Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
ERBLIST FEATURES FAQs, Articles, Reviews, Persona Directory, Hall of Memory SUMMARY PROJECT Summarizing ERB's works one chapter at a time FAN FICTION Shorts, Novels, Poetry, Plays, Pulps ERBmania! Articles, Contributors: Tangor Responds, Edgardemain, ERB: In Focus, Nkima Speaks, Beyond 30W, Tantor Trumpets, Dime Lectures, Korak in Pal-ul-don, Public Domain novels of ERB GLOSSARIES Worlds of: Barsoom, Pellucidar, Moon, Amtor, Caspak, Pal-u-don
James D. Bozarth
Copyright © 2005
The True Story behind the kidnaping of Sanoma Tora, Princess of Helium
CHAPTER 1 — MY TORTURE BEGINS
CHAPTER 2 — I LOSE A FRIEND
CHAPTER 3 — BLESSED CITY OF FREEDOM
CHAPTER 4 — SPIDERS AND CONCUBINES
CHAPTER 5 — THE RADIUM MINES
CHAPTER 6 — I BECOME JEDDARA OF JAHAR
CHAPTER 7 — MY TORTURE ENDS
For many years I assisted my husband in the transcribing of his many, wonderful, fanciful, and rather strange stories. For all of those years I was under the impression that they were all figments of his fertile imagination, fed by his terrible dreams and nightmares. Many were the nights he woke me up with his whimpering and screaming fits. Each time he would rise from the bed and write for hours, sometimes until dawn. Even after he became a well known writer of what he called in his whimsical way: "dam-phool litrachoor," his nocturnal disturbances continued, although they abated somewhat over the years.
His business not only allowed him to travel quite a bit; it necessitated his absence for long periods. But he always returned from those extended expeditions with a handwritten or typed manuscript of one kind or another which he handed to me to redact and to re-type. I never gave any credence to the content of the stories as they were so unusual and quite impossible to confirm. Most of the tales concerned a man raised in the jungle by apes, but many of the tales concerned life on the planet Mars a singularly different Mars than the one with which we are most familiar.
One of those narratives was published some years ago under the name of "A Fighting Man of Mars" which told the history of one Tan Hadron of Hastor, a fighting man in the aerial navy of the largest city-state on Mars. I found this one particularly disturbing in that the hero of the tale was so egocentric as to dismiss the feelings of others as of no consequence. Indeed, his pursuit of the woman in the story was frightening. I even felt like he was stalking her, determined to have her with her consent or against her will, criminally, if necessary. I never let on that I did not like the story: it was one of his favorites. Perhaps that is why we divorced.
Shortly after the publication of this book, my husband had to go on another of his trips and he left me instructions to inspect the laboratory of his friend Jason Gridley and to take especial care to check on the condition of a wireless recording machine therein. My husband was away for over three months that time and I regret to say that I was lax in my duties. I did not go to the laboratory for some three weeks. My husband called the next day to say he would be home soon and asked how the laboratory was. Ashamed, I said everything was fine and, immediately after hanging up the telephone, I ran to my roadster. Flying down the road to Jason Gridley's laboratory I prayed that everything would be "ship shape and Bristol fashion," a phrase I had heard Jason use to describe his meticulously neat laboratory.
When I arrived I fumbled with the key and lock for a few minutes. Opening the door I took a quick glance inside and found everything appeared normal, until I looked at the receiver. The ticker tape dispenser had disgorged most of its roll which was covered in the dots and dashes of Morse code. The tape had fallen into a mountain of white ribbon on the floor beneath the ticker. Except that the paper had jammed in the machine, everything was all right. I cleared the clogged gate and replaced the roll with another one from a box near the back wall.
I gathered the tape into a box and returned home. Not being familiar with Morse code, it took me a while to decipher the opening words of the story which you have in your hands. The author of the tale was familiar to me from my husband's book, but she was not the woman who was portrayed in his story as a shallow and weak individual. By the time my husband had returned home, I had transcribed the narrative in full. What I read so disturbed me that I never gave my husband the copy of this story and have never told anyone about this tale until now.
