the answers, but not now.
One of the last buildings I searched was a barracks of sorts. It consisted of a series of individual quarters, rooms measuring some thirty feet in length and breadth. Each room was fitted out with table and two chairs with a chest against one wall but the most amazing part of the room was the bed which hung from the ceiling by four massive golden chains. Covered in rich silks and furs, the bed answered the question of whether the mysterious builders of this fort expected to return. Unless they had fled without taking any personal items and had subsequently died, they would return for the books, clothes, pictures and jewelry contained in the unlocked chests. It would seem they had no fear of thieves taking their personal property as neither the rooms nor the chests were locked in any part of the barracks. I found some wines in bottles and drank a little, perhaps too much, because I fell asleep on the floor. I had eaten no food the entire day and that is possibly why the wine was so potent or perhaps the spirits on this spirits world are simply more powerful than those of the white-man, or mayhap I am susceptible to the drowning influences of the wine more than the white-man, be that all as it may that night I lay in a drunken stupor on the floor.
My return to consciousness involved an inordinate amount of pain and incidentally explained why the beds were suspended above the floor by massive chains embedded in the ceiling. Something was pulling on my arm with urgent grunts. I awoke to find a monstrosity chewing on my arm. I can only describe it as a giant rat although that description falls short of conveying the horror of the eight-legged abomination. The head was large out of proportion with the rest of the body which seemed little more than a frame to hold the splay footed legs together and to provide a platform for the head to masticate with abandon. I have seen many rats while in the white-man's carcel. While I had thought them large then, nothing could have prepared me for this grey skinned animal, the scull of which looked like rotting flesh falling from a dead thing which revealed ten square teeth, five each in the upper and the lower jaws. The creature's eyes were small, close set and almost hidden in wrinkles of loose flesh that surrounded those wicked orbs. As large as a coyote, the creature was ferocious as judged by the speed with which it resumed its grisly feast upon my flesh.
Dazed and confused as I was from the wine I was slow to respond to the danger, but was roused from my torpor by the gnashing of the sharp teeth on my thigh inflicting a new wound on my skin and sending a wave of pain through my body.
Backhanding the monstrosity off my leg only enraged the rat which scurried back after me, leaping on my chest and snapping its teeth in my face while it tried to close its jaws around my throat. A gust of foetid breath gagged me and I thrust the face away from me. Had I been a little slower in fending off its attack this account of my adventures would never have been written.
I succeeded in grasping one of its legs and holding the massive head away from my throat until I could obtain a hold on the creature's scrawny neck which snapped beneath my fingers. The body made a satisfying thump as it struck the wall and slid to the floor to lie twitching and gasping for breath. Slowly the creature's labored breathing diminished and finally died.
Staggering to my feet I ran to the corner before emptying my belly of the last of the wine and most of the bile in me. I wished for something to wash the taste from my lips but I dared not go outside to the fountain and I refused to drink any of the wine, swearing off the intoxicating liquor forever. This vow I have kept in the years that followed, going thirsty rather than chance another encounter like the one with the rat. I remained awake for the rest of the night, squatting in the corner with my dagger in my hand, berating myself for excessive stupidity and marveling at my incredible luck
When the new day dawned I left the barracks for the sunlight which brought promise of a better day. By now I was famished and, after quenching my thirst at the fountain, I thought of eating the rat but simply could not bring myself to feast on a creature that had itself feasted on my own flesh.
Entering another of the buildings through its roof top ingress which I wrenched open through sheer strength and desperation, I discovered many preserved foods both in metallic cans and in packages from which all air had been removed.
I knew I was chancing my life with each morsel I ate-I did not know if any of this food was poisonous to my earthly body, but it was eat and possibly die or not eat and surely starve. I chose the path that at least had a chance of survival. The meats packed in a thick gravy was succulent and tasty. If it was poison it was at least palatable.
Making more arrows was the work of only a few hours and I set up targets in the square near the fountain and taught myself to be as accurate a shot here as I had been on earth. For some reason I had never developed any real skill in shooting the white-man's rifle but I was deadly accurate with my bow. Amazingly, I could shoot my bow almost as far as the white-men could shoot accurately his rifle!
One of the buildings disturbed me. In an assembly area for a large number of people two of the walls were decorated with murals of light-skinned males and females flying in machines of strange design over oceans of strange colors in a sky with two moons. The images had a feeling of great antiquity although th4 mural felt new, appearing ro have been made within a few years of mt arrival but I had a deep sense that the images were of a long ago paradise which the artist regretted the passing thereof. Although several for the figures on the mural were smiling, their eyes reflected the agony of the loss of a glorious past. I could see this sadness in their eyes because I had seen it in the defeated but still defiant eyes of the elders of our tribe who mourned the coming of the white man and the end of our civilization as we had known it.
Each new experience in this new environment confused and depressed me. I had superhuman strength but no use for it. I had powerful weapons but no one to test my spirit and skills. I had comfort beyond my wildest imaginings, far beyond the white-man's promises and I was lonely.
What kind of world was I in? This was not the happy hunting ground. Nor the spirit world. Was I dead? Had I died in the medicine woman's cave? Was I in the white-man's hell? I did not know but I would find out.
Staring out at the immensity of the sky with its weak sun I wished for a companion and, so wishing, leaned back against the warm fountain and closed my eyes.
Some wishes are best left unwished. My wish to meet a denizen of this world was answered immediately and in a manner that displeased and distressed me immensely.
My ears pricked up at the small monotonous sounds of padded feet approaching. The sounds increased in speed and audibility. I opened my eyes on a monstrous spectacle. The footsteps were made by the eight nailless stubby feet of a massive mount whose slate grey skin faded to a brilliant yellow on the legs while its underbelly was white. A large, misshapen head split from snout to neck with a gaping mouth rode high on its long, thick neck blended into the smooth skinned hairless body which ended in a broad flat tail larger at the tip than at the root. But the most fantastic part of this apparition was that it stood ten feet tall at the shoulder. Sitting astride the monstrous mount on a rudimentary saddle rode a living copy of the six limbed creature of the fountain's statue. Fully fifteen feet in height the rider's head stood 20 feet above the street. The creature's eyes were large and set on each side if the head and were dead white against the dark skin while the iris is blood red and the pupil dark. Each eye can work independently of the other so the creature could see in two directions without the necessity of turning the head, its red iris eyes surrounded by stark white idly searched the street. What was most amazing in contrast about this strange being was that its skin was a deep green, which threw the large tusks jutting upwards from the lower jaw into a gleaming whiteness which reminded me that these were likely the creature's inherent weapons because its hands had no nails or claws. In its two right hands the rider carried a forty foot spear which it rested on its right foot.
I could not tell how the rider guided the animal because his mount's head had neither halter nor bridle. In the silence I "heard" a word and the mount stopped, dropping its head to the ground to nibble at the moss which I took to be its favorite food.
I say "heard" because while I knew the word emanated from the olive skinned creature and was aimed at the slate grey mount, the rider's lips did not move and its lungs were expanding at that instant so it could not have spoken. Another non-spoken word sent the animal forward again.
The isolation and solitude of this wold had so worked on my sensibilities that I craved companionship with such fierceness that I forgot all of my warrior training. Springing to my feet I hailed the newcomer in friendship, a foolish act I would never have committed had I not been so lonely.
For an instant both creatures stared at me as I walked toward them. Then the green man dropped his lance to the horizontal, bracing it against his body with both right hands and, for balance, he threw his left arms out parallel to the ground. Another unspoken word sent the behemoth charging in my direction.
So stunned was I that I almost did not react to the danger until it was too late. However my sense of survival is honed to such an extent that my muscles sent me leaping high into the air while the beast passed beneath my feet.
The look of incredulity on the green man's face told its own story. Obviously, I was as strange to him as he was to me. He silently voiced his mount to a halt and spun around for a second pass. This time when I leaped he threw up a long arm and his nailless fingers closed about my ankle. Throwing his spear away he grabbed one of my arms and my other leg as he drew his dagger. He opened his jaw wide and tried to disembowel me with his tusks.
With but moments to live and fewer to think, I did the only thing I could. I smashed the heel of my free hand into his eye.
The warrior screamed in agony and fell off his mount, releasing his hold on me in the process.
We tumbled to our feet each crouched on bent legs. He drew his sword and faced me, a weapon in each of his upper arms with the other four limbs providing him with a stable base from which to fight.
My dagger was a puny defense against his longer reach. I am convinced I survived the battle because my extraordinary strength matched his own and my innate agility surpassed his.
He held his head to the side presenting his good eye to me. The slow cautious approach gave me time to see his plan. As he stalked me, circling. I gave ground grudgingly. I had felt his hands upon my legs and they still tingled from the green man's bone crushing strength.
Sensing his intent at the moment of its inception, I leaped forward as he swung the sword high rising onto his back feet and reaching for me with his lower hands. I passed beneath the weapon as he had expected but not exactly as he had planned. He had attempted to force me into one of his intermediate hands and to finish me off at his leisure, however, his rising hand met my dagger and was withdrawn with a bone deep cut along the forearm. He curled the limb into his body in a protective gesture. I passed on around him and tumbled away. As I rose to my feet I saw him spin about and charge wildly. I think the pain caused him to lose control of his emotions and all he was thinking about was gathering me into his arms and crushing me.
As he charged with three arms spread wide to engulf me in a bear hug, I sprang forward, burying my dagger to the hilt in his neck. Even mortally wounded as he was, the green man managed to grab me again. Had I not had my miraculously gained strength we would both have expired on the street that day. As it was I was nearly ripped limb from limb in his death throes.
Detaching myself from his rigid grip, I dragged my self to the fountain. The water from the fountain quenched my raging thirst and soothed my tortured skin.
Glancing about I saw the mount slowly padding its way down the street away from me. I shouted for it to stop, but the behemoth ignored me. Then I remembered the word the green man had "spoken" to stop the animal before. I shouted the word and the creature halted in its tracks. The second word caused it to walk onward. The third word had the animal turning back towards me.
Obviously the beast was controlled by the words. I approached it gently, crooning softly, hoping the way to capture this animal was the same as taming a horse. Soon I had it eating out of my hand, its prehensile lips almost as dextrous as my own fingers. A short time later I had mounted and was exploring my new world. I traveled on the creature's back for several days journey in each direction from the fort, but found no one.
When I next thought of the green man, I returned to our battlefield and found the bones were picked clean and the harness chewed and ripped to pieces. I gathered the gruesome remains together and buried them behind one of the buildings.
Each time I returned to the fort I became more depressed. At night I went to sleep praying for the sound of coyote calls. But this time my prayers were not answered, a happenstance for which I believe I am thoroughly thankful.
Then one night I was awakened again. This time by a mechanical whirring. Springing from the silks and furs, I raced to the door and saw a huge ship floating in the air.
Never before had I seen such a gargantuan ship. Measuring more than sixty feet in length its beam stretched twenty-five feet from side to side. A central cabin graced the top of the ship while two tanks that ran from stem to stern outlined the keel. Three propellers provided propulsion. Two cannons surmounted the ends of the ship. All in all the flying ship looked graceful but deadly.
Two immense lamps shone down on the dominant structure as the ship hovered above it. Having examined the roof of the building, the ship veered off and settled on the street near the fountain. When the spotlights were extinguished darkness settled over the fort. Neither moon was in the sky and other than the stars the sky was black save for the glittering stars which dotted the heavens.
A heavy rumbling drew my gaze back to the ship which now stood before a capacious opening in the enormous wall that had not been evident but moments ago.
Mindful of my recent reception by the first inhabitant I had encountered, I remained in hiding, creeping closer the better to examine the newcomers. However I did not neglect to take my weapons with me as I approached, taking full advantage of the cover provided by the buildings and the fountain.
A dozen men, all red skinned like me, leaped over the side of the ship carrying ropes which were attached to the deck and began to pull the vessel inside the colossal building. A dozen others leaped over the side as well but scattered along the street taking concealment behind buildings, evidently on the watch against attack from the outside of the fort. Soon they were joined by eighteen of the men who had pulled the ship into the building. A half dozen of them searched the buildings while the others joined the sentries.
A short while later one of the men appeared from inside the storeroom jabbering about an intruder. Another soldier emerged from the stable, shouting the word "Thoat!" several times indicating where he had found my mount.
The man the others addressed as Odwar issued orders for a thorough search of the fort. While the men were engaged in the search, a wave of green men mounted on the animal I now knew was called a thoat swept through the fort spearing, slashing, and shooting down the red men. Fully half of the red men died in that first attack. Those who were still in their watch positions returned fire.
In the shocking manner of its rise the greater moon appeared over the horizon and the street was filled with explosions. Bodies erupted as the light from the moon shone on their wounds from the gunfire.
The green men turned at the end of the street, spinning their mounts with a single thought, and charged back through the streets of the fort.
Having no dog in that fight, neither side being friendly to me, I decided to evacuate the premises with the least amount of delay possible. The closest cover was inside the huge building and I slipped past the guards whose attention was centered on the fight in the plaza.
The green men succeeded in driving the red men into the center of the street. Surprisingly, they ceased shooting at the red men but dismounted and approached on foot, some on four legs and others standing erect on only two feet. Of the dozen green men in the attackers' party two thirds were dead but of the red men only six survived. Clearly the red men were outclassed by their opponents but by the time the fight had ended, while all of the red warriors were dead, only two of the green men still stood, one nursing a wounded arm. The guards, who had retreated to the doorway, shot the green men in the back.
Disgusted by the arrant cowardice of the two red men I backed away from the gate. As I cleared the short hallway, I entered a huge open space which was crowded by ships similar to the flyer which had just landed except some were much smaller, only the size of one man and others were even more massive, being three times the size of the red men's ship. That ship was crowded in with the others right at the end of the corridor. As I watched a ramp was lowered from the hull and a red man wearing a harness encrusted with jewels and precious metals led a regal red woman down the ramp.
The red man, while tall and strong-looking, with clean limbs and smooth skin, nevertheless had a weak chin and a sinister curve to his lips. His eyes were black and close-set, giving him a merciless air. I had seen his kind in the uniform of the white man's army many times, usually just before he gave an order to slay innocent women and children.
As they reached the bottom of the ramp the girl spoke imperiously to the man. The girl was at least a head shorter than the red man who confronted her. Her lithe body was clad in very little in the way of clothes. A simple harness carried both pouch and dagger. Her demeanor was of outrage to tell from her arms resting akimbo on her waist and her upraised chin. Her strong chin was surmounted by full red lips with a narrow, patrician nose above, whose nostrils were flared in indignation. Her large, lustrous eyes were almond shaped in her oval face and flashed with an arrogance born of her innate beauty, a beauty she knew and appreciated, knowing full well her effect on men. Her black hair was arranged in a loose but strange coiffure reminding me of the white woman's predilection to pile their hair on the head and to pin it together with long needles rather than to braid it into one or two ropes to restrain the tresses' innate wildness.
She repeated her demand in a louder, more forceful tone.
He paused, staring at her in puzzled inquiry, then burst into laughter. He spoke to her in a low voice laced with menace. Her fair skin paled as the import of his words sank in. The six men behind the girl also broke out in side splitting mirth. The girl repeated her demand then added a few choice words about his character and the man stopped laughing. He laid his hand on her arm to lead her away and she whirled laying hostile hands on him in return.
In moments he was spreadeagle on the ground screaming and she, for her part, was attempting to twist his arm off at the shoulder. One of the guards struck her behind the ear with the hilt of his dagger and she slumped to the ground insensate.
The treatment she received incurred my wrath but I was too near to shoot them and not near enough to insure success were I to commit to hand-to-hand combat with her tormentors. Two of the guards dragged her into a small shack set into the wall with a door on one side and a window near me. I worked my way to the window and hid in a shadow cast by the roof's overhang.
Rubbing his shoulder the richly attired red man gave an order to the two men emerging form the door. One soldier stood guard at the door while the other hurried away. In moments he was lost to sight. Notching an arrow to my bow I allowed the remaining guard to see me. If he had been nonbelligerent I might have attempted to make peace for these were human like me at least in outward appearance. However, he reached for his gun. Dropping my upraised right hand to the bowstring, I drew the arrow back to my cheek and shot the man before his pistol had cleared his holster. He expired without a sound.
The window gave me a clear view of the room inside. The red man hovered over her and was in the process of removing her clothes, few though they were. She woke as he removed the last article of clothing she wore. The girl spat curses and threats at her assailant but he simply held her down with one hand and sneered at her threatened retaliation. Had she been his woman I would have left her to her fate because a warrior does not interfere with discipline in another's house, However, I knew-do not ask me how, for I do not know how-I knew the girl was not his. Enraged for a reason I scarce thought about I broke the window and sprang through.
There are times when a rage takes over my actions and I do things without thought. This was just such a time. In my rage I did not think of the bow I had in my hand or the dagger at my waist. I thought of nothing but to take his throat in my own two hands and to kill him.
I landed on him, knocking him to the floor, and my hands found his throat. His fists pummeled at my arms and back but I laughed at his pitifully weak blows. Under my constricting fingers his visage turned purple, his tongue protruded form his contorted mouth and his eyes rolled back into their sockets. A dull snap heralded his demise as his neck broke beneath my squeezing digits.
No sooner had I turned to see to the girl's welfare than a shout rang out by the door. A command was relayed across the machine filled expanse.
In response large platforms of lights issued from compartments in the walls and floated out to positions over the ships illuminating sections of the field with a light that rivaled daylight, However several of the ships were taller than the lights and still were in stygian darkness and others blocked the light from smaller ships. Surprisingly, the light seemed directed in such a way that the light illuminated only specific areas and did not spread or reflect where it was not wanted.
I peered through the window and saw one of the red men staring back at me. He saw the naked girl and the dead commander lying on the floor with his head tilted at an unnatural angle on his neck.
He fell back shouting, dragging his rifle up towards me. I ducked back as he fired. The room behind me exploded and the force threw me against the wall. Shaking my head to clear it only made my head ache worse. But the pain aided me to stand and to assess the situation. The girl had recovered and had disappeared through the hole in the wall. I noticed she had paused long enough to take her sandals even though she had abandoned her tattered clothes.