I am an old woman now and soon will meet my maker. I have long wanted to see the story published in my lifetime but I despair of surviving until that day. This is why I have given it to a friend to submit to any publisher who is willing to put their imprint on the spine of this tale.
I do not expect you to believe it, because I never believed any of my husband's stories, even while I was transcribing them, but I believe what is here written and present it to you as the true history of Sanoma Tora, a fighting maid of Mars.
Emma Ralston Burroughs
CHAPTER 1 — MY TORTURE BEGINS
This is the story of Sanoma Tora, Daughter of Tor Hatan, Odwar of the 91st Umak of Helium, the home of Tardos Mors, the Jeddak; his son, Mors Kajak; and the husband of the Jeddak's granddaughter, Dejah Thoris: John Carter, the Warlord of Mars. The twin cities of Helium are the most populous of all of the cities of Barsoom, the fourth planet from the sun. Our planet is called Barsoom while you of the third planet call it Mars. This, if I remember correctly, is the name of one of your legendary heroes of war. Unlike Jasoom, your world of intermittent peace, Barsoom is in truth a planet of war, constant and unremitting, not only between nations and even races of people, but also of war with the planet itself. Our world has grown so old that even survival is purchased at great cost, a cost that may be more than should be borne.
As for myself, I am the only child of this generation, none other of my mother's other eggs having ever quickened with life. As the sole heir of Tor Hatan, I was raised in the war-like traditions of the militant nobility of Barsoom, both civilian and naval, an unusual combination of skills even on this planet of eternal conflict and extraordinary culture. Although my father aspired to the elite world of the princes of Helium, he was of plebeian birth and therefore was denied access to the sacred precincts of the nobility save as a visitor, an invited guest. My mother, on the other hand, had been a distant relation of Tardos Mors, the Jeddak of Helium. Her marriage to my father had taken place over the objections of her father and she was forbidden to use her relationship with my maternal grandfather to further my father's business ventures although her father did finally appoint his son-in-law to the staff of the 91st Umak. Tor Hatan's abilities as an administrator eventually raised him to the rank of Odwar, although he left the execution of the daily administrative routines of the Umak to his senior Teedwar, he being more interested in the commercial aspects of his life than in the martial ones. His need to amass a fortune left him open to hatreds and envies of those individuals who lacked his ambition and drive. Many, numerous, varied and sometimes obscene are the rumors and gossips recounting his failures as Odwar of the Umak, most of them without foundation, some of them grotesquely distorted, but all of them are inescapable as mendacious gossips are more often believed than soothsayers if the truth does not agree with the listener's preconceived prejudices.
My mother did not long enjoy her marriage, because she died in a barrage of cannon fire from a Zodangan battleship early in the siege of Helium by Than Kosis, the Jeddak of Zodanga, while the war raged in which Zodanga had been reduced to rubble by the Green Men of Barsoom led by John Carter, the Warlord of Barsoom, and Tars Tarkas, the Jeddak of the Green Men of Thark.
From that day forward all my father's efforts were organized so as not only to mold me into the son he could never have but also to marry me off into a noble or royal family and thus insure his acceptance into the upper strata of Helium's society. These two opposing goals shaped my future, twisted my future, I should say.
On the day I was to meet the only man for whom I have ever professed love, my father was schooling me in the use of arms in the vaulted armory in the pits beneath his palatial residence in the southern district of Helium.
Like all of the women of Helium, I had been tutored in the use of small weapons when I was but a hatchling, particularly the dagger and the short sword, by a retired padwar, an old soldier past his prime, but still vigorous and strong, a veteran of the first Zodangan war some 800 years ago; but my father insisted that I learn how to use all the weapons of personal combat and undertook to instruct me himself when the scandalized padwar refused. Thereafter, all my lessons were held in the armory of my father's palace deep underground.
The roof of the chamber was lost in the shadows cast by the cleverly designed globes of ancient manufacture whose subdued luminescence emanated from the fixtures embedded in the walls and ceiling. The lamps were powered by the ingenious use of radium. The walls were covered in racks of weapons of all description including swords, daggers, spears, rifles and pistols.
Our swords clashed against each other with echoing tones that reverberated in the darkened expanse. The soles of our sandals hissed across the polished ersite tiles as we advanced and retreated in the dance of death. His breath came in labored rasps between commands to me.
"Tonight," he said, "we will be attending the Warlord's anniversary dance. I want you to cultivate the attentions of the Dwar of the 74th Utan of the 20th Dar of the 16th Umak. His name is Had Notor, the son of Toron Had."
My father whipped his sword around mine in a maneuver designed to disarm me, which I barely foiled. My pleasure at this small victory disappeared as his eyes darkened, both with pride that I had escaped his trap and anger that a mere woman had bested him. I knew I was in for a difficult round of fighting from that moment on. His irascible temper was never far from the surface. Any obstruction to his will was to be eliminated as soon as possible. His sword sped faster, weaving a steel net around my sword, striking harder and harder as he failed to penetrate my defenses.
He continued to speak, "His father owns some farm land that lies between mine and the canal."
Our swords clashed again in parry and thrust, and again I barely managed to avoid being hit. My lungs began to burn with the continued exertions. I danced backwards, away from a hard slash at my leading leg. My father overbalanced, exposing his back to me for a moment. I pretended not to notice his error under the cover of drawing back to recover my footing, but he saw what I had done and his anger grew, as well as the force and speed of his surging thrusts and ripostes.
"If I can obtain a right of way to the water supply I can increase the yield of the mantalia groves by three fold."
My entire intention was simply to avoid losing quickly. If I lost quickly he would only start again, but, should I last too long without his scoring of a point, then he would thrash me again. My life was always a delicate balance between futile effort and inglorious loss.
"Do not allow his attention to wander from you," my father continued. "I will be watching." The force of his anger finally unnerved me and I quailed before his rage.
His sword penetrated my defense, striking the padded training armor that covered my torso with savage impact, enough force to leave a bruise on my left side that would need numerous days to heal and heavy cosmetics to hide. Had we been using the razor sharp blades of the navy, perhaps I would have died instantly from the wound, saving me from so much heartbreak since then. Straining to remain upright, I retreated a pace and, placing the guard of the sword to my lips, swept it to the side in the proper salute.
For a moment he stared at me, the white knuckles of his hand as it clasped the exercise sword silent proof of his rage, and then whipped his sword around in a parody of my salute.
"Pfaugh," he spat. "You are worthless as a swordsman. Useless. Your mother's sorak was a better fighter than you." He pointed to the small scar that he wore over his left eye like a badge of honor. "At least he gave me a scar for a remembrance before he died."
Thrusting his sword into the weapons rack, he strode out of the oppressive shadows into the well lit hallway to the upper chambers, his back stiff with outrage and disappointment. His ringing voice echoed back at me. "Be prepared to leave in a zode's time."
As the door closed behind him, I finally allowed the agony of the injury to my side to show on my face as I slumped to the floor gasping out in pain. I crouched on the cold surface for several tals until the distress had subsided into a dull ache.
The door through which my father had exited eased open and my only friend in the palace entered. His position in the house was but as a slave bought from a merchant from Kobol, but Kal Tavan, as he was named, had served me well in the fourteen years since he had been purchased. A warrior by trade he had aided me in undoing most of the errors I learned from my father's lessons in the art of swordplay. He also aided me in the disguising of the bruises and cuts I received on a daily basis. He also was the only one in whom I could confide my misery, which from time to time overwhelmed me. At those times I truly thought of him as my only friend. Of his innate nobility, I needed no assurance, for he treated me with all the honors due a princess of the royal family, never taking advantage of my friendship.
Rushing to my side he knelt beside my recumbent form and examined me. His rough, competent hands roamed over my arms and head, but I shook my head, telling him where I hurt. "It is my side, Kal Tavan," I moaned, "where he struck me."