Meanwhile I needed to vacate the premises which were populated by enemies who were intent on my demise. After following the girl through the newly manufactured breach in the wall, I rapidly scanned the area but saw no sign of the girl. She had vanished into the darkness before I landed. Hurriedly searching for a hiding place, I leaped to the top of one of the ships, landing in the shadows of the cabin. Racing across the wooden deck, I scanned the area below. A dozen men gathered below me and after a hasty discussion, the men spread out and began to stalk me. One of the men passed out of sight of the others and I took the opportunity to reduce the number of my enemies by one warrior. He fell with my arrow in his heart. Several more of his fellows fell to my arrows before they found my hiding place in the darkness on top of the ship. As luck would have it the lesser moon rose and cast my shadow on the floor in front of one of the men. He snapped his rifle to his shoulder and shot in my direction. His shot spanged near my ear and shattered in the darkness. Several more shots rang out but no explosions occurred even though many of them landed near me.
Seeing a spotlight flare into illumination, I leaped for another ship before they could focus the light on the ship I had just vacated. As the spotlight swept over the ship it erupted in a colossal fireball. I took the opportunity afforded by the confusion engendered by the explosions of seeking another hiding place.
My arrows reduced the number of enemies again before they again discovered my hiding place and again aimed both bullets and lights on the ship. I leaped as the second ship erupted in flames, crashing to the ground, collapsing in on itself as the flames consumed the wooden superstructures and deck. Fortunately the death throes of the airship engulfed a number of my enemies.
As I rolled to my feet I realized the majority of my enemies were on the other side of the conflagration. I reached for another arrow but found none remained in my quiver; they lay scattered all over the ground at my feet.
I heard the click of a breech behind me and turned to discover one red man aiming his weapon at my back. Standing as I was in the middle of an open space without any cover to be had, I prepared to die, but I would not be shot just standing there. As I gathered myself to leap, the girl sprang out of the dark and knocked the rifle barrel aside. She clung to the rifle, denying him the opportunity to retrain the weapon on me.
As he struck her across the face with his fist, I sprang. She fell to the ground dragging the rifle from his hands. My knife slipped into his body before he even knew I had landed in front of him from more than twenty-five feet away and he
spurted his life blood out as he fell.
Another man raced toward me with a sword in his hand and I could see he knew how to use it by his cautious stance and deliberate movements. Again I prepared to die because a good fighter with a sword can defeat a good fighter with a knife unless they close to grapple where the knife man has the advantage of his shorter weapon.
I leaped at him, hoping to surprise him by my sudden nearness. Although I surprised him he recovered quickly and sprang out of knife range and threw a savage cut at my head. I threw my knife in the way, blocking his strike. He swung again and again I blocked. Slowly, as he threw more and faster strokes I realized I knew where he was going to strike before he threw the blow. I began to return the strokes and found him slow to respond to my strikes. It was as if I could read his mind. I played with him, marking him with a score of small cuts before I killed him.
I gathered the girl into my arms an leaped to the top of one of the ships and thence to the top of one of the light platforms. Leaping back down, I collected my bow and arrows before returning to the platform.
Five men finally came around the burning wreckage. They paused as they saw the dead. Taking advantage of their confusion, I shot the two stragglers. The red men milled about in consternation as they tried to discover the hiding place of their nemesis.
Beside me the girl moaned and rolled over. Her movement rocked the platform which sent the lights swinging from side to side. One of the men threw his rifle to his shoulder and shot out one of the lights which caused the platform to shudder and list to one side.
The dark haired girl began to slide off and I lost my bow reaching for her. The men watched as the platform settled to the earth. I drew my knife as we slid lower.
Seeing the blade in my hand the men did something strange and confusing. They dropped their rifles and drew their short swords which were only inches longer than my knife. Assured the girl had a firm grip on the platform, I launched myself at the trio of warriors. I doubt that they had expected me to jump from the platform; it was so high that, had I been back home, I would have doubtless have ended up a shattered wreck on the ground. As I landed, I slew the first of them with my initial thrust of the knife. The other two recovered and retaliated, one of them slicing me on my forearm.
The fight was ferocious. They fought with confidence for the first few seconds but became confused as their strokes were blocked or evaded as if by a miracle. They split up and tried to overwhelm me from two sides but my knife was everywhere. Their strokes ended almost before they were begun. Taking advantage of a small opening in one's guard, I sliced open his belly. He fell back as I turned my whole attention to the remaining assailant. Soon he joined his companions in that repose from which no one has ever returned. I almost regretted killing so brave a warrior for he must have known he faced almost certain death on my knife but he stayed and fought like an apache.
The light platform settled to the ground and the girl rolled off. Relieved of her weight the platform shot into the air for a moment before settling to the ground again. Lifting her head, she looked towards me and, giving a small shriek, dove for the rifle, pointing it in my direction.
Disgusted with her continuing distrust of me, I sprang to her side and ripped the gun from her hands and threw it away. She pointed past me and berated me in her foreign tongue. Her anger turned to horror as the apparition which had entered through the door was followed by another abomination on a nightmare. The two green men mounted on the slate grey thoats were riding through the passages between the ships glancing about with barely disguised interest. They must have been attracted by the shooting. One of them on seeing us shouted to his companion. They turned and charged with lances couched, their left arms thrown wide for balance. I could have easily evaded their charge, but not so the girl. Therefore I refused to abandon the girl and, indeed, charged them back. This tactic gave me a moment's respite as the animals balked at having a man charge them.
The two green men regained control of their mounts just as I reached the nearest foe. I ran under his mount's muzzle and leaped on the animal's back, landing behind the green man. My blade slipped easily into his body and he slumped to the ground.
The second green man called to his mount to charge. The man's lance split the air where I had been but no longer was because I jumped down as the lance neared. With one tremendous leap I reached the second green man and stabbed him as well. My leaps must have stunned him as he made no effort to avoid me or to block my thrust until it was too late to save himself.
I heard a low rumbling behind me and, spinning on my heel, saw the door was again a wall. How she had performed this miracle, I did not know but I was positive she had caused the portal to close. I prowled the area searching for more enemies, not knowing how many there had been to begin. No sounds echoes through the structure save those of my passing and of the girl's.
Wondering why this was so, I reversed my stance only to face the lethal end of the red man's rifle again, this time in the girl's hands, again. She had donned her sandals but wore no other clothes, though this did not seem to disquiet her. She gibbered at me in a language incomprehensible to me but I seemed to understand her meaning. She would not shoot unless I frightened her. I dropped my knife and held my hands wide.
She spoke again and I replied I did not understand her. She asked a question, She wanted to know my name.
With great ceremony and stately gestures as if I was in council meeting I formally recited to her my name and related tales of my prowess in battle, telling of the numerous warriors who had fallen to my skill and of the coups I had counted, numbering the ponies, blankets, beads, guns, knives and pots I possessed, none of which I had any longer and had no idea where they were.
She lowered the gun.
Nodding to her I turned and walked away. I was tired and needed to be alone. After each battle in which I had fought I had always sought solitude seeking to restore my inner equilibrium. I looked for and found a way to the top of the wall. Astonished to find the access was achieved by a ramp which spiraled up the wall, never the less, I climbed step by weary step to the very summit. The moons had again fled the night sky and the landscape was hidden in darkness once more. Now I felt the loneliness bear down on me again. Each man I met was my enemy. I had no brothers or tribesmen to stand by me. Why was I here on this world? Was it simply to fight and die? Was there nothing else to life save the struggle to stay alive?
A soft rustle heralded the girl's approach. She had stopped to obtain clothing from one of the dead men if the looseness of the harness on her supple figure spoke true. We stared at the panoply before us for a while until she placed my knife beside my hand. I thanked her. She had also taken the time to cleanse the weapon of the blood of my victims. She was from a warrior people. I slipped the blade in the decorated sheath at my waist.
She motioned for me to follow her. Her temerity was beyond belief. A warrior does not follow the instructions of a woman not of his family and not placed over him by birth or by marriage to his elders. Possibly she did not know the insult she heaped upon me, but to have followed her would have cost me honor. And all I had left of my heritage was my honor.
She signaled again and I rested my chin on my arms, grinning at her mounting but severely repressed fury. I looked out on the scene below. When I looked back she was gone, silently, like an apache woman. I turned again to the vista before me and pondered the strange world I now inhabited and the even more mysterious woman who was native to this world.
Striding away from the edge, I descended to the ground and discovered her seated on a box near the keel of the ship which had brought her here, dining on victuals from the stores contained in the vessel. She had changed her clothing again, donning a diaphanous dress of white cloth.
As I settled on a box nearby, she pointedly ignored me. That she was brave I already knew, that she was comely I had seen, that she was foolish she had amply demonstrated, that she was wise I found out as she indicated the food. Taking a strip of meat I tore into it with my teeth. She spoke a word, pointing to the morsel in her hand. As we ate she began to teach me her language.
Over the next few days I rapidly picked up her language as if I could read her mind, which she told me later I could but that she could not read mine which was a blank to her. Such minds she said were rare but not unheard of. If I directed my thoughts at her she could "hear" them but at no other time could she get a glimpse of my thoughts. Such control she continued had to be learned through severe self discipline but even then it was not perfect, a stray thought or two always escaping at odd moments of stress, excitement or even inattention.
One evening after a satisfying talk about her home and the planet, I asked how I could be learning to speak her language so quickly.
"Quickly?" she responded. "You are not learning our universal language quickly. I estimate you are taking about twice as much time to learn as I did. By the time I was twenty days old I could hold a conversation with anyone, even if I could not understand some of the concepts such as the power units of the flyers or of the atmosphere machines."
"I learned the white-man's language when I was a prisoner in his fortress which stained our lands with his murderous presence," I cursed. "It took me nearly half a year of intensive study before I could converse at even this limited level."
"Perhaps," she shrugged, "that is because no one on your planet exhibits any telepathic ability until he arrives on Barsoom."
The thought made my head ache quietly and I soon sought my bed. For some reason I had chosen to sleep on the deck of the airship just outside the cabin in which she slept. Hearing the quiet sounds of her undressing and climbing into the bed soothed my nerves and I slept deeply until I was awakened by the silence.
Silence is not usually unnerving from the moment of its inception but this instance tested that rule mightily. Something about this silence grated on my nerves. Then I understood the silence was not complete but was instead not unlike the silence of a camp at night. Muted chuffing indicated large animals foraging for food, small sounds of shuffling feet and the clatter of pottery mixed with metallic chings of weapons and other utensils vied with subdued voices speaking in hushed tones to indicate a large gathering of people. But the sounds were not inside the enclosure, instead they were outside in the square. Tossing off the silks and furs, I gathered my weapons and sought to find out why the sounds were there in the first place.
Striding up the ramp to the top of the wall I took caution in mind and snaked across the wall which was three times my height wide. What lay before me in the square shocked and amazed me. In the night fully a thousand beings, all green, both male and female, had camped among the buildings. A hundred huge two wheeled wagons drawn by monstrous cattle with eight legs were placed at the edges of the square to provide a minor stronghold should they be attacked from the ground. The broad wheeled wagons were ornately carved, gilded, and decorated with bright cloths and feathers as were the trappings of the animals and the people although the women did not have as much wealth upon them as did the men. I also noted that there were no children in the tribe. This puzzled me but I had no answer and so put it out of my mind.
The girl crept up beside me on the wall. She gasped, "A horde. What is a horde of green men doing here?"
I grinned at her, "Are you asking me? This is your land. I am just a visitor."
"That was a rhetorical question," she glared. "I do not expect you to know anything."
She must have seen a look on my face for she hastened to add, "I am sorry. I should not have said that. I can only attribute that to being scared. A horde is gathering for some reason I cannot fathom. We must not let them find us or they will slay us out of hand or put you into the arena with a wild zitidar or calot. Or they may just torture you for their pleasure. The only time a green man laughs is while witnessing the most horrible of tortures or while something is dying. Except for the Tharks, the green men are barbarians and should be eliminated as a plague."
"Do not always judge others by your standards," I admonished her. "I'm sure they believe themselves to be highly civilized and you to be weak and effeminate."
"How can you be so sure?" she demanded.
"Because the white man on my planet treats my peoples," I responded, "like you would treat the green man. The white man has no conception of our heritage and our knowledge of the world. An apache boy learns to live off the land, requiring nothing to survive save his wits. We were always able to defeat the white man in any battle until they brought in their rifles and cannon. Even then we could have won but they are as many as the stars in the sky. For each one we kill two more come in his place. They attack our camps and burn our wigwams with our women and children inside. They wish to exterminate us. A favorite line of many whites is, "The only good apache is a dead apache." So much of our history has been lost because our elders have been slaughtered and the young have never heard the old stories."
She nodded slowly, "You have given me much to think about. But I still do not think we should expect a pleasant greeting from them."
"In that sentiment we are agreed." I said. "The green men are not of my tribe and therefore are my enemies until they ask for peace. I will not seek them out because I do not think I could win against many of them but I would not run from a fight." I wondered why they were gathering and questioned the girl about this.
"They are probably," she said, "heading for a gathering of the entire horde-"
I stopped her here with the exclamation, "Entire horde. You mean there are more?" I stared down at the square where more than ten thousand people were gathered together with their moveables, their animals and their families.
She nodded. "They are a nomadic people never staying in one place for any length of time. They take their horde's name from a deserted city which they use as their central gathering place."
"Do they have chiefs or medicine-men?" I inquired.
"Their chiefs, like those of the red man," she explained, "are called Jeds and the overall leader is called the Jeddak. As for medicine, the women care for their wounded with salves and ointments."
A disturbing thought crossed my mind. "Will we be safe in here with so many of them around us?"
"If they do not suspect we are in here," she explained. "They will not bother us because they do not use flyers and have no reason to think this is anything more than a large block of stone. That is why the gateway is hidden."
We retreated to the cabin of the ship and discussed our future plans. Flying out under the watchful eyes of the green horde was not an option we were prepared to risk for she told of the wondrous gun sights of the green men's rifles that could accurately shoot up to three hundred miles. Even if this were an exaggeration, I personally knew of warriors who could shoot a white man's rifle more accurately than even the best of the pindah's sharpshooters, so I was convinced that were we to attempt to escape by flying we would be shot down by the powerful explosive cartridges of the Barsoomian guns. Nor could we hope to sneak out on foot, for we could not carry enough supplies for such a trek, nor do I think the girl could have the necessary stealth not to alert the guards not to pass any of the animals without startling them into revealing our position to the entire horde. We decided not to draw attention to ourselves, but rather to remain inside the hangar until the horde left to continue its march across the dead sea bottoms, and so she continued my education in the mores and manners of the red man of Barsoom while we waited for the exodus that was sure to come.
Each morning, shortly after the sudden sunrise of Barsoom, I climbed to the summit of the wall to look at the horde of green men who surrounded us. Each day the number increased as more chariots and riders arrived. Soon the encampment spread past the furthest buildings of the fort spreading across the dead sea bottoms like a pool of stagnant water.
As I tried to assimilate this new information, I realized I did not know her name. So I asked her by what name she was called. A word flashed in her mind but I had no understanding of what it meant having little with which to compare it.
She sighed. "My name is Lanara."
"That is a beautiful name," I exclaimed. "Why did you wish to hide it from me?"
"Because I have shamed my family," she confessed. "And I can never go home again."
"Why can you never go home?" I inquired, puzzled.
"My father is a Jed in the greater of the twin cities of Helium," she responded. "I am very young being only five years from my hatching."
"Wait," I cried, raising my hand. "Did you say hatched?"
"Why, yes," she replied. "All children on Barsoom, both green and red, are hatched from eggs laid by their mothers. The egg is incubated for 5 years. It starts about the size of my fist and grows in the warm incubator until it is as long as my arm. When we are born we can walk almost as soon as we can stand. My mother taught me how to speak in the span of fifteen days. She said I was precocious to have learned so quickly. At first I thought you merely ignorant of certain things but now I see you truly know nothing of us."
Having come to understand her directness and naivety I did not take umbrage at her words this time.
She continued, "Have you come from another planet?"
I explained I did not know what a planet was but I certainly came from somewhere else. Our children were carried in their mother's womb for nine moons and our animals had only four legs. And there was only one moon in our sky.
A smile lit her face and she clapped her hands in glee. "Then you must come from Jasoom. My grandfather has told me many tales of the third planet from the sun."
At my look of puzzlement, she explained, "There are ten planets in the solar system. Barsoom is the fourth planet from the sun and Jasoom is the next closest." Her mind showed a floating ball of yellow burning gasses and a number of smaller balls rotating around it in the airless spaces surrounding the sun. This image disturbed me because she envisioned people standing on these smaller balls and not falling off of them even when the people stood on the bottom of the ball. Needless to say I could not grasp much of her meaning but was assured she must now know where I came from. Perhaps she could help me return.
"Only my grandfather might be able to help you," she stated. "He had made the trip from planet to planet many times."
"Then you must take me to your grandfather," I cried.
She began to shiver. "No, I cannot go back."
"Why?" I demanded.
She sighed. "I see I must tell you the whole sordid story. I told you my father is a Jed. Therefore I was a prize sought by many men, princes of the blood. I favored none of my suitors until Du Mas, the younger Prince of Dusar, came to my father's court. Both my father and my mother were strictly civil with him, following the prescribed behavior rules to the letter. I could not understand their reserve for they were both outgoing and free with their other guests and they refused to discuss it with me. The first time I saw Du Mas, he was magnificent; tall, good looking and suave. His deference to my wishes seemed wonderful after the restrictions placed on me by my tyrannical and arbitrary father. We spend hours together riding, talking and enjoying each other's company. Soon I began to gravitate to Du Mas to the exclusion of the other suitors who treated me as a child, to be pampered and petted but not treated as an equal. My father warned me not to make any attachments for I was too young, but I rebelled. Because Du Mas was forbidden to me, I sought him out the more. We arranged to meet by accident in the street and at social functions. The wicked glee I felt in defying my father's wishes added a heady thrill to the escapade.
"Soon I sought to fulfill our love. We were caught kissing behind an arras by my irate father. He spoke roughly to my beloved, calling him a fool and a cad. Du Mas drew himself up with dignity and, bowing, left the ball. My father decided I needed to be sent away from the court and I found myself in Gathol with my Aunt and her husband, the Jed.
"I was devastated to have been separated from my beloved and moped around the palace, refusing any solace. My aunt tried to cheer me up but I repulsed even her advances, denying her my company as I spurned her comfort.