Immediately, Kal Tavan raised me to my unsteady feet, unfastened the buckles and threw the armor on the floor. His probing fingers found the contusion, his proof of discovery being my shame-stifled scream.
Kal shook his head. "I think one of your ribs is broken, Mistress. We must bandage it or it will pain you unmercifully."
"No, Kal," I replied. "I must go with my father to the Warlord's anniversary party tonight and I must not show any sign of bandages or bruises."
He sighed heavily. "Very well, I will gather some medicines for the pain. Meet me in your rooms."
Nodding, I reached for the practice armor, faltering as the movement sent a shock of agony through my flank. I sought to stifle the hiss of pain that slipped from between my taut-stretched lips, but Kal Tavan was at my side before the sound had escaped.
"No, Sanoma Tora," he said, laying a restraining hand on my arm. "I will put it up for you."
I allowed Kal Tavan to remove the armor from my grasp. Truth to be told, I could barely raise my arms above my waist.
Kal carefully returned the armor to the display stand, making sure each buckle and snap was properly adjusted. Fearing a repeat of my father's wrath if he again found the garment not faultlessly disported on the rack, I waited while Kal Tavan finished. Turning, he frowned at me. "Tora, do not think I would fail in my duty to protect you. I will never let anyone harm you."
"Save my father, Kal. You may not protect me from him. He has the right to do whatever he wishes to me."
"I know, Sanoma Tora," he sighed, "but I will allow no one else to hurt you."
"I thank you, dear friend," I said, not knowing how soon he would fail in that vow.
Smiling sadly, Kal Tavan performed a deep bow that evinced no sign of subservience while showing sincere respect. He strode out of the chamber, leaving me alone once more. With a heavy sigh, the origin of which I could not ascertain, I followed, cradling my wounded side with both hands. I sought the solitude of my chambers, traveling through the quiet halls, hoping to attain that refuge without anyone else seeing me. Unfortunately, the passageways were teeming with life. I passed several groups of servants and soldiers who prowled the halls and straightened my pain wracked body and cleared my face of any emotion. Not by any sign did I want my father to hear once again of any weakness on my part, for that would only bring his wrath down on me for shaming him in public.
As I shut the door behind me, I glanced around at the opulence of the chamber and was repulsed by the atrocious splendor. Cost vied with gaudiness to insure that my refuge always reminded me that my father prided himself more on his massive wealth rather than on his paltry family. Expensive tapestries lined the walls and statues and multicolored plants were artlessly arranged around the chamber, creating a cacophony of disorder and disquiet. After a quick, private bath to cleanse the grime of the palestra from my body, I covered the tumescent contusion with a heavy cosmetic so no one would know my father had beaten me again. Over the years I had forbidden slaves from entering my room while I was inside. Even though I hated the decor, this was my only place of solitude where I could loosen my rigid controls and simply be myself, Sanoma Tora, a girl who could only allow her dreams free rein in this hideous room.
Kal Tavan entered the room after a discrete knock on the skeel wood door. I slowly rose from my couch to take the bitter cup of medicine from him. "It will dull the pain, Sanoma Tora," he said, "but not so much as to leave you dull in the wits." His droll humor brought a small smile to my lips as I raised the flask to my lips. Downing the acrid potion in a single swallow, I thanked Kal Tavan again for his services.
"Please, Sanoma Tora," he demurred. "Do not thank me. It is my pleasure to serve you in any fashion, now and forever." So saying, he bowed, turned on his heel and fled my presence as though he had spoken something he should not have said. I puzzled on his unusual behavior while I dressed, the potion's power having quickly reduced my agony to a bearable, though not minimal, pain. If I did not move quickly or jar the bruise against anything I could move with the stately grace that my father required of me.