"One day I received a note from Du Mas, smuggled in by a servant. I was ecstatic. He did love me. We met in secret and decided to elope. When we arrived at his city, Phundahl, we would be wed, he said. On the night when both moons would be out of the sky for the longest time was the night we agreed upon for our elopement. I sent the servants away saying I wished to be alone. The moons disappeared beneath the horizon and I was left in darkness awaiting my beloved. I heard a small flyer land in the garden. I ran to my beloved and slipped onto the deck next to him. The warmth of his body next to mine flowed through me and I did not need any covering to keep me warm as we flew out of the city to his cruiser."
Here she indicated the ship on which we sat.
"But Du Mas was not the hero I thought and my father not the tyrant I had believed. His ship sailed out into the desert and off towards his home. I spent the time adoring him as a swashbuckling hero until his ship flew past Dusar and on into the desert. We flew on for many days. I wondered at the change in plans but he reassured me we were going to visit his father who was hunting. Thus was I deceived.
"When we landed here, he told me he was taking me without marriage for the insult my mother and my father had given his brother, in addition to the insult in refusing to allow us to be wed and for embarrassing him before the other jeds and princes of the blood at the ball. I was to be sent back to my father with my egg fertilized to become the object of shame and ridicule.
"I was devastated at the revelation of his perfidy and when he refused to return me to my father and, indeed, laid rough hands on me, I tried to kill him but one of his men must have struck me from behind and knocked me out. I woke to see you strangle that Ulsio." I recognized the image in her mind as that of the giant rat I had killed on my second night on Barsoom. She had chosen her insult well. "For that I thank you."
"I am pleased I have saved you from the fate he planned. But I do not see why you cannot go home. You are still pure and his plot has failed."
"You do not see. I cannot go home."
"I see you do not wish to go home because you are ashamed of your part in the plot, because you lied to your father, your mother and to your aunt, because you do not want to face the consequences of your actions, because you are still a child who has not learned her lessons in honor very well. And so I must suffer, because you have not learned from your experience. You must return to your father and apologize for your behavior. Otherwise you will never be able to hold your head high again, but will always hide your face from all honorable women and men."
She buried her face in her hands and her shoulders shook with dry sobs. I felt a need to comfort her, and indeed had stretched my hand out to her but let it drop to my side, for I knew if I did she would not make the decision she needed to make and would remain a child. Soon her shoulders squared and she raised her head to me. "I will take you to my father. This much I will do for you, but I do not think I like you." She stood and strode away.
My joy at her decision was tempered by the fever of her dislike.
Hours later she returned. "To take you home we need to use a smaller, speedier flyer than this one. Come, and I will show you the one we must use." She spoke with dignity and restraint. "I will help you gather together the supplies we will need." She led me to a sleek ship which was half the size of the other ship with a small cabin in the center of the deck. The steering console surmounted the cabin. By standing behind the cabin the captain could steer the ship with two levers and a steering wheel. One of the levers controlled the speed and the other the buoyancy. The ship was a dull white while the brass work gleamed and the deck shone. She removed a banner that ran from the masts on the front of the ship to the stern. "We will fly without colors or metal on this ship. We are nobodies who deserve nothing," she said bitterly. I felt her pain and said nothing, for nothing I said would soothe her wounded heart.
Preparations to leave were not long in the accomplishment, the new ship's cabinets replete with stores procured from the other ship. Soon all was prepared for our departure.
Late on the afternoon before the night we had chosen to leave I took one last look at the horde surrounding the hangar as she called the huge structure. Their numbers had grown so vast I was amazed that so many could live together and not starve or have the peace broken by personal vendettas as happened when the tribes gathered at home. In my amazement I must have been careless, but one of the green women chanced to look up at the structure and saw me, raising an outcry of warning. Now that they knew the structure was inhabited, they would waste no time in breeching the walls.
Racing down the ramp I called to Lanara to loose the ship. We must escape now. The Horde knew we were in the hangar.
Calmly she loosed the mooring lines to and started the engines of another ship and threw the levers to high as she leaped over the side. She sped to our ship and released the mooring lines, starting the engines as I approached at a dead run, dodging the ships which crowded the area.
Outside the hangar guns commenced shooting at the decoy ship as it cleared the wall. Almost immediately fireballs from radium bullet explosions began to form around the empty vessel, rupturing the eights ray tanks, and it spiraled to the earth, spouting both flame and dense black smoke, as I leaped over the side of our ship which was rising even as I made my last leap. In the cockpit Lanara threw both levers into high sending the ship into the air passing through the smoke arising from the wreckage of the demolished vessel, our speed increasing with each passing second. We shot away from the fort so fast that all below was a blur. She shouted at me to hang on. I noted she had attached her harness to the console with straps which hooked to rings implanted in the wood. I caught hold of a stanchion and held on as bullets began to whiz past us.
Lanara spun the steering wheel quickly though calmly to the right and to the left, sending us on an erratic course through the air. Shots rang out beneath us and then from behind us we were traveling so swiftly. I am convinced it was the very suddenness of our appearance so soon after the alarm had sounded and the destruction of the decoy ship that allowed us to escape with only one bullet exploding near the ship. She called it a proximity shell which exploded when it neared the target rather than striking the target directly. At the time we thought we had escaped without mishap. We were wrong.
The flyer sped across the low plains at speeds that left me breathless. Within moments we had left the fort and the horde of green men behind, diminishing in the distance until we could no longer see them.
Lanara remarked that we were flying over the dead sea bottoms that were left when the seas had evaporated and the air had thinned ages ago. The red man had perfected a process using the eighth ray of the spectrum, a color not seen on my world, but of surpassing beauty that I cannot describe for how does one describe a color to a blind man who has no referrent to any color. This marvelous ray can easily be separated and stored and has the miraculous power to defy gravity, to lift machines of great size and weight high into the air. The great tanks that lay along the keel of the flyer contained carefully calculated amounts of the ray adjusted to exactly offset the pull of the planet. The weightlessness of the ship allowed the amazing speeds of which the small flyer was capable, speeds faster than a horse could run, faster even than the white man's iron horse could roll along its metal road.
Beneath us passed a herd of the huge beasts of burden called zitidars which fled in panic at our approach. We laughed at the panic engendered by our passage, for we had no designs on their lives or young.
We were sure our troubles were over until the ship began to settle to the left. Lanara studied the control panel in front of her. Slowly she turned wide eyes to me. "One of the eighth ray tanks has been punctured and is leaking. We will have to land and hope we can patch the hole. Then we will be able to transfer some of the contents of the full tank to the other."
So saying, she turned back to the controls and sent the flyer toward the ground. By the time we had landed the ship was listing at an acute angle and we had to hold on tightly until the ship had righted itself on the keel. Lanara went to the front of the ship and shot an anchor line into the ground. "So the ship will not fly away without us," she said. She went back to the cabin and searched the cabinets that dotted the walls until she found a repair kit. She chased me out of the cabin. Minutes later she emerged wearing a worker's harness with tools attached to the belt.
"Lower me over the side," the princess commanded. "I must find the hole and repair it."
"Let me," I said.
"You do not know how to use the equipment," she explained. "and I do not have the time to teach you how to apply the cement and press the patch over the hole after cleaning any debris from the hull that might prevent the seal from adhering to the metal sheathing properly. Lower me over the side or we will remain here forever."
Sighing, I complied with her order. She was right, she did know how to repair the ship and I did not. I realized that I was not all powerful on this planet. In many ways I was a babe in arms, no more useful than a papoose in a war party. I watched her swiftly examine the hull and discover the hole. It was small no larger than her finger, yet it had brought down this great ship. On such little things turn the fates of people and history. One such little thing was my inattention to the surrounding area. My war chief would have punished me severely for my lack of responsibility.
Lanara was applying the patch to the skin of the ship when we were shocked to hear a mighty roar and to see the flash of a tawny body as a huge lion shaped creature with ten legs leaped towards Lanara. I nearly died when I saw her fall beneath the claws of the raging beast. Without a thought for my own safety I leaped on the back of the animal which reared up at the impact of my weight. I drew my dagger with one hand while I sought a handhold on the creature's neck. My legs strove to encircle its waist, but the lion rose straight up in the air and crashed backwards on top of me. My dagger flew from my hand and I lost my grip on his body.
The animal spun away and prepared to charge. I prayed Lanara would be able to reach the ship and climb aboard before the carnivore had finished with me. I rolled to my knees and prepared to sell my life dearly, knowing it was a lost cause. The Barsoomian lion's tail flickered from side to side as it growled deep in its throat. The tail stilled and I knew it was going to charge.
Suddenly, Lanara was between me and the lion. "Down!" she ordered. I grabbed her and thrust her behind me, my feeble dagger between her and the beast; then came one of the most fantastic events of my life on Barsoom: the lion lay down.
"Let go of me," she cried. "I am in no danger. My mother has this power over Banths as well. They will not hurt me--will you, most beautiful of banths?" she crooned to the creature. I swear, he began to purr. She walked over to him and began to stroke his massive head, teasing him behind one ear with a careless caress. He yawned opening his gigantic maw, revealing rows of sharp incisors and molars, and licked her hand. I still could not believe her power over this animal, but she came to me and led me back to him and said, "Let him smell you. He will never hurt you; I have so ordered it." She smiled in a self deprecating manner. "I guess I am still good for something."
I was stunned not only by the Banth crashing back on top of me but finding that Lanara could command the animal and even make friends with it. I would never have tried to befriend a mountain lion back home knowing that their only interest in human beings was as prey.
Lanara set the Banth to watch our backs as she finished applying the patch and making sure the seal was secure. I leaped back onto the ship and pulled this most precious cargo up to stand beside me on the deck. When we were both safely back on board, she turned on me with suppressed fury, "How could you be so stupid? Attacking a full grown Banth with just a knife. You could have been killed, you moron. My great-grandmother's sorak is smarter than you." I received the image of a small creature that was a pet, pampered and useless save for the love it gave.
"I thought you were dead." I said. "If you were, I did not want to live." When I had finished this speech, I turned away and went to the cabin to collapse in despair at her censure. I do not know what Lanara did because I dared not look back.
A short while later, Lanara opened a valve from one tank to the other allowing the contents to balance in each tank. When the pressures were equalized, she closed the valves and released the anchor. We floated up but not far. Instead of flying a hundred feet in the air we floated only ten feet up. Unfortunately we were no longer capable of the extreme speeds because the ship was no longer as buoyant as before and floated too near the ground to chance running the ship onto the occasional outcropping of rock that studded the plain.
We flew on for several days, stopping at night and anchoring the ship to rock or bush to keep the flyer from drifting off course during the night. Lanara slept in the cabin and I on the deck. Slowly we came to a tacit agreement not to mention the event of the Banth or its aftermath.
Each night I lay awake marveling at the night sky which was so like my home and yet so different. The swift passing of the two moons left me breathless at their beauty and mystery. The stars seemed brighter and the air more crisp reminding me more of a night on a Montana mountain rather than one on the plains of Mexico. When I slept it was deep and restful. Each morning I sprang from the deck and ran for miles, skipping across the ground with leaps of twenty-five feet or more at a step. Thus I kept my body strong and by breath deep. I had seen men who did not run and fight loose their strength quite rapidly and I did not wish to join their ranks. Lanara wondered at my antics.
"No red warrior," she said, "would do what you do."
"If they did," I laughed, "they would not be so easily killed by the green men. I am nearly as strong as one of them."
"My grandfather is nearly as strong as you," she marveled. "but even he does not care to fight with the green men, saying it is mere luck that he has won so many battles with them."
"Luck is a factor not to be belittled," I replied, "but luck is not as good as a foundation of skill and stamina in battle. While someone who is weak can win a fight, it is unusual for hm to do so."
Lanara dropped her head, looking at the ground passing below. "I am lucky you came along when you did. Otherwise I would now be dead, dishonored beyond living." She turned her expressive eyes upon me and I basked in their admiration. She was a comely lass, but, I realized, not for me. Although she looked human, she was not. Her lips invited mine but I turned away. She was just too young and trusting. Had I kissed her I would have been no better than Du Mas.
As the sun rose behind us I perceived a flash of light reflecting from highly polished metal on the horizon. Drawing Lanara's attention to the light made her start in horror. "A Phundalian battleship," she cried in dismay. "Quickly, we must hide. They must not capture me."
I strung my bow and prepared to shoot. Lanara meanwhile had thrown the helm hard over and pushed the throttle as far forward as she dared. Behind us the battleship lumbered in our direction. Before us lay a small range of mountain. We could easily outrun the huge ship, traveling at twice the speed of which it was capable.
We neared the mountains and I thought we had escaped. We could hide in the canyons where they would never find us, but, as the ground became rougher, more undulating, we began to encounter obstacles we could not avoid at the reckless speeds we traveled.
The ship rocked as we skipped across a hillock, throwing both of us to the floor. As she fell luck would have its joke on us and her hand dragged on the altitude lever. The ship shot into the air, approximately thirty feet, silhouetting us against the morning sky.
Before Lanara had a chance to bring the flyer under control, the battleship erupted into activity. By the time we were again skimming along the ground again, the battleship's cannons were firing at us. Explosions rocked our ship as the shells landed near, tearing deep gouges in the sward. Then the guns fell silent. We rejoiced until a backward glance showed a half dozen two man flyers were pursuing us. The tiny ships were little more than a long board with a motor attached to the rear. The buoyancy tank was less than a hand span in depth while a small wind screen sheltered the pilot as he lay face down at the controls. The second man sat behind another screen between the pilot and the motor. A rifle in the sharpshooter's hand sent a bullet into the repaired tank, blowing a hole in it. Our ship reeled and plowed into the ochre sward.
Recovering quickly, I clambered into the cabin to retrieve my bow and arrows. Lanara quickly followed me an laid a hand on my arm. A thrill ran through me that started where her hand lay and ended in my heart. "Please, No," she begged. "Do not fight. If you hide they will not find you. No one can read your thoughts and they won't be able to sense you in your hiding place."
I hesitated, "But what of you?"
"I will not be harmed," she stated. "I am more valuable alive and unharmed. Besides you cannot rescue me from them if you are dead."
"They will not harm you?" I demanded.
She said they would not. Her last argument convinced me that the deception was the only way in which I could aid her. I could not leave her unprotected. Nodding, I allowed her to push me into a small cubbyhole which was disguised by a cooking plate on top. I heard her exit the cabin to stand on the deck.
Not being able to see what occurred in the world beyond my hiding place, I can only rely on my hearing for a record of the
events that transpired after I was incarcerated.
An amplified voice called for our ship to surrender and cease our attempts to escape. Lanara replied that, since the flyer's prow was buried in the dirt and the engines were currently inoperable if not permanently disabled, she would gladly comply with the gently worded request.
"Who are you," the voice responded, "that so ridicules the Phundahlian Navy?"
"My name is Lanara, Princess of Greater Helium," said the Princess.
"Why, then," the voice inquired, "are you flying a Dusarian ship then and doing so without the proper banners?"
"The ship was abandoned by its previous owners," Lanara responded, "who are dead, slain by a horde of green men who attacked the outpost where I was visiting."
"Stay where you are and we will retrieve your ship, Highness," the voice concluded The sound of a retreating engine revealed that one of the flyers had raced off to the battleship. Some time later the muted throb of the battleship's almost silent engines approached and a shadow covered our ship. Several sets of footsteps and the rattle of chains indicated we had been boarded and the ship was being tethered to the battleship. Winches began to retract the chains and our ship rose into the bowels of the Phundahlian ship. More rumbles, a clatter of closing doors and the smaller flyer was cradled in the hold.
Soldiers boarded the flyer and took custody of Lanara. Her next words nearly brought me out of hiding, angered as I was by their import. "You have no need to manhandle me. I am unarmed." Had it not been for a muted apology I believe I would have tried to slay the entire crew of the battleship.
A new set of arrogant footsteps announced the arrival of the captain. In response to his question Lanara replied, "I travel under my own colors and name or I do not travel at all. My name is Lanara and I am a princess of Greater Helium. This ship does not have any banners on it of any kind so how could I fly something I do not possess?"
"Enough," cried the captain. "Who is with you on board this ship?"
"Why, you, captain," she retorted. "You and your soldiers."
"Do not try my patience, woman," the irate officer growled. "Who flew the ship?"
I could feel Lanara draw herself up to her greatest height in indignation, a height that was pitifully short. "I did. You will find no one else aboard this ship," She paused for effect and resumed, "And you shall accord me the respect due my rank, captain."
"We shall see, your highness." The insult in his voice nearly drew me from my place of concealment. Truly it was difficult to hide in the presence of my enemies but to endure the insults to the princess was almost unbearable. "Send in the psychologists," he resumed. "We shall see if he can hide from our trained psychologists and sensitive mentalists." For a moment I thought Lanara had given my hiding place away but such was not the case for although I clearly "heard" her mind reveal my location, the captain and the others on board did not pick up her mental image of me in the disguised compartment.
Several mentalists boarded the flyer and scanned the ship from one end to the other but, even though they each and severally passed my hiding place, not one of them penetrated the secret of the compartment where I lay hid. Eventually they all left taking Lanara with them.
Later, having assured myself by both mind probe and acute listening that none had stayed on the ship, I emerged from my hiding place. I was struck by the immensity of the hold of the battleship. Dominated by great tanks arranged along the sides of the hold, the area where our ship lay berthed contained numerous racks of bombs of various sizes.
Massive cannons were set between the tanks with ports in the walls of the hull to allow the cannons to shoot at many degrees of elevation and almost from the front of the ship to the stern of the vessel providing a nearly impenetrable screen of shells when under attack. An ingenious array of conveyors and lifts sent shells directly from the magazine to the breech of the cannon, thereby insuring a nearly constant rate of fire.
At all times of the day and night the cannons were manned with a crew of three, a gunnery officer who directed the firing of the cannon from information relayed to him by his counterpart on the bridge, a loading officer, it needing but one man to insert the shells into the breech, his main job being to direct the machinery to shift the flow of shells from one cannon in his battery of three to another. The third man was the firing officer, who triggered the cannons as they drew to bear. Not surprisingly the cannon batteries may at times of need be aimed, loaded, and shot by one man and each man in the shooting team is trained to do just that. Even if two of the three soldiers are killed the cannons are not put out of action. Much of this information was gathered by observing, in the days that followed our capture, the gunnery crews performing daily practice runs.