A short time later, dressed in my finest silks, I stood ready near the door way to the rooftop hangar, a full fifteen tals before the appointed time. I dared not anger my father again tonight for fear of another lesson like today's. The clatter of the metals of his harness alerted me to his approach. I stood straighter and lifted my chin just as I had been instructed so many years ago. Ramrod straight, he stopped in front of me looking me in the face for signs of fatigue and slowly circled me examining my person for faults. Apparently I passed inspection because he nodded and strode up the ramp to enter our flyer. I followed a pace behind, where, as a female in the House of Tor, I belonged. As my foot touched the gangplank of the scout cruiser the chimes of the household chronometer echoed throughout the ancient halls of my father's home, such precision was an example of my father's need to dominate his environment and his destiny.
Twelve warriors were assigned to the cruiser as a permanent crew. Tonight we had another dozen who were our escort and guards. Each guard had been carefully selected from the men of the 91st Umak for their size and perfection of body. Each was a proven warrior, but that had been secondary to their physical attributes.
Some sixty sofads long and nearly thirty wide, the ship sported a gun turret at each end, manned by four warriors at all times, and gleamed, even at night, with the glow of the many brass fittings which were polished to mirror brightness. A single wooden keel stretched from stem to stern separating the buoyancy tanks which contained the miraculous Eighth ray which provided the lifting power that would raise the massive ship into the air.
My father led the way to the control cockpit and ordered the captain to release the ship. A single shouted command called the crew to business. A quiet murmur of men and machines was all that heralded the launching of the ship. No spoken commands were necessary, the crew having practiced the launch until their actions were second nature. Slaves released the mooring lines which the warriors of our ship drew aboard with swift and practiced ease coiling the ropes in the prescribed manner of the great Naval Fleet of Helium. Floating free, our flyer rose from the platform and headed north towards the central district of the sprawling city, the twin engines turning the silent propellers which provided the forward motion of the cruiser.
The twin cities of Helium are the most beautiful cities on Barsoom. Perhaps I speak with a biased eye, but I think not for I have heard many others echo that patriotic sentiment. With their twin towers, the greater one of red and the lesser one of yellow, the cities were larger than any other, having grown in wealth and stature since the arrival of the Warlord from Jasoom, his home planet.
As far as the eye could see the bejeweled city of Helium stretched forth, a carpet of buildings and gardens which so delight the average Barsoomian. No home, be it ever so humble, did not but sport a garden as lavish as the inhabitants could afford. Plants, both decorative and functional, are dear to all Martians, perhaps because they are as endangered as the people of Barsoom. The only things that stand between life on Barsoom and utter destruction are the three great atmosphere plants that provide the air that supports all life on Barsoom. For many millennia the air of our planet has been slowly evaporating. Without the air manufacturing factories, each one capable of providing the entire planet with enough air to survive, our world would be as dead as the moon of Jasoom. Decades ago an assassin had killed the operator of the single power plant and almost brought about the end of life on Barsoom, but, the Warlord, John Carter, had been able to open the ponderous doors using the symbols he had tricked the keeper of the plant into revealing, and allowed the engineers to enter the chambers just before all life had died. Since then, Tardos Mors, in conjunction with the other great cities of Barsoom, had caused two additional atmosphere plants to be built.
After many tals of flying time, we arrived at our destination, the Scarlet Tower of Greater Helium, which loomed in magnificent majesty over the greatest city of our planet. Beneath us, Princess Thuvia of Ptarth was descending the ramp into the tower as her craft was whisked over the side of the tower to a parking mooring on a lower level to make room for my father's much larger flyer which in turn was removed to make way for the flyer carrying Tara of Helium and her husband, Gahan of Gathol. My father sought a word with each of the Princesses. Embarrassed by his fawning obsequiousness, I kept my dignity close around me, a taut smile pasted on my rigid face, a smile that only broke into real joy as Tara pressed her hands into mine and inquired after my health. A murmured inanity answered her query which brought a slight crease to her brow; however she spoke not a word of her concern, but broke into an amusing story about her sorak and a pail of wash water that had been left inadvertently in the long hall of her palace near the edge of the ramp that led to the entry hall of her quarters. The story ended with her sorak sliding across the floor of the entry hall and into the feet of her husband who had howled in pain as the hapless sorak had latched onto his ankles with her claws. My laughter was somewhat forced and Tara looked thoughtful, but remained silent.