Much of my knowledge of the battleship and of its operation was gleaned from the minds of the crew as I wandered the ship, hiding at the approach of anyone, At one time I discovered the battleship had a spy from Toonol on board. It happened thus: I was searching for clothes t change into as my apache clothing would be a dead give away should anyone discover me. I found a little used store room filled with harness and weapons of Phundahl. Appropriating a suit, I bundled my clothing together and was returning to hide it on our ship. Now that I had the proper uniform, I was able to wander about the ship openly, by watching the crew going about their business, I was able to learn how to return salutes and to maintain the appearance of a guard, messenger or ordinary airman. I was unable to enter the upper levels because the officers would have stopped me in a moment for the officers areas are off limits to any but the captain and his closest officers and their orderlies which are well known to each officer. Ordinary soldiers are stopped and questioned unless they are accompanied by an officer or are standing guard.
As I entered the engine room preparing to cross the expanse into the hold, a large crew of men were caring for the motors that pump the miraculous eighth ray from tank to tank and the machines that power the propellers. An Odwar of the engineering rank stopper a worker from closing a valve.
"Never," he ordered the crewman who stood at rigid attention, "Never close this valve while the engines are running. This valve controls the flow of the lubricant to the engines. If the steady flow is interrupted for a long enough period of time the engine will seize and we will not be able to navigate." The officer stopped speaking but his thoughts continued with the knowledge tat if the lubricant was stopped and the engines not stopped the engines would heat up until the engines exploded.
As I walked away I sensed a feeling of deep satisfaction. The emotion flowed from a crewman who was ostentatiously busy polishing an already shiny piece of brass work. He looked up and saw me for the first time. A flash of panic slid across his mind but he steadied himself, withdrawing under his mind block so I could read nothing, but before his shield had slipped into place, his errant thoughts revealed he was a spy for Toonol, a companion city to Phundahl, separated from the other metropolis by the Toonolian Marshes, but connected by the institution located therein.
The transfer of information took much less time to occur than it does to relate, but a moment had passed before he threw his eyes to the side and marched off. Pondering how I could make use of this information, I never the less continued my search for clews to the location of Lanara's quarters on board ship. It was soon clear that her chambers were near the captain's cabin, Searching each mind that I approached, I obtained a general idea of the placement of her quarters but only form the officers, from the crewmen I gleaned information on how to repair our ship and to fill the tanks.
Bringing this new information to bear on the problem of our ship was not as difficult nor fraught with dangers as I had anticipated. I even enlisted the aid of the spy by the simple pretext of requiring assistance.
As I lay under the ship applying the sealant and patch to the hole in the buoyancy tank, the spy leaned near my ear and said, "You are a most unusual man, I can read not one thought from your mind. I am well trained in the art of mind scanning, How is it you are a blank to me?" His knife at my throat convinced me he wanted a straight forward and honest answer. I was silent for a while. His brow creased in puzzlement and concern, I felt his anxiety that I had revealed nothing when his blade nicked the skin of my neck.
"You cannot read my mind," I said. "I have complete and native screens. No one can read my mind." I finished applying the patch, smoothing the edges to ensure that the repair had no leaks. I turned my head to him and stared into his eyes. "You need not worry, I have known you are a Toonolian spy since first we met. You have no enemy in me. In fact, our common enemies are everyone on board this ship. Everyone, except Lanara, the princess of Greater Helium."
"And why is she not my enemy?" he asked. "I have heard that the captain wants to bring her to Phundahl to the Jeddara to wed the princess to a lackey of her court. This would establish an informal treaty between the twin cities of Helium and Phundahl. This must not happen. Xaxa, the Jeddara of Phundahl would then use that treaty to invade Toonol."
"That eventuality we must not let occur,' I said. "both for the sake of Toonol and of Helium, we must save her."
"Agreed," the spy nodded. "We can escape the battleship in this flyer if we immobilize their engines and disrupt the shell loading conveyors."
"Good," I responded. "I'll fill the buoyance tanks while you disrupt the loading conveyors."
As the spy snuck away, I uncoiled one of the filling tubes and connected it to the repaired tank. When I turned on the pump three mechanics stiffened to attentive poses. Then they dropped their tools and converged on my location.
"Stop," cried one. "You are not authorized to bleed off any eighth ray from this ship."
"That I may not," I replied. "This flyer must be repaired immediately and made air worthy."
"Where is your authorization," the crewman demanded.
"Here is the only authorization I need," I stated, tapping the hilt of my sword. "Now leave unless you intend to contest my right to proceed."
Their rage at my temerity was a near physical thing. They drew their swords and attacked. So quick was my response that my sword was buried in the heart of the speaker before their swords had cleared their scabbards.
What followed then was as ferocious a fight as ever I had seen, much less participated in. Back and forth across the hold I raced, retreating one moment and attacking another. I was unable to gain an advantage because both warriors were excellent swordsmen. Ripost, parry, slash or thrust, all were only partially successful. Each of us was bleeding from a score of wounds each when one of the men slipped in a patch of blood on the floor. His moment's inattention purchased him a quick trip to the happy hunting ground. Unfortunately it cost me a deep wound in my side as the other slashed me across the ribs. Surprisingly the cut lay across my ribs and not between them or I would not be relating this history.
Just as he drew back his sword to thrust it into my body, the spy slid between us and parried his sword stroke. A few quick cuts of his own and the Phundahlian was gathered to his ancestors.
Turning quickly, the spy shut off the pumps. "This was unfortunate," he said. "We must get rid of the bodies and finish this rescue quickly. They will soon be searching for these men, especially this one: he is the chief engineer."
The Toonolian opened an inspection hatch in the floor near the ship's keel, revealing a drop of several thousand feet to the dead sea bottoms below. Dragging the bodies over to the opening was but the work of a moment and the remains were consigned to the silence of the desert. As he closed the port after the last body had disappeared, the spy said, "I'll go sabotage the engines, you get the princess. Meet me back here."
Nodding, I raced away, striding up the ramps as if I were on important business, all the while calling, mentally, to Lanara. As I neared the upper decks, the princess replied with a powerful, directed thought. I immediately knew where she was and how to arrive unseen.
Rounding a corner, I ran into a guard at the captain's door, who called for me to halt and identify myself. Only a lie would save me but I could think of none so I fell back on the truth. "Someone has killed the chief engineer and is sabotaging the engines." Just as I said that the engines rumbled to a stop. The captain swept open his door and demanded to know what was amiss. The guard repeated my story and the captain cursed roundly, running down the corridor, calling for us to follow. The guard took off after him and I followed, but only as far as Lanara's suite. Breaking open her door only caused a momentary pause in our flight.
Lanara ran into my arms and we stood for a minute which I could have wished an eternity, her lithe form felt so good in my caress. However, we had no time for such displays.
Taking her hand in mine, I led the way back to the hold. By the time we arrived klaxons were blaring out a warning. A loud speaker announced battle stations. Men raced in orderly confusion to their guns and duty stations.
The spy was on our ship and waved us aboard, calling for me to open the bay doors. Lanara ran up the ramp onto the airship. I paused to throw the lever that opened the bomb bay. Within seconds the airship was suspended over the open bay connected to the ship only by four chains, two aft and two forward, and by the gangplank. I was about to go to the ship when an officer sprang to close the bay doors. I met him in combat and I slew him quickly, not daring to take time to test myself with him. The spy called for me to jump aboard for the ship was going to blow up soon.
I leaped, easily clearing the twenty-five foot distance. Lanara released the mooring chains as I cleared the gunwales and the airship dropped out of the belly of the battleship. No sooner had we emerged from the shadow of the battleship than the cannons began to fire on us. After only two rounds of fire from each gun they began to fall silent, then each cannon, in order, exploded. The spy leaned over and shouted above the whistle of the passing air, "The cannon doesn't shoot very well with a shell stuck into it reversed." He laughed.
Suddenly the battleship ruptured, its engines tearing off the rearmost third of the ship as they disintegrated into massive fireballs.
The ship rose at the stern as the weight of the engines was lost. But it rose for only a short time then the buoyancy tanks ruptured as the burning ship heated them. And the doomed vessel plunged to the ground nearly burying itself in the soft sward of the dead sea bottom.
As we were congratulating ourselves on a clean escape, shrapnel from the dying ship peppered ours.
Lanara screamed and I felt a blinding pain flow from her. Catching her before she could sink to the deck, I discovered a wound in her stomach. As I tried to stanch the bleeding, I could tell from the dismay in both of their minds that the wound was serious if not fatal.
"Lanara," I cried. "Do not leave me, my princess." A flash of emotion came from each, one of pleasure mixed with pain, one of puzzled surprise from the spy.
I had little time to spend on trying to understand the odd reactions of each of my companions to my plea for Lanara to live. Her pain was increasing and her breath grew short, gasping. The Toonolian knelt beside us as I cradled Lanara's head against my breast. The spy had a cup of wine and a packet of powder in his hands.
"Your highness," he said. "I have some Kavassa. Will you drink it?"
Lanara nodded. He quickly poured the powder in the small cup and swirled it around until the medicine dissolved. He raised the cup to her lips and she gulped the liquid down in a manner not unlike a thirsty man guzzles down cool water. She sighed and slowly went limp in my arms. I feared the worst until I felt her breath against my cheek. She slept. At least her pain was gone, held in abeyance by the strong medicine. I bound her wound tightly, packing a wad of cloth into the hole to prevent further loss of blood.
We laid her gently on a pad in the darkened cabin. I covered her with silken sheets and fur blankets to prevent a chill. As I stood over her tiny body, numb from the shock of her injury just as we escaped form the Phundahlian ship, the Toonolian came to stand beside me. "You love her," was all he said, a statement rather than a question.
Still, I nodded as I affirmed his words. "More than life itself. And now she is dying and I can do nothing for her."
"Do not despair yet," said the Toonolian. "We may yet save her. Have you ever heard of Ras Thavas?"
I indicated my ignorance of what or whom he spoke.
"Ras Thavas is Barsoom's greatest surgeon," he said, "a Toonolian in the best manner. He is over a thousand years old and guided by the principle of self interest as are all Toonolians. If anyone can save her, he can."
"Then let us go to him," I cried. "Waste not another moment."
The red man sped to the controls where he set the compass heading for the Toonolian Marshes. The ship flew over the dead sea bottoms like an arrow, straight and true, but unlike the arrow, did not slacken its speed nor fall to the earth.
Having nothing to do during the flight, I sat at Lanara's side remembering her bright smile and twinkling eyes. Her dark tresses spread about her head like a halo. The white man has a name for such goodness and beauty: he calls such perfect creatures angels.
Within a day we reached the Great Toonolian Marshes. Below us the verdant swamp teemed with life, including numerous six-limbed creatures that were pale white with a tuft of hair on the head, otherwise they were hairless like most animals on Barsoom. The Toonolian called them White Apes. The creatures roared at us as we flew overhead. "Beware those creatures," my companion warned, "They are more ferocious than the green man and twice as strong."
Our ship flew to a landing zone just outside the central plaza but still inside the great wall that surrounded the compound which included not only a tower that loomed over the island but also a massive and elaborately decorated building even larger than the hanger in the Dusarian fort where I had spent my first days upon Barsoom. Jeweled walkways that shone with unearthly colors connected the gardens and the buildings. Numerous and strange trees and bushes with fantastically shaped blooms bordered the walkways. Orchards of trees laden with exotic fruits were ranged beyond the buildings and many slaves scurried about on mysterious errands. All in all the compound was beautiful in its barbaric splendor.
After my companion identified himself our mission, we were allowed to disembark. A number of slaves were led by a large man who, though he had the look of a warrior with a broad chest, massive thews, and calloused hands, never the less, had the grace of movement and the soft touch of a woman. His voice was high and thin, though his words, gentle as they were, struck terror in the hearts of the slaves.
"I am Yamdor, first assistant to the great Ras Thavas. What would you have of him?"
"I am Kor Bal, father to your airship's captain," my companion identified himself. "We have an injured woman who will die without help only Ras Thavas can provide."
"Show her to me," the giant commanded. Kor Bal led the was into the cabin where Lanara lay covered by her silks and furs. Upon seeing Lanara's wounded body, Yamdor's eyes softened and he gently stroked her hair. Noting our eyes on him he jumped up and gruffly ordered the slaves to bear her to the laboratory.
The slaves moved quickly but without wasted motion and with a gentleness I had not expected in a race of warriors. Slaves do not normally perform their tasks willingly and with alacrity.
As the entourage descended the ramp to the ship, Yamdor stopped one of the slaves and motioned him to stay. I might have thought more of this action had not Lanara moaned. All else faded from my thoughts as I soothed Lanara, caressing her brow and something a stray lock of hair from her face. I must have transmitted something of my turbulent feelings foe she pressed the hand which held her own even though she was still unconscious. I pressed the delicate digits in return as we marched through the scientist/surgeon's compound. I paid scant attention to the scenery as we passed for all my attention was centered on the woman who meant more to me than life itself. Doors, hallways, anterooms or corridors, it was all the same to me, I wished them all to perdition for keeping Lanara from assistance for her wound.
Soon Lanara's body was laid out on an ersite slab, only one of a hundred which lined the walls of the laboratory. Each slab had two glass bottles above it and surgical tools hanging on racks below. At the head of each slag hung a clipboard with what looked like a description of and a history for each occupant of the slab. Nearly two-thirds of the slabs were occupied by what seemed a series of corpses, some neatly dismembered or mutilated in some manner. The room sent shivers down my spine. Yamdor excused him self after ordering us not to leave the room. He then exited the chamber through the door through which we had entered .
Kor Bal leaned to me and whispered, "Fear not. They will not rise and hurt you."
"I am not afraid," I responded. "But I have a deep revulsion for the display of the bodies for any to see, both male and female. If this is for your honored dead, why has the body been left to rot?"
Yamdor must have heard, for he stopped as he entered the room, indicating the bodies. "They will not rot, being preserved by the master's skill and potions. Nor are they honored dead, stranger. They are simply the remains of the organ sources for the Great Ras Thavas' experiments and organ replacements." He pointed to one body, "This one supplied a heart for the
Jeddak of Toonol when his was injured in war." He passed us in a hurry, again reminding us not to leave. He continued out of the chamber by a door in the opposite wall.
Then followed a time of waiting. It seemed as if hours passed before a door opened in the farthest wall and in strode the most amazing sight I had yet witnessed on Barsoom. A small, wizened man with an enormous head which was hairless save for small tufts just above each ear. Over his eyes lay a pair of spectacles which supported multiple layers of lenses which could be swung into place or away so as to change the refractive and magnifying powers of the eyeglasses. His limbs were emaciated and his ribs lay close to the surface under the thin skin that covered his sunken torso. It was probably his thinness that gave his head such an appearance of disproportion. He spread his arms wide and two slaves came and coated his arms with a spray from bottles they carried on their backs. He waved his arms to dry them. Then he spoke with a voice as aged as he seemed.
"What have we here?" he asked but he obviously did not require an answer for he bent to examine Lanara, cutting away her bandage with scissors he took from an enormous pouch at his side. He gently probed the wound. I say gently for he did not pull or press her skin with more force than necessary to examine the wound but he treated her as if sh was nothing more than a pile of clothing through which he was searching for a shirt. "Hum," he snorted. "A simple bowel re-sectioning. There is nothing unusual in this injury. I can gain nothing from this one. Still," he stroked his jaw with one withered hand, "how much do you want for her?"
"She is not for sale," I cried, scandalized at the thought of anyone owning this exquisite woman.
The surgeon peered at me as if I was a particularly nasty bug that was brought to his attention, He frowned as he stared at me, his eyes closing to the meerest of slits. He shook himself and inquired querulously, "Then what do you want?"
Kor Bal interrupted, "We wish for you to repair her, restore her to health."
"How much are you willing to pay?" inquired the scientist.
"I have no money!" I was scandalized by his mercenary attitude to his vocation. Nowhere I knew on my home world would a surgeon ask about payment before plying his trade on the patient in a time of life endangerment. Ras Thavas turned away, "You waste my time, young man."
"Wait, Master Surgeon," called Kor Bal. "I have some money with me. Will you keep her until I return with the rest of the funds required for the operation?"
The old man rubbed his hand over his smooth pate. "Yes," he replied. "I suppose I could, but do not take too long." The slaves sprayed his arms again as he ordered, "Give Yamdor the money."
With that the surgeon made two slits in her arms, one in a vein and one in an artery. He connected two tubes to the slits. The one in the vein led to a globe filled with a clear liquid, the other, the one in the artery, led to an empty globe. When he was sure the connections were properly made he threw two switches which started two pumps, one to draw Lanara's blood from her arteries and the other to replace the red life giving liquid with the clear fluid.
For an instant I thought he was murdering her, for I was sure the body cannot survive without blood. Kor Bal laid a reassuring hand on my shoulder. "I have heard of this method of preserving life in severely wounded people. She is alive but her life signs have been suspended by the action of the clear liquid. Had Ras Thavas not preserved her with his fluids, she would now be dead."
Kor Bal dropped the purse from his belt pouch into Yamdor's hands. He asked how much was required for the surgery. Ras Thavas named an amount that made Kor Bal wince, but he nodded and led me back to our ship.
I waited until we had emerged from the building before seeking an answer to the question that burned in my brain, "How much does he want?"
Kor Bal sighed, "He must have some idea of her value. He wants twice what your airship is worth."
"Is that a lot?" I asked.
"More than I make in a year as the Jeddak's chief spy," he admitted. "And I am not considered a poor man."
Near despair gripped me. "What am I to do, then?" I mourned.
"We shall see," he said. "Come, I will take you to my house and we will consider our options."
With that Kor Bal led me across the garden to the airship's landing site.
At least Lanara still lived. And I would find a way to restore her to life and to her family. This I swore by all I held holy.
In the House of Bal Zak
Upon exiting the building Kor Bal's face broke out into joyous smiles and clasped the hands of a tall, handsome man who wore the specialized harness of a man who works with flyers, extra pouches and pockets were filled with tools of strange design and unfathomable purpose.
"Bal Zak, my son," he cried. "Kaor."
The burly aviator who stood a head taller than his sire returned the Barsoomian greeting with restrained but none the less heartfelt enthusiasm. "Honored father, I did not expect to see you for a while. I heard you were investigating rumors of the construction of a super-dreadnaught by the Phundahlians."
"Truer words were never spoken, my son," he replied. "His majesty, Vobis Kan, sent me to discover the veracity of the rumor. And, not surprisingly, the Phundahlian navy had built the super-battleship. With the liberal application of bribes I was able to join the crew as an engineer. With the help of this fellow," here Kor Bal indicated me, "I was able to destroy the dreadnaught. However, his companion was injured in the escape when the battleship lost its structural integrity."