Finally, my father finished with Thuvia of Ptarth and we descended into the ballroom of the Palace to mingle with the aristocracy from the many cities of Barsoom who had come to celebrate the anniversary of the wedding of John Carter of Jasoom, the third planet from the sun, to Princess Dejah Thoris, the Daughter of Mors Kajak, the son of Tardos Mors, the Jeddak of Helium.
The ballroom was almost crowded with the one thousand invited guests and the innumerable servants. Despite the presence of the imposing Warlord with his pale skin and black hair and his friend, the massive Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of the Tharks, the largest of the tribes of the Green Men of Barsoom, my eyes were drawn to the face of a Padwar. His metal declared he was a member of the 91st Umak, my father's command. I was intrigued by his presence at this August gathering. What was a simple Padwar doing at the wedding anniversary celebrations? Only those of the highest ranks in the military or of the highest nobility were invited. Fascinated, I studied the man through lowered eyelashes. He stood as tall as the Warlord himself, a full head above those around him. Perhaps that is what drew my attention. Perhaps it was his handsome face which shone clearly above his plain, serviceable harness that caught my eye. Certainly his figure was well formed and sleek, almost like the carved perfection of a statue, although it was obvious that his flesh was not as cold as stone.
The man's dark eyes turned, idly passing over the sea of faces, until his glance came to rest on me. How I knew he had noticed me, I do not know, we were separated by fully half the length of the immense chamber, but I was sure his regard was centered upon me. I might have returned his gaze had not my father drawn me to his side, his hand alighting on my bruised flank. I stiffened at the touch, the agony engendered by his martial deed of the afternoon returning unabated.
"Be still, Sanoma Tora," he growled in his normally irritated voice. "Do not squirm so. Remember, you are representing the family."
My father's pressing hand escorted me over to Had Notor. The man, although tall, was sadly misshapen in the cranium by a bulging forehead and sunken, beady eyes which peered out from under beetling brows. His sunken cheeks were cut by deep creases that framed his tightly pursed mouth with its thin lips which twisted into a parody of a welcoming smile. After the formal introductions, my father retired a pace or two in order to leave us alone, at least as alone as two people can be among a gathering that exceeded a thousand in number.
Had Notor and I exchanged pleasantries for a few moments, but finally fell silent as we found we had nothing in common. He was a farmer's son and a military man while I was forbidden to speak of anything agricultural or martial. To do so, my father thought, would reveal my plebeian roots and that would not enhance my value to my father's plots to gain entry into the nobility.
I wondered how my father intended me to cultivate the father if I was forbidden to discuss the very things he wanted from the father with the son.
My companion drew my attention to the padwar who was approaching where we stood. Tall, straight, handsome, he was the physical perfection of a Barsoomian warrior. He walked with a lithe stride that covered the ground quickly without seeming to move faster than a walk. Black hair framed his strong face which was painted in the formal warrior's style. My heart fluttered at his regard, for it was plain that while he approached both of us he was interested in only me. It was the man whose gaze I had intercepted across the room.
"Had Notor!" the Padwar exclaimed when he neared, placing his hand on the other's shoulder in the standard greeting between friends. "My father sends his greetings and thanks for the many services you have done for him over the years."
"Kaor, Tan Hadron," my companion replied in turn, placing his hand on Tan Hadron's shoulder as well. "I am pleased that your father still remembers the few and inconsiderable favors I was pleased to render."
"And how is your sister?" Tan Hadron inquired.
"She remains well," Had Notor answered. He seemed puzzled about the reason for the conversation.
Turning his attention to me, Tan Hadron said, "I would ask how your companion fares, but alas we have not been introduced."