"Will he be all right?" the son inquired.
"She is currently suspended in Ras Thavas' laboratory. He only awaits the application of sufficient lubrication to his palm before he begins his repair work on her internal organs." Kor Bal made a strange gesture holding his hand palm up and rubbing his thumb across his fingers in a small circular motion."
How much does he require?" asked Bal Zak.
Kor Bal repeated the amount and his son pursed his lips in surprise. "Was she injured so severely, then?"
His father shook her head. "No, I think he knows something of her value."
Bal Zak raised his eyebrows, then lowered them as he said, "Wait. Let me offer you some refreshment."
The walk to Bal Zak's quarters was made in silence as we stepped over the glistening stones and between the sweet scented trees. The shadows were growing longer, soon the swift falling night of Barsoom would be upon us. Bal Zak led us up the ramp to his domicile on the roof of the airship hanger. He poured wine for himself and his father, I having declined to imbibe.
"What will you do, Father?" the aviator inquired.
"I do not know," his father said. "We must have money or Ras Thavas will not operate. But, I do not know where to look for the funds."
"Perhaps the Jeddak might provide some," his scion offered. "as a reward for a job well done. Although I have heard it rumored he has become more parsimonious of late."
"True," his father returned. "Still, he is a possible source of the money needed."
"Perhaps I could work." I began.
Kor Bal turned to me and interrupted, "Do not worry about that at this time. I will not abandon you."
"Nay, good friend," I interjected. "You misunderstand me. I will not be kept, my substance supplied by the grace of another. Lanara is my responsibility and I must pay our way. I must and shall work to support us."
"Truly, my friend," Kor Bal apologized. "I meant no disrespect and we shall find employment for your special talents. But first I must report to the Jeddak the results of my mission," Kor Bal rose form his seat and placed the goblet on the table. "And so, my son, we must part company again."
I came to my feet as well, thanking Bal Zak for his hospitality.
The burly giant stepped between us and the door, gesturing for us to stop. "I am afraid you must suffer my hospitality at least until the morning. The Jeddak has instituted a curfew. No one is allowed to fly in the city after sundown."
While we had been distracted, the shadows had merged together an became night. I glanced out the window and confirmed that the sun had indeed set and the smaller moon was inching its way across the night sky. The admission of fatigue on the part of Kor Bal brought a similar response from me. Bal Zak offered dinner but I begged their pardon and retired to our ship for rest, leaving the two men to their memories, plots and plans.
The reason for the jeweled walkways was revealed when I stepped out of Bal Zak's door. The muted light from the moon was captured and distributed by the jewels set in the pathway, providing sufficient illumination to traverse the compound, The heavy scents from the trees reminded me of home even though the odors were exotic in the extreme.
As I neared the hangar I spied a figure in the shadows. Without pausing I continued on to the ship, wondering why we were being watched in secret. After I passed into the darkness of the cabin on the ship, I spun about and peered into the darkness. Soon I saw the shadows disgorge their inhabitant and he slunk away. Even in the moonless night I could see him cross the promenade, glancing backward often. Immediately I was after him in full pursuit. Being in another's country I practiced my stealth craft to its fullest, hugging a wall, seeking a shadow and freezing into immobility as the situation required. We proceeded for a distance until he was accosted by another, one I recognized, Yamdor. Why was Ras Thavas having us watched? I slid closer until I could hear the whispered conversation. I was so near I could have counted coup on both, but I did not, needing to hear their words more than I needed to prove I was still a warrior.
The spy bowed to Yamdor and reported Bal Zak and Kor Bal were in the former's quarters and that the other was in the ship.
"You were not discovered?" Ras Thavas' assistant inquired.
"No, master," the slave responded. "They are unaware they are being watched."
"Are they still being watched?" demanded the giant.
"Yes, Master," the slave cringed under the assistant's eyes. "I have three others watching them, one for each subject."
"Very well, do not disturb them" the master slave commanded. "I will need a flyer tomorrow. Come, Ras Thavas will give you the necessary passes and forms to prepare the Vosar for my use."
With that the two fell into step and marched away from me. I could not understand why we were being watched other than a natural desire to keep the visitor away from places sacred and secret. Shrugging off the uneasy feeling my encounter had left me, I returned to the ship in the same manner in which I had come. I noted the three watchers as I passed them. They were without skill. Had this been a raid, I would have been able to silence all three without a sound.
I smiled to myself as I boarded the ship for the second time that night, but not without disquiet. I was struck with the sense that something was amiss. There was nothing out of place and all seemed to be as we had left it, but the foreboding did not diminish. Finally I examined the bundle of clothing and possessions brought by Lanara for her wedding and transported back with us. Someone had opened it and searched the contents. Only one thing was missing, a small medallion Lanara had shown me with its symbols for the royal house and for the city of Greater Helium. However, I could not remember seeing the medallion after our confrontation with the Banth. Perhaps she had lost it then or mayhap someone we had met after that incident had taken it with the thought of using it to discover Lanara's identity. Except for its value as metal the medallion was of no use to anyone not of the royal house of Helium. What had happened to it? I knew not and, not knowing the importance of the medallion's disappearance, set the puzzle aside. That night I slept in the bed that had cradled her perfect form. From this small act I gained solace for my tortured soul.
Late in the night the muted clatter of a flyer being released from its moorings woke me. The sound was becoming familiar and I paid no heed to the incident, turning over and resuming my slumbers.
On To Toonol
In the morning, I sought out Kor Bal who was still in his son's quarters sharing breakfast with his son. They invited me to join in the meal, which consisted of hard biscuits, a form of cheese and a brew which they assured me was not wine or spirits of any kind. Soon we were trading thoughts of our plans and enjoying a delicious repast. Bal Zak happened to complain that a ship had been launched in the night, ordered by Ras Thavas. I noted that Yamdor had ordered a ship to be made ready for his use today.
"If it was Yamdor who left last night," Bal Zak mused, "then he should have arrived just as the sun cleared the horizon, lifting the curfew." He rubbed his chin. "I wonder why he left so early? It is unusual, indeed, for the chief slave of Ras Thavas to leave the compound, especially that early."
"Which reminds me," Kor Bal noted, draining his mug of the wine therein. "I must be leaving soon if I am to make my report today."
"Never fear, Pater," his son remarked. "I shall have you in the city before the sun reaches its zenith. You may leave your ship here. It shall not be disturbed and you will not have to store it in the city which has become rather expensive of recent times."
Soon the three of us were passing over the Toonolian Marshes, listening to the screams of the animals below whose peaceful existence was disturbed by our passage, silent though it was, the miraculous motors of Barsoom being nearly silent in their operation and the loudest noise being the propellers as they cut the air. The swamp gave way to moss covered plains which spread to the horizon.
In the distance lay the first city of Barsoom I had seen. The huge, walled city covered many square miles. A small number of towers dominated the landscape of the city. These towers, I was soon to discover were landing stages for the flyers. I have since discovered that Toonol is not a great aerial city having relatively few flyers but my first view of the air traffic above the metropolis made me wonder how the aviators avoided crashing into each other. Later I found out they traveled in certain directions at certain levels only. So all flyers heading south flew lower than those heading west.
Bal Zak skillfully guided the Vosar up to one of the majestic towers, positioning the ship so the nose of the vessel was near the mooring rings. An attendant caught the mooring line I threw to him at Bal Zak's command. Kor Bal manned the winch which drew the airship close enough for the gangplank to be secured to the towers platform. Two arms then closed around the ship cradling it to prevent damage from the shifting wind.
As the Toonolian spy was preparing to disembark, I drew him aside and requested he not mention me in his report; I did not desire any extraneous persons, especially one high in the government, to know of my existence. Reluctantly he agreed, but before he left he handed me a small silver cylinder with screw on caps at each end. "Before I go, my friend, Bal Zak and I discussed your need for employment. Considering your special talents, we both agree Gor Hajus would be the best employer for you. In this cylinder is a message introducing you and asking him to hire you."
"He is such a friend to you?" I queried.
"No," he laughed. "Gor Hajus and I do not travel in the same social circles."
"Then how do you know him?" I asked.
"I know him by reputation only," Kor Bal commented. "He is reputed an honorable man despite his occupation."
"What is his occupation?" I demanded to know.
"I keep forgetting," Kor Bal laughed. "You would not know of Gor Hajus, the Assassin of Toonol."
Handing the cylinder back to Kor Bal, I stated, "I will not work with a wanton slayer. Such behavior is not honorable."
"Wait, my friend," interrupted Bal Zak. "There are two kinds of assassin. One works under cloak of darkness and plies his trade with poison or dagger. The other challenges his target with witnesses and honor. I have never heard any rumor of anything base or ignoble about Gor Hajus."
With that assurance I had to be satisfied. Accepting the cylinder once again, I memorized the directions to the house of Gor Hajus, the Assassin.
The house would have been easy to find had I been able to read the names of the streets. As it was I got lost almost immediately. I stumbled around the city until nearly dark, asking strangers if they knew where the assassin lived. I was able to reach the house by following the directions provided by some which feared him and others who avoided and, surprisingly, by some who were in awe but not afraid. Each gave detailed instructions but the ones that helped most were the ones that used landmarks as the basis of their directions.
As I paused outside the door to his house, a man pulled back into the shadows. Thus by small acts are major changes in one's life are begun. The man's movement brought him to my attention. Had he not stirred but had held his position without moving I should not have noticed him and he would have completed his dastardly deed and I would have failed in gaining employment. But he licked his lips and fingered his pistol. I could not read his mind; his terror was so great, but fear and greed battled in his thoughts for supremacy.
The furtive watcher's attitude changed: now fear was in the ascendant. My questing eyes saw his center on a man approaching the door to the house that was my destination. The new arrival paced with a stride that reminded me of a mountain lion, strong, silent, prepared. But this time his mind was preoccupied. As he passed the lurker's place of concealment,
the other extracted his pistol from its holster and leveled it at the newcomer's back. The cowardice of the other's act angered me and I called out to the intended victim to beware of the danger at his back. He dove forward, rolling to his feet, drawing both sword and pistol as he rose. Their shots rang out almost as one with the assassin's gun sending its bullet wildly into the wall behind the newcomer who, even though he was thrown to the ground by the blast, placed his shot squarely in the face of his foe.
Scarcely had the dust settled when soldiers dropped from the sky wearing a weird belt with wings at the waist and a propeller behind. They accosted the survivor and demanded to know why he had murdered the poor man on the ground.
Drawing himself to his not inconsiderable height, the man replied the other had shot first.
"Have you any witnesses?" the soldier sneered, looking around to the gathered crowd. The assembled multitude looked away and disappeared into doors and alleys without saying a word. Only I remained. "Who are you?" the soldier demanded.
I told him my name and related I had just arrived in the city with Kor Bal. He considered this information for a moment. Before he had a chance to say more, I informed him the dead man had shot first. The soldier grunted and turned back to search the pouches of the grisly remains.
"Why?" The question caused me to turn and face the tall man. "You are neither family nor friend."
"I do not particularly admire cowardice," I admitted, "and could not allow him to shoot you in the back."
The red man waved the statement aside. "Not that. Why did you speak up for me?"
"Would not any honorable man?" I inquired.
He laughed, a hearty, deep chuckle that struck a chord in me. He waved his arms, indicating the empty street. "Do you see any others? Not many would wish to bring themselves to the attention of the Jeddak's guards not to come to the rescue of Gor Hajus."
"You are Gor Hajus?" I cried, amazed at the coincidence, although the only coincidence was not in finding Gor Hajus outside his house, but in the meeting with him just as an assassin was trying to kill him. Still he admitted later he had been attacked in just such a manner several times in his seven hundred year lifetime.
"Did you not know?" he inquired. "No, I can see you did not. I hope you will not regret this generosity on you part. I, for one, will never forget it."
Our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of several more men, one of which dropped immediately to his knees, beside the dead man's head. Taking the shattered skull in hand the officer closed his eyes and sat very still. We all stood spellbound. When I would have asked what the man did, Gor Hajus waved me to silence. The officer stood up and walked away.
The other soldiers opened a case they carried and revealed a bag with collapsible poles which opened into a frame. They placed the remains into the bag and closed it. Another sprayed the ground with a mist that covered the blood in a white foam. When it dried the stain was gone, leaving only dust which a third soldier sucked into a bag attached to a machine on his back.
"The man is a psychologist of the army. He just read the dead man's mind concerning the last thing he thought and did. I can only hope I did not shatter the brain too badly when I killed him."
The officer who first arrived on the scene listened to the report of the psychologist. He frowned but shrugged his shoulders. He approached us with the air of a wounded bear. "You are cleared in the death of the assassin from the house of Ran Dases, the Ulsio. You are free to go."
"Thank you, Dar Hake. May your days be blessed." Without waiting for a response Gor Hajus turned to me and invited me to enter his house as a guest.
I Find Employment
The assassin of Toonol led me into his house and offered me refreshments. I declined the wine in favor of water but ate some juicy and sweet fruits. When our repast was finished, some slaves removed the remaining food.
Gor Hajus leaned beck in his chair and scrutinized me. I returned the honor. He was lean and fit, no traces of dissipated living or of dissolution marred his regular features. Scars ran over his body, tracing memories of pain, agony and conflict.
Coming to a decision, he leaned forward. "I must again thank you for my life. I was not paying attention to the people around me, I was so close to home, I let my defenses slip," he explained. "But, now, what can I do to repay my life debt?"
"I am a stranger in Toonol," I admitted, "and am in need of a job which pays handsomely."
Obviously I had caught him off guard, for his eyes widened and one eyebrow arched. "Interesting," he said. "Just how did you come to be outside my house just when an attempt on my life was being made?"
"I was looking for you," I replied.
"Indeed." The word was laced with deep irony.
"Yes," I responded. "I started out this morning just before midday and arrived at your house at dusk."
"What took you so long to travel such a short distance?" he inquired.
"I cannot read," I admitted. "And this is the largest city I have ever seen. I got lost."
"From what place do you hail?" he demanded.
"I have lived all my life on Barsoom," I responded, "at a fort in the desert south of here." The limited truth was better than a lie or the entire truth which would not be believed.
"You say you need money. Why?" the assassin asked.
"A woman in my care was injured due to my negligence," I confessed. "She is now at Ras Thavas' compound awaiting surgery. I need to pay for that surgery."
"Why did you come to me?" he queried.
"Kor Bal recommended you to me as a potential employer," I said. "He gave me this to give to you." The cylinder left my hand and made its way into the hand of Gor Hajus.
He opened the cylinder and removed a sheaf of papers which he read intently.
I waited patiently until he finished. "Kor Bal recommends you highly," said the assassin.
He has honored me with his friendship," I said, "and has done me the kindness of praising me to others."
"His letter matches your story," Gor Hajus admitted. "I need someone who is discrete. Many times the business I discuss is such that I would not care to have it repeated elsewhere. I am also in need of a loyal bodyguard. Can I rely on you to keep my secrets?"
"On my honor," I replied my hand on my heart, "nothing I hear, see, or sense while in your employ will I reveal to anyone."
"How good are your shields?" he queried.
I assured him no one could read my mind.
"I can believe that," he commented. "I have been trying to penetrate your screens without success since you entered this room." Coming to a final decision. Gor Hajus rose and welcomed me into his service. Gor Hajus made a small gesture with his hand and a servant appeared from behind the arras behind his chair. She approached with diffident steps and knelt before him. He frowned, this behavior did not please him but it was the proper attitude of respect for a slave. "Arise, Villar Dee." he growled. "How many times have I told you not to kneel before me like I was a god. I am only a man."
"Pardon, Master," she murmured. While her position was one of servitude I could not believe she was truly afraid nor cowed by his presence. Still, that was none of my business.
"Rise, Villar Dee and look on my new bodyguard. He has already saved my life today and he is to be welcomed warmly to our household." She looked up at me with grateful eyes. "Take him to his quarters." Gor Hajus dismissed us with another wave of his hand.
Villar Dee rose and gestured for me to follow her. When we were in the hall she fell back until she was even with my shoulder. "We thank you for the gift of our master's life," she said.
I said nothing, not knowing how to respond to such praise.
Another servant passed us in the hall. As we passed I sensed a deep disturbance in him and glanced at his face to see his eyes burning into mine. Clearly he was not happy to see us together, especially as the girl had just taken my hand in hers to lead me around a corner. I arched my eyebrow in his direction and I had the pleasure of seeing his head drop and his eyes avoid mine. He hurried down the corridor passing out of sight into a side chamber.
"Who was he?" I inquired.
"His name is Thoon Dar," she said. "He fancies me. He is a freeman and I am a slave. That is all that protects me in this house from his advances. If My lord Gor Hajus should free me, I would be lost." She tittered. "But Thoon Dar has as much chance of winning me as a sorak has of flying."
I put the incident out of my mind and settled into the routine of the house. Gor Hajus had me stand guard behind curtains of such wondrous weave that they were nearly transparent from the alcove in which I stood but were opaque from inside the room. The chamber was plainly furnished with only a few chairs around a table of polished ersite.
Many were the times when I stood guard that Gor Hajus received visitors who offered him monies to slay this man or that, and sometimes even to kill a woman. These last offers he flatly rejected and of all the others he took only those for whom the victim needed killing. But most telling of all was he never killed someone from behind that man's back. Always he challenged the subject in public and with witnesses. In each of the five duels he fought, I was a witness to three, he bested the man with the weapon of choice of the subject. Gor Hajus was fast and strong and, best of all, honorable.
My duties were not onerous and I had much free time. I visited Kor Bal and learned the Jeddak had refused to loan the required funds. This depressed me but Kor Bal stated he had sent a further sum to Ras Thavas to ensure Lanara was kept safe. Villar Dee took to spending much of her off time with me and because I needed a teacher I allowed it, but I made sure no compromise was possible. Though she was a slave she acted like a princess. I treated her as such, and our company together taught me many things about Barsoom during the time I worked in the house of Gor Hajus.
Life in the House of Gor Hajus fell into a routine which both pleased and frustrated me. The pleasure was due to my acceptance as one of the household by almost everyone from Villar Dee to the cook who fed me fine foods, to the scullery maids. The only exception was Thoon Dar, who was surly and nearly rude to me. The frustration stemmed from my inability to advance my agenda to save Lanara. However, even though Villar Dee was my teacher , she was almost never alone. Everywhere she went, eventually, Thoon Dar would be found. His duties allowed him freedom of the household. The looks he threw my way would have set the desert at home aflame. But he never made any untoward advances to Villar Dee while I was about.