"Your pardon," Had Notor replied with formal dignity, understanding blossoming in his visage—understanding and resentment. "Sanoma Tora, may I present Tan Hadron of Hastor, a padwar in your father's Umak, I believe." Had Notor's sly reference to Tan Hadron's military rank reduced the farmer's already inconsiderable attractions to nothing, by showing him to be mean and weak, because Tan Hadron was forbidden to take offense at the slight on his position not only by custom controlling behavior at formal occasions but also by Tan Hadron's own honor. I let the insult pass unremarked, though I longed to respond to his incivility with one of my own, but I saw my father draw near.
"Kaor, Sanoma Tora," Tan Hadron exclaimed. "I am pleased to make your acquaintance." He sent a smile in my direction and continued, "So, how fare you, then?"
His scrutiny was so unsettling that I lowered my eyes and replied that I was well, thank you. At the same instant my father, who had approached us from behind, nudged me in the ribs. My lips curled in agony as my father whispered in a voice so low as not to be audible to any but me, "Ignore him. He is of no import."
My father had spoken and my obedience was expected to be immediate and absolute, so, schooling my face not to show my pain, I nodded to Tan Hadron and turned back to Had Notor. I have no idea what I said then, nor when Tan Hadron left, nor what Had Notor replied to me, but I was sure that the most handsome man I had ever seen had walked out of my life forever. I wonder if my life would have been happier if he had.
My efforts in cultivating the regard of Had Notor culminated in the desired result, because my father was able in the next few days to purchase the right of way through the lands belonging to Had Notor's father. It was through this transaction that my father became acquainted with Sil Vagis, another "merchant Prince" of Helium. Sil Vagis not only had undeniable wealth and connections to the merchant guilds but is also of the aristocracy, being noble in his own right as the son of Vagis Sil, who owned the radium mines that lay south of Helium. Radium is the source of that wondrous powder which glows in the dark and provides the explosive power to the guns, rifles and cannons of the military nations of Barsoom.
I next received new marching orders from my father: transfer my attentions to Sil Vagis, but under no circumstances was I to allow any affection to develop. My father had his eye on higher ranked individuals as potential mates for the Business/Nobility merger that was to be my marriage. My father's warning was unnecessary in any circumstance as Sil Vagis is a slimy sycophant with unctuous manners and a high, feminine voice, His features were smooth and soft, his head over-size in proportion to his scrawny physique. All in all, Sil Vagis was a most unsavory creature. Despite his drawbacks he was; however, a competent administrator, sufficiently wealthy and passably noble, so that my father appointed him Teedwar to the 91st Umak, in charge of stores.
Upon many occasions, my father had me transcribe the notes of his numerous business and military conferences. Sitting behind an arras in a small vestibule to one side of his offices, I carefully copied down the words spoken in the room in a brachigraphy of my own devising. One day many months after the Warlord's anniversary party my father was holding court in his office in our home. The Dwar of the 15th Utan of the 11th Dar of his Umak was making a routine report on the status of his troops. My ears pricked up at the mention of Tan Hadron's name. Idly, my father asked for specifics on the man. His attention was divided between the papers in front of him and the Dwar's report, although all of my attention was centered on the soldier's words, until the Dwar mentioned Tan Hadron's mother was a princess of Gathol.
The arras behind which I sat was one of those ingeniously woven fabrics that is opaque on one side but nearly transparent on the other. I had no trouble seeing my father glance my way before asking for further clarification of Tan Hadron's status. A few more sentences from the Dwar convinced my father to invite Tan Hadron to our home for a feast that was planned for the next week. A strange thrill coursed through me as my father extended the invitation. I would soon see Tan Hadron again!
After the Dwar left my father motioned me into the room to review my notes for inclusion in the monthly report to the Jeddak. My father silently read the reports while I stood ready to help with any other correspondence he might have. Looking up from the suddenly erratic writings on the page, my father commented upon these deficiencies in composition of the record of this meeting with the Dwar.