When Villar Dee had to leave the residence on errands, she was always accompanied by a guard, soon I was her companion of choice. Going to the armorer's or the clothing stores required the use of a unique transport system.
A traveler walked to a station and descended into a massive chamber underground. One end of the chamber was given to the purchase of a ticket to enter the coaches. The other end of the chamber had a set of rails leading from one wall to the other. On these rails rolled a capsule about eight feet long, with room for one passenger. After depositing a few oval coins in the hands of a gatekeeper, the traveler joined a line of other waiting people. A half dozen or so assistants help the traveler to enter the capsule and to enter the destination in on a dial with an arrow which is set to the name of the destination.
Villar Dee slipped into the first capsule in the line and I entered the next one which was just big enough to enclose me and my parcel. My capsule followed hers into the tube at the end of the small railway. As soon as the capsule was inside the tube the vehicle shot forward at incredible speed. A wild and breathless ride of mere moments terminated in another station almost an exact duplicate of the other save it had a different sigil denoting its location. The seal on the wall had a corresponding match on the dial on the pneumatic capsule.
My capsule arrived at the station as Villar Dee was being assisted from her own transport. We then ascended to the surface where she hailed a ground flyer which had two seats located behind a driver who asked our destination.
The flyer rose a foot off the ground and joined the swift moving traffic in the park like canyon between the residential compounds where women lounged on balconies overlooking the broad avenues listening to serene music. Save for the music the streets were unusually quiet to my earthly ears, for Barsoomians do not like loud noises save those of ear and combat.
Coming to a cross roads, our flyer rose about ten feet and sailed over the other traffic which floated on serenely unconcerned with our passage overhead.
Slipping out of the stream of traffic our flyer settled in front of the arms maker's foundry. Faint sounds of steel being forged into swords, daggers, and spears floated to our ears from windows high in the walls of the building. Entering, we found the noise slightly louder and Villar Dee had to raise her voice to be understood by the master armorer.
Raising her hand Villar Dee motioned me closer. From heavily oiled skins, I removed from soft folds a plain sword, which had a bent hilt. The armorer stepped forward and received the weapon.
He nodded, "I remember this one. The esteemed Gor Hajus bought this one from me fifty years ago." He peered at the bent metal with its cracked hilt. "How was this done?"
"In a duel with Tan Dur," the girl replied. "He blocked with the sword and Tan Dur's weapon shattered on the hilt."
"So Gor Hajus then finished him off," the armorer remarked.
"No!" she cried scandalized. "The great Gor Hajus backed off and drew his own short sword, indicating Tan Dur was to draw his own. Then Gor Hajus fought and killed him, in fair combat with weapons of similar grade. How dare you impugn the honor of Gor Hajus." It was obvious to me and to the armorer that this girl had some gentle feelings for her master.
"Nay, child," the armorer smiled. "What I meant was that, since it is you who brings this sword from Gor Hajus and not someone else, Gor Hajus must have been victorious in the duel. Nothing more. I would have expected no less from Gor Hajus. His honor is as well respected as his sword is feared."
Thus mollified, Villar Dee concluded her business with the armorer. After a few formal goodbyes we were again in the flyer and returned to the house of Gor Hajus where Villar Dee reported the sword would be repaired tomorrow.
As I turned to leave the audience chamber I spied Thoon Dar standing in the doorway, a look of calculation on his face. I put his look down to a continuance of his enmity towards me and forgot it. He came forward with a message that Kor Bal had come to visit.
Gor Hajus called him into the room. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit, Kor Bal?"
Kor Bal came forward and rested his hand on Gor Hajus' shoulder which action was repeated by Gor Hajus. The simple greeting done Kor Bal spoke, "I beg the pardon of Gor Hajus, but I came not to see him but my friend who stands beside you."
Gor Hajus stepped aside and waved a hand to me. Kor Bal and I touched hand to shoulders. "Your pardon, Gor Hajus," Kor Bal said. "What I have to say is private. Concerning the fate of a mutual friend."
"The girl," Gor Hajus said."So be it. Come, Villar Dee, let us leave these two alone." So saying he left, the girl following closely behind.
"My friend," Kor Bal started. "I have been unable to raise the funds for the operation. But I have other options I can try."
My heart sank when I heard this but a thought came to me. "Kor Bal, I may have a solution. Lanara is a princess of Helium and her family is royalty. I believe they would pay for her operation."
"True," he agreed. "I will send a courier to the family without delay and she should be restored within days." After a few more pleasantries concerning my welfare, Kor Bal returned to his house. I noticed the arras behind which I took up my guard duties shift slightly. I rushed to investigate but found no one in the alcove.
By the time we were through, my time to stand guard had come. I slipped behind the curtain and too my post. Though boring, my tour of duty was not without incidents to keep me awake. Cleaning servants entered the room and performed their duties with speed and silence save for Villar Dee who hummed softly under her breath. While she industriously polished the heavy ersite table another figure entered the room.
"Villar Dee," he muttered.
At the sound of her name the girl spun about, her hand on the small dagger at her waist. He came forward and set the wine tray down.
"Thoon Dar," she said. "You startled me." She removed her hand from the weapon and resumed her polishing of the already shiny table.
He said her name again. I did not like the sound of it, nor the aura surrounding his words like a fog. She pointedly ignored him. "Do not seek the attention of the stranger. I will not have it."
Villar Dee turned on him, hissing, "Who are you to make such a demand of me? You are neither father, husband, nor brother so to command my obedience. Leave now and we will speak no more of this."
"Do not spurn my advances with such arrogance, girl," he snarled. "Your position may not be as secure as you think. Accidents happen and those who are low may be brought high." Thoon Dar took a step forward.
I rattled my sword in its sheath and cleared my throat. Both of them jumped at the sounds. Thoon Dar backed away, saying, "Remember what I said. Do not seek him out." The servant turned on his heel and slunk away.
Villar Dee turned to the cloth behind which I stood and, bowing, said simply, "Thank you." She then gathered her cleaning solutions and left with stately honor and dignity, much as the first wife of our chief would have done.
Sometime later Gor Hajus entered, escorting two officers of the Toonolian Navy. They settled in the seats surrounding the
table. Gor Hajus opened the conversation with a quiet question.
The older of the two officers identified himself and inquired if the assassin were free to take on a commission.
"I would need to know," the assassin replied, "what this commission entailed before I could say whether or no I am free. I do have many obligations on my time."
"Quin Tul is the captain of the Kassar, the Jeddak's personal flyer," the man said. "If he were to die, I would then be next in line to the captaincy."
"Say not one word more, commander," growled Gor Hajus, rising to his feet. "It would be a waste of time, both yours and mine. I have no interest in providing you with an unearned promotion, most especially at the cost of another's life, most particularly on whom I like and respect. Who recommended me, by the way?"
The commander turned to his companion who suddenly complained of a parched throat.
Gor Hajus begged pardon for his lapse of manners and poured three drinks. As he handed the two men their drinks, I sensed a triumph in the subordinate. When Gor Hajus turned to retrieve his own goblet, the man opened his pouch and surreptitiously drained the goblet into its open mouth.
Again facing his guests Gor Hajus toasted the officers' healths. Instantly I saw the plot in its entirety in the subordinate's mind. Leaping from the alcove I swept the goblet from Gor Hajus' hand. The senior officer dropped his goblet at my sudden appearance. My sword was at the sub officer's throat as I cried, "Do not drink. The wine is poisoned."
The subordinate was a good actor for he stared at his goblet and threw it from him. But he had forgotten it held no wine and it careened dryly across the floor. "But you knew that before. That is why you poured the wine in your pouch," I informed him.
"How could I have know the wine was poisoned?" he demanded to know.
"Because, assassin," I replied with as much disgust as I could put in my voice. "You bribed Thoon Dar to poison it a and place the bottle in this room today. Your nefarious scheme would have succeeded had you not wished to see your greatest competitor die, but, by being here you allowed me to see your plot in your own mind. Who hired you?" I shouted at him.
The name of his employer flashed thorough his mind, Ptur Mel. Seeing the satisfaction in my eyes, the assassin shrieked in terror and drew his sword in one motion, slashing at my head with his strike.
So swift was his attack that I was almost taken by surprise. However, I blocked his stroke and replied with one of my own. Back and forth across the room we fought, trading slashes and thrusts, but, fast as he was, I knew where he intended to strike before he could throw the shot. Only his great speed allowed him to block my slashes and to deflect my thrusts, however, he tired and I spitted him on the end of my blade.
Gor Hajus admitted he had never seen such swordsmanship. "This man was my equal with the sword, if not my better. I never understood why he always chose poison to facing his victims. Still you have saved my life again. How may I reward you?"
"All I have ever desired" I announced, "is the restoration of the woman in my charge."
"Consider it done." He called a servant. "Send to Ras Thavas and pay for the surgery to restore the girl, Lanara, and have her sent here." He nodded to me and said, "I will return shortly." He left, clattering in his martial splendor.
Hours later, I heard he had fought a duet with Ptur Mel, which the other man came in a miserable second. Thoon Dar was not to be found in the house of Gor Hajus.
In the morning Villar Dee and I again left for the armorer's foundry. We descended to the pneumatic tube station where we entered the capsules. After her capsule had shot from the tube my capsule was drawn into the tunnel, but, just as my capsule was about to enter the tunnel, Thoon Dar leaped from the shadows and twisted the pointer on my capsule. His grin was the last thing I saw as the door shut behind me. Moments later I was in the next station.
Raging at his perfidy, I leaped from my capsule and across the station in three bounds. Tearing the occupant from the first capsule in the line, I apologized and threw coins as I twisted the pointer to the station near the armorer's foundry and leaped inside. Within moments I was exiting my capsule and searching for signs of Villar Dee. She was exiting to the surface, carried over the shoulder of Thoon Dar, who must have taken the capsule just after me. He dropped the girl onto the seat of the ground flyer and slipped into the driver's seat. At my shout he looked back in shock, but then grinned as he sped away.
I have never leaped farther not faster than I did that day, rage lent me greater strength than I thought I possessed.
Many are the times when I have seen men in moments of stress or anger exhibit such strength as is legendary, but never did I expect to be one such man. Even though Thoon Dar had a lead and a fast flyer. I had caught up with him in no more than a dozen leaps of nearly fifty feet each. He spun in shock as the flyer shuddered under the impact of my body. I pulled him out of the seat and broke his neck. Throwing the body aside, I tried to slow the flyer brown but, being unfamiliar with the controls all I could do was to steer clear of the buildings and the other traffic.
However, we were approaching the end of the avenue, the city wall, the street below us a blur of vehicles and pedestrians passing swiftly to our rear. I feared I would be unable to make the turn at the end of the street and Villar Dee and I would both be smashed in the ensuing wreck. Just as I was preparing to risk taking the girl in my arms and trying to leap to safety, a slim hand slid into sight from over my shoulder and flipped a switch. Immediately the motor died and the flyer settled to the ground.
For a moment we just stared at each other. Then she slid into the driver's seat and flew to the armorer's where we retrieved Gor Hajus' sword and finally returned to Gor Hajus' residence. We had barely finished explaining what took so long to retrieve the sword when a servant entered the audience chamber saying that Vobis Kan had summoned Gor Hajus to his palace.
Entering the spacious throne room which had an ornate throne set high on a dias at the center of the room beneath a dome of such height that one had to lean backwards to see the top Gor Hajus stopped and divested himself of all his weapons which he handed to me to keep.
"Kaor, Mighty Jeddak of Toonol, gracious Vobis Kan," he said. "How may I serve Toonol today?"
The massive man on the throne shifted his spare body, rising to pace the dias. "We are well pleased with you, our faithful citizen. It has come to our attention that one of our trusted counselors has been having secret dealings with the enemies of Toonol." Vobis Kan paused, expecting a comment from the man at the foot of the dias, but my employer maintained an attentive silence. Gor Hajus; lack of response sent a shiver of annoyance through Vobis Kan, but he could find no fault because he had not explicitly requested a response. "You may doubt this," the Jeddak continued, "But I have proof." He signaled to a troop of soldiers just outside a side door.
The men entered, two of the soldiers bearing most of the weight of a man who stumbled across the floor, collapsing at the feet of Gor Hajus. "This is one of the conspirator. Speak, man, you may yet win your life. Identify the man who sent you to commit treason against Toonol."
The man tried to speak but only mindless gibberish passed his lips. Clearly the man's mind had been destroyed as well as his body which showed myriad cuts and burns on his arms and legs. His fingers had been crushed and his arms dislocated at both shoulder and elbow, his eyes swollen shut, his jaw fractured. The man could not make a coherent thought and could not answer.
The Jeddak leaped down on the man, grasping his harness, dragging the torturer's victim to his feet, but the man's broken legs could not support him. He sank to his knees, screaming in terror. "Tell me his name! Who sent you?" the ruler of Toonol roared, froth forming at the edges of his mouth. "Who do you work for?"
At last the pitiful wretch had a question he could answer, His jaw worked painfully and his cracked voice formed two words, "Kor Bal." He sank down laughing horribly, pleased he could answer, perhaps the monsters would leave him alone now.
Before I could react, Gor Hajus threw up his hand. "In what way has Kor Bal offended?"
"The traitor held captive the princess of Greater Helium. We discovered this and have brought her under my tender protection. Kor Bal was wanting to sell her back to the Heliumites. This extortion of our good friends in Helium cannot be tolerated. I would be better if she wedded us and cemented an alliance between them and us." Vobis Kan ceased pacing and faced the assassin. "Kor Bal has been seen in your house. What was he doing there?"
Gor Hajus responded in even tones, "He sought monies for a surgery to revive the princess."
The Jeddak stared in shock. "You knew he harbored the Princess of Helium?"
"No, Mighty Jeddak," he replied. "I only knew he had a girl he wanted revived."
The Jeddak turned to a man standing near the dias. "He speaks the truth, mighty Jeddak," the man stated.
Vobis Kan smiled, "Then you will have no compunction in eliminating him for the good of Toonol?"
"Yes, I would," Gor Hajus stated. "Kor Bal is an honorable man who does not deserve to die."
The Jeddak frowned then his brow cleared. He walked down the ramp to Gor Hajus smiling with honeyed words on his lips and a dagger in his sleeve. He slipped an arm about Gor Hajus' shoulder. I sensed the wicked ruler's plan too late to stop the knife from slipping between Gor Hajus' ribs. He sank to the floor as I shouted to warn him. All my warning succeeded in doing was to bring me to the attention of the Jeddak who ordered me captured.
Never have I fought so hard as I fought that day nor against so many, but I slew many of the soldiers of the Jeddak before I was overwhelmed by sheer numbers, my sword lodged in the body of one man while my knife was ripped from my hand as another body fell away. I was struck behind the ear, sending me spiraling into oblivion.
I woke to find myself strapped to one of the cold ersite slabs in the infernal laboratory of the aged Ras Thavas. Beside me were the bodies of not only Gor Hajus but the entirety of his household including the weeping Villar Dee.
"Tears will do you no good," the scientist admonished the girl. "I am not one to be swayed by your emotional wiles."
"Be quiet, you Toonolian calot," she spat. "I care not what you do with me now that my beloved Gor Hajus is dead."
"Foolish girl," he retorted. "The Jeddak may have had Gor Hajus executed but I have repaired the wound and he has been preserved. I do not waste raw material. If needed, he, you and all the rest of his people may be used to give a heart, a limb or even an entire body to one of my clients or even myself one day."
"These people are innocent, Ras Thavas," I cried. "Why kill them?"
The wizened old man crept over to my slab where he examined the bindings that immobilized my limbs, bringing his thick spectacles close to the leather and buckles. "Innocent? No man is ever innocent from the hour he was hatched from his egg. Gor Hajus was executed for consorting with spies and traitors. You, yourself, were captured trying to assassinate the Jeddak Vobis Kan. All of the House of Hajus has been condemned as traitors."
"I did not try to assassinate Vobis Kan. All I did was to warn Gor Hajus the Jeddak was about to murder him."
Ras Thavas' eyes widened and he grew pensive but he threw off the thoughts, continuing as if he had not heard me speak:
"What you did, slave, is of no moment. The Jeddak's council condemned you and the rest," here Ras Thavas waved a negligent hand indicating the bodies surrounding me, "as traitors. I bought your bodies before they were damaged by execution, and am now going to preserve them."
With that the old man had an assistant spray his hands with a solution and took up a scalpel and made an incision in each of my arms to which he attached a tube. Each leading to a large round bottle, one filled with a clear liquid and the other empty. He pressed a switch. Struggle as I might, even with my extra ordinary strength I could only break one of the straps before a deep lethargy stole over my limbs and my eyes grew dim. I watched as my life's blood was pumped into the waiting bottle. I lay back and sank into that sleep from which I thought never to rise again.
Resurrection and Death
The first sounds to reach my ears was a low, steady, monotonous throb which I discovered to be the pounding of my heart. Moaning, I tried to sit up but a gentle hand softly, but irresistibly, back down on the slab. My eyes reacted badly to the light causing me to squint against the glare. Slowly the bright light faded and objects became clearer. One large object in particular leaned over me and called out my name.
Poor Bal Zak was lucky, my fist swung in a steep arc, having broken free of the restraining strap, and caught him on the chin. Had he been Ras Thavas or if I had truly been myself, he would have been dead. Instead my feeble blow did little more than daze him. Other hands, weaker hands, replace his and pressed me back again. Soothing words from feminine lips caught my ear. Calling my name, Villar Dee was telling me everything was fine.
Slowly life returned to my body, which ached in every joint as if unused for years. Stretching my arms eased the pains which soon vanished as my warmed blood re-entered my veins. I looked up at the bottles above me and the fluids were again being exchanged with the preserving solution being pumped out as my lifeblood was pumped in.
When the bottle was empty of my blood, Bal Zak removed the tubes after shutting off the pump. He placed two pieces of tape over the holes in my arms, saying, "This should keep you from infection." Villar Dee came forward and supported my weakened body as I sat, staring at the crowd surrounding me. The house of Hajus was well represented by the people who had been revived. I searched the faces for Gor Hajus but he was nowhere to be found.
"Be calm, my friend," said Bal Zak. "He is well. A Jasoomian called Vad Varo had restored him and Gor Hajus has promised to help him; but, before he left on the quest Gor Hajus had Vad Varo teach me how to restore you and the rest of his household." He smiled down on me and continued, "You have been the slowest to recover and we must leave now or be taken by the servants of Ras Thavas."
"Where is the old scoundrel?" I asked. "I have need to speak with him."
"Not now," urged Villar Dee. "Ras Thavas has his own troubles." So saying Villar Dee aided me to rise and, gathering the others around, led the way with Bal Zak's help to the flyer's landing port.
Soon we were flying across the Toonolian Marshes to the city. As we crossed the outer walls of Toonol a patrol boat rose to meet us, training its cannon on our ship. A loudspeaker blared the command to halt and state our business.
Bal Zak cupped his hands to his face and called out, "This is Bal Zak, captain of the Vosar, private ship of Ras Thavas, bearing slaves to the house of Mu Tel."
"Very well, pass on." came the reply, and the patrol ship wheeled away and resumed its post.
The Vosar navigated the traffic lanes slowly, revealing not one whit of the urgency to obtain cover for its living cargo. Ships of all sizes passed above and below our freighter, small flyers skimming quickly, flitting between the larger hulks of the cargo transports bringing in food and other imports from farms and ranches in the outlying regions of the Toonolian empire. The city seemed little changed since last I had laid eyes on its magnificent towers. However, certain manifestations of change presented themselves to my wondering eyes. Trees on a broad avenue had been smaller, less verdant, a column was erected where one had never been before, colors were faded to pastel by the harsh Barsoomian sun. Bal Zak joined me at the rail of the ship. "How long, Bal Zak, my friend," I inquired, "have I slept the sleep of the dead?"
"It has been six years," the aviator replied, "since you were brought to the laboratory of Ras Thavas."
"What has happened to Lanara?" I almost could not bear to hear the answer for fear it would reveal her death, or worse, her marriage to another.
"She has lived, untouched." He continued, "But she has lived hard. She refused to wed Vobis Kan and when he tried to force her, she stabbed him with a fruit knife. He then ordered her to work in the kitchens, beneath the palace for a year. When he asked her again she refused with the dignity of a princess. He sentenced her to labor in the grain fields. The next year she repulsed his advance and was sent to the fruit gardens. A year later she ended up tending the animal pens. I think Vobis Kan hoped she would be trampled by one of the raging beasts of the arena, but she tamed the animals, including the carnivorous Banth. Last year she labored in the manufacture of radium bullets."
I laid a hand on his arm. "Why does your voice have such a timbre that it sends chills of apprehension through me?"
"The manufacture of radium bullets," he said, "must be done in absolute darkness. It is the most delicate process. If any stray gleam of light should strike the most minuscule portion of radium powder the entire manufactory will be destroyed in the ensuing explosion. Lanara was given the most dangerous task, that of bringing the bullets out into the light. Most of the deaths caused in the manufacture of the bullets occur during this phase of the process."
"Vobis Kan," I stated, "has much for which he must answer."
"This last year he has made her the handmaiden to his niece, princess Mata Sahatur," the aviator said.
"Why does this not sound as good a post as it should?" I inquired.
"His niece is--" Bal Zak turned away.
Villar Dee remarked from the other side, "She is rumored to be mad. Some believe she treats her handmaidens harshly."
I said nothing, for the implication was obvious. Lanara was being mistreated and I was unable to prevent it. My thoughts turned blacker as the minutes passed. I paced the deck of the ship, coming at last to stop at the aft gunwale. Even on this crowded ship I was alone with my thoughts. When I thought I would go mad with my speculations, Villar Dee laid a hand on my arm. "What is the matter?" she asked. "I cannot read your mind but I can tell something troubles you."
"Lanara had needed me," I mourned, "and I was unable to save her from degradation."
"What could you have done?" Villar Dee demanded. "You were as one dead, as were we all and none of us able to help those we love." At my instinctive denial, she smiled, "Do not seek to dissemble with me. I know unrequited love, too."
"Poor child," I said, patting her hand where it rested on my arm. "I understand. You love Gor Hajus. Why did you said nothing?"
"Because I am a slave," she said. "I have no right to love."
"Everyone has the right to love," I remonstrated.
Our conversation ended as the ship approached the landing port of the palace of Mu Tel. Once landed we went our separate ways, Villar Dee to the women's quarters, Bal Zak back to Ras Thavas' laboratory, and I was escorted to the presence of my host.
My guide led me into a splendid hall both tall and wide which was decorated with gold, ivory, myriad polished woods, sumptuous fabrics and brilliant paints and stains which surpass my powers of description. Never have I seen such intricate carvings, statuary and wrought metals as were scattered throughout the palace.
Seated by a fabulous wooden table, inlaid with precious metals in convoluted designs which led the eye in circles in its surface, a tall Barsoomian turned at my entrance. One jewel encrusted arm dangled over the decorated arm of the chair while the other hand idly played with a profusely bejeweled goblet. He stood as we approached.
"Prince," quoted the servant. "I bring the man claimed by Gor Hajus as friend and bodyguard."
The prince came forward and laid his right hand upon my left shoulder in the traditional greeting of peace. I returned the salute. Had we not med as friends, he would have greeted me with his choice of weapons in hand.
"So you are the one who so frightened my uncle that he had the entire household of Gor Hajus destroyed," he observed. "Why should this be so?"
"I know not," I replied. "Unless it should be that I tried to warn Gor Hajus that your uncle was about to murder him."
Mu Tel stepped back a pace, his face ashen. "Vobis Kan slew Gor Hajus with his own hand? Where?"
"In the throne room." I stared. "Gor Hajus had left his weapons with me. He was unarmed."
The prince staggered to the windows in the far wall where he stood in shock at the dishonor his uncle had performed. To murder a guest, an unarmed guest, was unthinkable. So agitates was he that despite his dropping of his shields, I could make no sense from his thoughts which were so chaotic that a thought had hardly begun when another would supplant it and that one by another. Slowly I began to sense that Vobis Kan had shattered a long held tradition of hospitality by giving his word of peace and then slaying Gor Hajus with his own hand by stealth, thus dishonoring the entire house of Kan, of which Mu Tel was the heir apparent. He had been searching for a reason suff8icient to overthrow his uncle and depose him which would not put him at odds with the army and the navy which were the power of the throne and not lightly to be treated. He had not expected this to drop into his lap on the eve of his.
Suddenly Mu Tel straightened his shields snapping back into place blocking all thoughts. He glanced at me, but I had put on my most stoic face.
"I pray you forgive my inattention," he said.
"You have a luxurious home, great prince," I dissembled, gesturing in the general direction of the nearest tapestry, wondering if it, too, was manufactured from that wondrous fabric which was opaque on one side while it allowed anyone on the other side to see through it. "I was admiring its decorations and so was lost in thought myself and have no notion of the passage of time."
Following his reception of my words the prince of Toonol relaxed. "With your rescue," he continued, "my obligation to Gor Hajus has ended. What are your plans?"
"I understand the princess of Greater Helium is a reluctant guest in the palace of Vobis Kan," I revealed. "Her presence is a danger to Toonol. As a gesture of appreciation I would be glad to remove the danger from Toonol as I leave. I have promised to return her to the bosom of her family."
"Should you try this alone you will fail," he stated.
"I have no choice: I gave my word," I responded.
"Then you must continue," he agreed. "However, we may be able to help each other. I will arrange for you to reach my sister's rooms at the same time as a flyer is docked at the roof mooring."
I agreed to accept his assistance. Dressed in the plain harness of a panthan--a soldier of fortune, a solitary warrior who sells his sword to the highest bidder--I entered the palace of Vobis Kan. I carried an epistle from Mu Tel in the obligatory cylinder to a follower of his faction inside the palace who was the Odwar of the guard. Reading the missive he nodded and returned it to the cylinder, which had a compartment within it, which when twisted tightly closed and a button pressed in the ornamented end, destroyed the letter with the release of an acid which completely consumed the paper and ink. Beckoning me to follow one pace behind his left hand, he led me to the armory and fitted me out with the ornamented armor of the imperial guards. Then he led me to the upper reaches of the palace, spiraling around a central core of the tower leading upwards with a right hand spin to the curve. On the top floor, the ramp ended and a corridor led off to the left into the private residential area. Along the corridor were interspersed doors and guard niches which were inhabited by soldiers who resembled statues, they stood so still.
At the door of the Princess Mata Sahatur he called out one of the guards stating he had some questions that would not wait. As the other man fell out of the formation I slipped into his place. When the O-Dwar left we settled into a stiff silence and immobility. After years of learning how to imitate stone, this period of inaction was as nothing to me. I awaited the sound of a gong which would tell me that the flyer was moored outside the princess' chambers. I was prepared to wait until the ship arrived but what if it had not arrived before the changing of the guard? I began to grow apprehensive, but I still waited.
Suddenly we were disturbed by the arrival of the Jeddak, accompanied by four guards, each sumptuously attired in harnesses resplendent with jewels and overlaid with platinum decorations. That their arrival was unexpected was evidenced by the confusion in the minds of the other guards. We snapped to attention as he passed, but just as he was about to enter the princess' chambers his steps slowed and he paused, scrutinizing my face as though that should bring an elusive memory to mind. "Who is this man?" he demanded, his face creased with a frown that rendered response impossible.
I kept my face passive as the corporal answered, "The Odwar, and it pleases your majesty, needed to speak with U-Than, and replaced him with one of his personal assistants."
The Jeddak nodded, his frown lessening, although his cloud would never truly vanish. He marched into the Princess' chambers, closing the heavy panels behind him. Vobis Kan's guards took up positions between us and the doors.
What was happening? Why was Vobis Kan here? Had our plot been discovered? I was pondering these questions and more when the air was split by a one bloodthirsty scream after another. Only I seemed startled by the horrendous sounds emanating from the interior of the princess' chambers. The corporal waited for a moment and, when the screams resonated throughout the palace again, he called out a command.
One of the men who had stood guard with me dropped out of formation and raced down the hallway. Moments later he returned escorting a woman in the harness of a slave of the Royal family. As she neared I seemed to recognize something familiar in her walk and in her form. Imagine my surprise when I saw it was Lanara. She was passed through without a word. The promise of her youth had been granted. She was now a woman, her face still oval shaped with almond eyes but her boyish looks had been replaced by those of a woman. Her form was fuller and more lithe. Her skin was a little more pale than it had been on the desert, but it was clear. All this I drank in as a thirsty man drinks water as she passed.
As I hesitated, the long awaited gong sounded. I stepped out into the middle of the hall and said, "Gentlemen, I need to enter those rooms. If you will kindly step aside no one will need to die."
The Jeddak's guards laughed, "Only you need die and you will." He drew his sword and attacked. His companions were not long in following his lead. Surprisingly the Princess' guards stood back and waited to watch the ensuing fight.
They separated and attacked from two sides. I backed into a corner which allowed only two of them access to me at a time. I killed the first one with a backhanded slash that caught him across the belly. He fell back clutching at his guts as they fell out of his body. Another took his place immediately and the flash of swords continued. I was pressed to keep them at bay but I was not worried about my ability to kill them. Another fell, followed by his neighbor, leaving only one of the Jeddak's guards to confront me. I took the battle to him and in moments had slain him, too.
I looked around for the other guards and found they were at the far end of the hall sauntering away. One waved to me as they turned the corner. So they had been in on the deception from the beginning.
Another blood-curdling scream brought my attention back to the doors which parted under my pressing hands. The scene which met my gaze startled me. Lanara knelt at the side of a woman who was striking out wildly, her clenched fists impacting on anything and everything within reach, although most of her swings struck Lanara, they seemed weak and ineffectual. Vobis Kan watched with a smile on his face. At the sound of the opening door he turned. "How dare you enter without orders," he snarled. "Leave or I will have you killed, slowly."
"Why not kill me like you did Gor Hajus?" I said. "Or do you not fight armed men?"
"How did you find out?" He paused in confusion.
"Do you not," I asked, " recognize me, Vobis Kan, coward and murderer."
"You are the man who was with Gor Hajus, his servant," he gasped.
I nodded as I raised my sword. "Prepare to die, O mighty Jeddak, for the glory of Toonol," I commanded. "Such is the judgement of the tribunal. Your reign of terror will end on the point of my sword."
He reached out and swept a vase from the table beside him and hurled it across the intervening distance. As I dodged the missile which shattered against the wooden door behind me, he sprang to a wall which opened under his frantically fumbling fingers and disappeared into the darkness beyond. By the time I had reached the portal it had closed leaving no trace of a door. Slashing with my sword and pounding with the pommel only revealed the panel had returned to its original state and was as solid as the wall it resembled. Frustrated, I realized the fleeing coward would regain much of his courage without my presence and would summon assistance in a twinkling of an eye. Regretting the loss of the opportunity to remove a disease from the surface of Barsoom, I turned back to the women, cleaning my sword on the drapery surrounding the false door and sheathing my weapon. "Come along, Lanara," I said. "We must escape."
The two women stood side by side, staring at the bloody apparition that confronted them. I held out my hand towards the woman I loved. The other woman had stopped screaming the moment the Jeddak had disappeared into the bolt hole in the wall, rising to her feet lithely and without any evidence of sickness or hysteria.
"Who are you," Lanara demanded, "so to use my name? I have not allowed you to use such familiarity." Her injured pride was quite evident in her stance, I did not need the further evidence of her voice and her thoughts.
I smiled. "So soon have you forgotten me, then, Princess Lanara of Helium, and the times we spent escaping from Du Mas and his cohorts? I have come to keep my promise to take you to your family, my princess."
She whispered my name. I nodded. She threw herself into my arms. "Oh, my chieftain, I had thought you dead."
The other woman smiled at the words uttered by the woman in my arms.
"I am not yet dead," I replied, "but I may be if we do not leave now. Remember the Jeddak has escaped to rally his guards to attack us. Come. A ship has been provided us and it should be waiting just outside the window."
We raced to the embrasure where the two-man flyer was moored exactly as promised, however, the ship was floating on a long tether and lay about twenty feet from the window. Reaching out I pulled the ship slowly to the window, drawing it nearer and the flyer had almost reached the window sill when the doors burst open to allow a squad of soldiers to pour through, followed closely by the Jeddak who was screaming for our deaths. The men rushed towards us, brandishing swords and spreading out into a semi-circle cutting off all escape from the doorway.
"Wait," the ruler of Toonol commanded. "Take them alive. Their deaths should not be so swift not so painless."
I unsheathed my sword with a grating rasp of steel on steel. "Stand back if you value your lives," I said. Without taking my eyes away from the advancing men I commanded Lanara to flee. "Rescue yourself, my princess. I shall keep these calots busy for a while. You will be free of the city before they can reach the window. Go, beloved." With those words I sprang at the men and spitted the least wary of the bunch. Another died beneath my return stroke before the others had realized I was not going to be a swift kill for the mass of men in front of me. Again the happy circumstance that I knew where each one would strike allowed me to survive their initial attacks without a scratch. However, these were trained men who were used to co-ordinating their attacks each with the other, and soon I was dodging two and three strokes at a time coming as they were at different areas of my anatomy. They forced me on defensive finally, my sword weaving a wall of steel through which they could penetrate with only minor cuts. The numerous small wounds were each nothing to an apache warrior, but their cumulative effect was to weaken me. Soon they were slicing me with regularity, but none were fatal.
Suddenly the Jeddak cried out, "Stop, back off, my guards. Let him see the weapon I hold in my grasp, one he should take care to note by its position at the throat of this slave."
The warriors stepped back and revealed the Jeddak had a knife to Lanara's throat, pressing it into the flesh hard enough to cause a drop of blood to course down her neck. "Cease fighting, calot," he snarled, "or I shall cut her throat. Lay down her weapon or it shall be you who has killed her."
"Do not surrender," she commanded. "I would rather die than have you in his clutches."
"Nay, beloved," I said. "You shall not die now." My sword rattled on the stone floor as it slipped from my weary fingers. Within moments I was bound with straps from my harness, my arms pulled painfully up behind my back. Now that I was helpless the Jeddak threw Lanara into the arms of a soldier and came forward, slapping me across the face with the back of his hand. "Fool," he said. "You would have better died here than in the arena where your death will be on display for all to see the justice of their Jeddak, nor shall it be swift and painless as a sword stroke, rather shall you fight the beasts of Toonol. And as for you, she calot," he snarled as he turned on his niece. "You are a traitor helping the enemies of Toonol to escape the proper justice We require. You, too, shall know the wrath of Toonol and are condemned to be sacrificed in the arena along with these invaders and traitors." The looks on the men's faces revealed their disgust with their ruler's words and actions when he was not looking, but they obeyed when he commanded us to be led to the dungeons below the palace.
The marching soldiers formed a guard around us and led the three of us down the ramp circling again and again, descending ever deeper in the tower until we were below the surface of the land and even then we did not stop but continued until the halls were dark and the only lights were small radium balls set into the wall which gave off a fitful illumination which cast long shadows of stygian darkness as we passed between the far apart lamps. Coming to a fork in the tunnel, half of the escort broke off and led the two women away as I was forced down the left hand corridor where the intervals between the lamps increased until we were walking in darkness with only the light ahead to guide us. Finally the guard stopped and the sergeant of the guard took a key-ring from his belt, rattling the keys as he thrust one into a door to our left. The door creaked open as if it had not been used in many years revealing a dark, black hole into which I was thrown not ungently. My arms being tied behind my back, I could not use them to regain my balance and I fell against the rough stone wall at the back of the cell, sliding to the equally rough floor where I lay dazed and hurting. The door closed behind me cutting out all of the feeble light and I was left in absolute darkness.
For the longest time I lay on the floor regaining strength with each labored breath. Finally I endeavored to raise myself to a sitting position by turning on my side and bending a knee under me. After a few futile attempts in which I only scraped more skin off my frame, I lay still again in my solitary confinement. I realized there was only one thing to do and that was to find a way to free my hands from their bonds. The straps had been drawn up so tight that I could no longer feel my hands, although I knew them to be still useful. I found a small piece of my harness which I could tear from its underlying leather straps.
For a long time after I had removed the rondel, I lay as one dead. I believe I must have slept for I woke suddenly to the sounds of men passing by the cell. Taking the rondel in my hands I commenced to scrape it along the stone floor, first on one side and then on another until I had at last a sharp edge with which to sever my bonds. By that time my hands were nearly useless and I dropped the ornament from time to time, once even losing it for long frantic minutes until I cut my leg on it. By luck and sheer stubborn-minded perseverence, I succeeded in freeing one hand from the bloody bonds which were slickly wet with my blood. I quickly freed the other one and then lay back in agony as the blood returned to my hands like a prickly pear grasped unwisely and many more times painful than a mere flogging. My hands were swollen into deformity and I feared they would never return to their normal size. And, exhausted, I slept again. Awakening in the dark was difficult because I could not tell just when I woke or if I was still sleeping and dreaming I was awake in a black cell.
Once I had regained the feeling in my hands and became restless from inactivity I began to reconnoiter my domain limited though it was, measuring only six feet by twenty feet. The door was set in the middle of one of the longer sides and I was unable to discover any opening or latch, keyhole or hinge. The door was smooth to the touch and cold as steel. Passing my hands along the wall from knee high to as high as I could reach revealed nothing of note not even an indent in the surface although it was as rough as sandstone which has been left to weather in the wind. Eventually I tired of wandering the perimeter of my cell and lay down to sleep.
Life on Barsoom seems to be replete with coincidences because I woke up with an animal chewing on my arm again. I leaped aside as my hands instinctively spurned the creature. With a low growl it again attacked me and I fell to fighting for my life because it seemed that the creature had eyes that could penetrate the stygian darkness for its teeth unerringly nipped and chewed at my arms and legs with each rush. Somehow it was able to avoid my counter-strikes until I slipped in the pool of blood that had gathered at my feet from the many wounds the animal and the Jeddak's guards had given me, presents of war I could have done without. As I fell my hand slapped the animal on the neck and my fingers closed convulsively on the scrawny neck and the thin vertebrae snapped cleanly. The animal twitched once and then lay still in my hand. I threw it away from me in disgust.
I leaned back against the wall and wondered if Lanara was suffering the same fate as I. Her courage would not avail her in this sort of predicament. She would not able to strike as fast or as hard as I even in my weakened condition. Her fighting reflexes were limited by her strength and, though her heart was great and brave as any apache woman, she would not survive. Or was she in such a cell as I inhabited? Mayhap she was dead already, slain by the cowardly Jeddak of Toonol. I rested my arms on my bent knees and, I am unashamed to say it, shed some tears for her.
Hours later no one had come to feed me and I feared they wanted to starve me to death. Then I thought about the creature I had slain. Whatever it was it was food for a starving man who I was sure had eaten nothing for over three days. However, when I reached the location of the body or at least where I believed I had thrown the body, it was gone, vanished as if it had never existed. This time I crawled around the floor and found a hole as large as my head in the lower corner of the cell. I listened at the hole but could hear nothing save the pounding of my heart.
Disheartened I leaned back against the wall and gave myself over to despair.
My miseries were interrupted by a soft scrabbling behind the hole. Immediately I was again an apache warrior on the hunt, ears pricked to hear the faintest sound. My wait was rewarded by the repetition of the sounds of many legs scrabbling across the floor. They grew in intensity as the animal neared and finally broke out into my cell. This time I was prepared for it and had its neck in my hand before it could clear the hole, snapping the neck in one spasmodic twist. My teeth tore at the throat and I felt the rejuvenating flow of blood into my mouth. I have eaten many things in my life, many animals, but none tasted as gamy or as foul as the flesh of the Ulsio, which I recognized as my prey. However, I persisted in the grisly meal because I did not know if they were going to feed me or even give me water.
Again weariness overcame me and I slept deeply, my stomach full if queasy. I woke to the sound of men marching. They stopped by the door and the key once again performed its primary function and released the lock. The door swung open and I was blinded by the flash of light which pained my eyes. Closing them I was helpless against the men who surged into the room and bore me out, I could not see what they did and my eyes hurt too much to open in the lighted room. I know now that the light was from only one of the radium globes that shone on the wall, but it seemed as if I was staring at the sun at midday.
The men bound my arms again and marched me blindly down the hallway. They seemed to take it for granted that I was blinded by the light which one of them held in front of my eyes as we marched. However I gradually accustomed my eyes to the light by opening them into slits without grimacing and they did not see me watching them. The distance between the globes lessened and soon we were walking back up the corridor until we came to the intersection and we turned left into the hallway that had taken Lanara and the Princess Mata Sahatur away from me.
Soon we were marching between cells of men and animals, each filled with one or more creatures. The animals were kept separate, no doubt because they were kept hungry, the better to urge them to attack armed men or even unarmed men. Finally I was led out into the arena which was a large oval over a hundred paces long. The floor was sand and the walls were over fifteen feet high above which rose tier after tier of seats filled with cheering and jeering Toonolians, both rich and poor. The rich were resplendent in their gaudy jewels and metals while the poor were covered in simple harnesses, but all were eager for the killing to begin. One of the guards thrust me into a cage in the wall where I had a good view of the arena floor and of the Jeddak's box on the opposite wall.
The Jeddak appeared in the box and the crowd raised a cheer of greeting which he returned with a negligent wave. A crew of workers in plain harness rushed into the arena and placed two posts in the ground in already dug holes which were about fifty feet apart. The Jeddak raised his hand and the crew frantically scrambled for the gates because the doorway on the other side of the field opened and a giant thoat rushed onto the sands, snorting with anger and hunger. The gate which had just closed behind the land crew opened again and a dozen calots raced out of the portal.
The enraged thoat gave a good account of itself before it fell to the ravening teeth of the calots as evidenced by the five bodies of the attacking calots that lay in pools of blood on the sand. The gate opened again and a dozen men were released into the stink hole of death, each armed with only a short sword. Most of the men died quickly under the claws of the calots before a few made a stand with their backs against one of the posts. They succeeded in killing the calots, but were slain themselves by three Banths, who were killed by zitidars. The Zitidars were driven out of the arena and two women were tied to the stakes while the land crew spread more sand and covered the pools of blood.
A half dozen men were released, again armed with only a short sword and I was released into the arena, unarmed. I strolled over to one of the women only to discover it was the niece of the Jeddak. She had been abused and beaten until her strength was gone. She sagged in her shackles. By this time the men had reached the other woman who stood proud and tall. They were taunting her, saying the survivor of the games was to receive her as his prize, so don't run away.
One of the men saw me and called me to their attention. One of them swaggered over to me, mouthing obscenities about what he would do to my woman when he had finished carving me into bits. I did not wait for him to attack, I sprang for his throat and sword while he was still twenty feet away. He had no chance to raise his sword before I had his throat in my left hand and his sword in my right hand. His life ended with his last threat being done upon his own body as I spitted him. The other men were amazed at the spectacle and the crowd had hushed in the stands, this was a show the like of which they had never seen before. Three of the men rushed to surround me. I again leaped for one and spitted him, recovering in time to face the other two who were slashing at me with their bright swords. I knew in my weakened condition I could not sustain a prolonged assault nor to take a long time in the killing of them and took the fight to the remaining two who died quickly beneath a flash of steel to stain the sand with the red of their blood. The rest of the men attacked and I retreated around the arena, my sword weaving a web of steel that prevented their weapons from reaching me, slaying one or two at a time as I fell back. Until I had only one opponent left then I expended my waning resources in the slaying of the last of the red men. And then there were none.
The crowds were on their feet screaming for my release as their hero of the day. I had given them a spectacle of killing that they had not expected. The Jeddak sat motionless on his ornate throne, his knuckles white as he viewed the carnage in the arena. His silence and continued stillness finally brought the people to a silence of their own, a low murmur of dissatisfaction as he gave no sign of hearing their wishes, in fact, of ignoring them, denying them their chance to be magnanimous with the victor of the arena.
Slowly he stood, staring around at tier upon tier of bloodthirsty Barsoomians who had had enough of the bloodshed today, adjusting his harness on his body with arrogant hands that shook ever so slightly with rage. He raised one of them high over his head, bringing the masses to complete silence, as his voice rang out over the amphitheater, "This man and these women have conspired to slay your Jeddak. The woman of Helium has conspired to invade Toonol in league with Mata Sahatur, the daughter of my sister, Den Mata. Mata Sahatur has feigned madness for many years as she plotted to overthrow our lawful rule. The man, their accomplice already condemned by the Jeddak's council, has already forfeited his life for daring to raise his hands against the person of your Jeddak-"
Here I raided my own hand and voice, "Your Jeddak is a coward, He will not face me in combat, just as he refused to face Gor Hajus in fair combat, but slew him by stealth with a dagger in the back while Gor Hajus was unarmed."
The crowd became restless at my words and questions flew at the monarch of Toonol. "Hold," he cried. "He lies, seeking to divide our city to make an invasion by Twin Cities of Helium and we will not commute his sentence to die in the arena."
He gestured to the keepers of the pens who threw the levers which opened the gates releasing the Banths into the arena. Slowly, tails twitching from side to side, the great carnivores crept towards us, their dark eyes bright with blood lust for they were starved, their thin skins barely covering their ribs. They crouched in the ground and waited.
I wondered why until I saw the last of the Banths to leave the cage was the biggest and most majestic. He strolled out and sauntered across the sands as of he were on the dead sea bottoms without a care in the world except where his next meal was to be found. Then he found it, me, for I had stepped forward and presented myself between them and the women. He crouched and crept forward on his stomach, his tail swishing from side to side as he approached. He drew his legs up beneath him and his tail stilled behind him only the tip twitching.
The breeze that had been cooling my face faded as he gathered himself to spring and suddenly he paused and sniffed the wind which was now blowing from me to him. His growl turned, I swear, into a purr and he rose to his feet, turning away from me. He sniffed the air and swung his head around. Another of the Banths began to creep towards me with the intent of satisfying his hunger on my flesh, but the large Banth sprang upon him and swatted him aside, standing between us and the pride of Banths, now demonstrably my protector. Another moved towards the women but was warned back by a growl.
Lanara broke out into laughter. "Remember, my chieftain," she cried. "They will not harm me for I have my mother's ability to tame them."
A smile split my face as I realized that by what the accident of his choice of executioners the Jeddak had given me a chance to save our lives. I nodded to the girl who smiled back as I began to leap for the Jeddak's box, covering the ground in leaps of twenty feet and finishing with a leap into the box fifteen feet in the air. Stunned silence met my advent in the reviewing stand and I used that time wisely by slaying the two guards with the Jeddak with two strokes of my blade. As my sword slid from the body of my opponent, I cried, "Draw your sword, calot, and face me as you refused to face Gor Hajus."
Vobis Kan glanced about him, looking for support from his assembled nobles. None stirred, each waiting for another to declare himself on the Jeddak's side or on the side of honor, the Jeddak having been challenged. As the silence stretched into minutes, the nobles grew restless at the Jeddak's seeming cowardice, which I knew was no lie but the truth deep in his soul.
Suddenly, from behind the arras that covered the entry to the box from the back came the noble figure of Mu Tel who by his very presence took command of the tableau and brought the Jeddak around to face his nephew. "Vobis Kan, Jeddak of Toonol, I, Mu Tel, declare you traitor for kidnaping the great-grand-daughter of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium and for unlawfully condemning my sister, Mata Sahatur, to die as a common criminal. Face me in combat or be labeled a coward forever. I have spoken."
The Jeddak hesitated only a moment, his only chance to survive was to slay his nephew quickly. He drew his sword and in a single motion made a vicious slash at Mu Tel's stomach. It was so quick that Mu Tel had no time to dodge, but was saved by the heavy bracelet on his arm which deflected the blow, causing only a superficial cut on the Prince's ribs. Cursing his bad luck at missing his one chance at winning unfairly, the Jeddak struck again, but his sword was stopped by a dozen hands on his arms.
"Hold," cried the assembled nobles, each striving to hold the raving Jeddak.
"Release him," commanded the Prince of Toonol, who now had his sword in hand. "I am prepared to fight him, now."
One of the elders held up a hand, shouting for silence. "It is too crowded here in the royal box. Let the fight continue in the arena." A cheer met this suggestion and before anyone could object the Jeddak had been tossed over the side to land heavily on the sands below. Rising unhurt he scanned the arena for succor but found none, his crimes had caught up with him at last.
Mu Tel leaped lightly to the sand beside the Jeddak and dodged the Jeddak's sudden attack. Backing slowly from the singing blade of the enraged Ruler of Toonol, the nephew carefully blocked the thrusts, riposts, and slashes of his uncle's sword. The cut on his ribs was painful and he grimaced with each blow he took on his sword but he never faltered in his defense. Slowly the tide of the battle turned as the Jeddak began to tire, his blows coming more slowly and weaker on his nephew's defending sword. Then the Prince of Toonol began to press his uncle and to push him backwards around the arena. Step by step the Jeddak retreated, defending himself only. Mu Tel could see victory in his eyes when the Jeddak broke free and threw his arm around his niece's neck.
"Stand back," he shouted. "Or she dies."
He had no time for any other words because the Banth that was beside Lanara sprang for his throat and with a single bite crushed his face and neck. Shaking the body once, the Banth dropped the remains of the cowardly Jeddak to the sand and returned to the side of the Princess of Helium where he sat licking his lips free of the blood of the royal house of Kan.
Mu Tel ordered a guard to assist me to rise from the floor where I had slipped in exhaustion. He beckoned to the beast keepers to free Lanara, but the poor men had to wait until she had given her permission for me to approach. "Do not worry," she said. "He will not harm you. Do you not remember our friend from the dead sea bottoms?"
I looked and true enough it was the very same Banth that had landed on me as we had repaired the Dusarian ship on which we had escaped from the clutches of Du Mas. Laughing weakly at the coincidence, I cut the ropes that bound her to the pole. Lanara led the Banths to their lair and oversaw their feeding, cleansing their cuts with soft clean cloths provided by the keepers who marveled at her skill and her daring in kneeling among the beasts who barely tolerated them as fed the beasts.
Finally we were led to spacious chambers and had our own wounds cleaned and were allowed to bathe the blood from our skins which were scented with oils and salves to prepare us to be presented to the new Jeddak of Toonol, Mu Tel. New jewel encrusted harness was delivered to both of us with the compliments of Mata Sahatur.
In the cavernous throne room Mu Tel, the newly elected Jeddak of Toonol, and the assembled nobles of the city thanked us for our assistance in protecting his sister and apologized for the mistreatment the Princess Lanara had suffered at the hands of his uncle. In her turn she accepted the apology with grace and style as befits the great-grand-daughter of the Jeddak of Helium granting words of forgiveness flavored with true feelings. Our reward was a military escort to the border of Helium in a flyer provided from the Jeddak's own fleet.
I Meet My Enemy
At the border we were met by a fleet from Helium which saluted the Toonolian fleet with great honor. Our vessel was then escorted to the twin cities of Helium which were dominated each by a tower, the lesser one colored yellow and the greater tinted red. Lanara guided our ship to the landing platform on the red tower which was near the uppermost level and we were met on landing by a crowd of nobles and many others including a pair of tall men each escorting a beautiful woman who reminded me of Lanara. Another, by his harness was the fabled Tardos Mors, her great-grand-father.
Lanara strode with erect bearing to the Jeddak and presented herself. He rested his hand on her shoulder and she returned his gesture. The suspicion of a tear was in his eyes as he turned and pushed her towards one of the couples who stood anxiously nearby.
Breaking free of her great-grand-father's hold, Lanara ran to one of the tall, black haired man with grey eyes and to the woman who stood beside him. She called out "Mother, Father," as she approached, launching herself into the man's arms. He whirled her around and set her down to endure her mother's equally ecstatic embraces. Suddenly remembering me she raced back and drew me forward to the group which was dominated by another tall, black haired man with grey eyes, but his skin was lighter than the others. She threw herself into his arms. I found myself consumed with jealousy of this stranger. Who was this man who held her so familiarly? Was she promised to him in marriage? Was he her intended husband for he appeared to be no more than thirty summers in age? His grip relaxed as she said with a quiet squeal, "Not so tight." But he did not release her, instead laying his arm over her shoulder in an intimate gesture that depressed me. Seeing the long face I am sure I presented, Lanara began to giggle girlishly. She slipped from beneath his arm and taking his hand, dragged him to where I stood. She presented him to me, "Grandfather," she smiled. "Please meet the man whom I am both proud and humble to call my chieftain." My relief at her identification of her companion was surpassed by my confusion at the next thing that happened.
The man turned his eyes to his grand-daughter and took her shoulders in his strong white hands. "Your what, child?" he enquired.
"My Chieftain," she repeated, her head high and proud.
"Are you sure?" her father asked, turning her to himself.
"Yes, Father," she said. "I have grown in the years since I disobeyed you. This is the true man, one of which you will approve, I am sure. He saved me from Du Mas and from the former Jeddak of Toonol who would have married me against my will if I had not promised to kill him if he did."
"Does he understand the import of your words?" her father asked.
"Perhaps not," she admitted.
"Then, perhaps, you might tell him what it means when you call him Your Chieftain."
She nodded her assent. But the by-play was driven from my mind when the tall, light skinned man stepped forward and said, "I thank you for the return of my granddaughter. May I ask who you are?"
"Though Lanara is my Princess, I must confess I am your enemy, " I replied, saddened in my heart to find him to be the one I had followed from the medicine woman's cave. "In our other lives, when you were seeking gold in the desert, I was one of the apaches who killed your friend." I prepared myself for the resumption of hostilities although I would not kill one of her relatives could I avoid it. One does not keep peace in the wigwam if one displeases his mate.
"Enemies?" Lanara whispered. "No." Her heart was breaking at the thought of having to choose between myself and her family.
"Enemies we may have been," said the grey-eyed man. "But that was fifty years ago when your people killed Powell. While it was true we were enemies of a sort on Earth, that conflict has been over for many years and now I am still the outsider with my pale skin, while you fit in perfectly. If my grand-daughter sees good in you, who am I to argue?" He laid his hand on my shoulder. "Peace, friend." I returned the salute and the sentiment. "Oh, by the way," he continued, "When a Barsoomian woman calls a man her Chieftain, she is saying she loves him. When a man calls a woman his Princess, he is saying he loves her. Is this a surprise to you?"
"Yes, it is," I replied. "But a pleasant one." Lanara ran into my open arms and we embraced in the presence of her family. My adventures were, for a while, over. But that is a tale for another day.
Hours later, after a grand repast and while I awaited the formal betrothment with my Princess, I held her tight and mused on the strange manner in which the medicine woman's words proved prophetic. I had crossed time and space to meet my enemy, who is my enemy no more. He is the grandfather of my beloved, my mate, my Princess of Greater Helium.