"This is so unlike your normal work, Sanoma Tora," he said. "I hope it is simply an aberration and not a sign of emotional distress." He laid the papers on the table with casual deliberateness. "While I have invited this Tan Hadron into our home, you are not to show him any marked favoritism. He may be of use to us; I will have to contemplate the possibilities. However, you will need to continue to show favor to Sil Vagis. I have not yet received value for his appointment to my staff."
A slight shudder shook my frame as I remembered my last meeting with Sil Vagis. His eyes had glowed with an intensity that unsettled my equilibrium, but not with a desire to know the reason for such an intense gaze, but rather a desire to flee the odious presence of my father's Teedwar. Still, my father's orders were not to be disobeyed. Therefore, as I stood in the receiving line at the feast the next week, Sil Vagis approached in his smooth gait which reminded me of a Silian slithering across a rock on the dead sea bottoms of Barsoom.
Bowing over my hand, Sil Vagis repeated the formal phrases of greeting and repeated the long penetrating gaze which began with my eyes then traveled down my body to the floor before returning to my face. When shivers shook my frame, Sil Vagis smiled, but no humor showed in his eyes, which smoldered like embers in a fire. I could tell he enjoyed my discomfiture, but my father's orders were specific. I pasted a smile on my face, an action that had become a habit of recent years. In fact, I rarely smiled with pure enjoyment. I am not sure if my father noticed the look his Teedwar gave me, but I would not be surprised if he had and thought it a good sign for his designs on the treasury of the house of Vagis Sil.
We stood in the doorway of the vast chamber which was the entry way to my father's house, my father and I, greeting our guests as they arrived. To my excessive relief, Sil Vagis had to retire into my father's gaudy ball room as more soldiers, merchants, their wives and other feminine escorts arrived. My feet began to ache as the first zode of greetings advanced into a second.
Finally, the man I most wished to see made his appearance. Striding down the broad ramp into the vestibule came Tan Hadron. Though he was dressed in plain harness, his figure still drew many admiring eyes, including mine. His exploits were the source of much conversation and gossip amongst the servants. My father never listens to the servants; he just issues orders, expecting immediate and complete compliance. He rarely has time for anyone not noble, royal or rich. My father's only interest in the man, and therefore, he thought, mine, was because Tan Hadron was an intimate, because of his mother's lineage, of the Jeddak of Helium, the Jed of Helium, the Warlord of Barsoom and the Warlord's son. And my father wished desperately to gain that intimacy for himself.
His greeting of Tan Hadron that evening was most effusive, "We must see more of you here, Tan Hadron of Hastor. I have been watching you and I prophesy you will go far in the military service of the Jeddak."
"I thank you for your kind thoughts," Tan Hadron replied with a greeting bow which was just sharp enough to honor the Odwar of his Umak but not so deep as to be fawning. "I hope to prove your prediction true."
My father motioned me forward. "May I introduce my daughter, Sanoma Tora?"
"Thank you, sir," said Tan Hadron, "I am not sure you remember, Sanoma Tora, but we met..."
"At the Warlord's wedding anniversary last year," I said. "Yes, I remember clearly."
Tan Hadron smiled, his face lighting up with delight that I had remembered him. I was about to continue when Sil Vagis sidled up and took my hand, saying in his oily voice, with an arch glance at Tan Hadron, "Come. It is time for the first dance." I believe he had been waiting for this moment to inject his presence into the conversation. His contempt for Tan Hadron was obvious, as was the padwar's in return.
Standing behind my two suitors, my father nodded sagely, his self-satisfied smile almost invisible on his serene face. Regretfully, I had to go, but before turning to Sil Vagis, I spoke to Tan Hadron the words that set in motion events which have haunted me since. How much pain could I have saved myself if I had defied my father's orders and not said, "Please, Tan Hadron of Hastor, feel free to visit my father's home and to pay your respects when your duties permit."
The words came out stilted and unreal, not conveying my true, avid wish to see him again. Neither Sil Vagis nor my father would have welcomed any further conversation with Tan Hadron at that time and so, accompanied by a smirking Sil Vagis onto the dance floor, I left Tan Hadron in the voracious clutches of my concupiscent father.
I was unable to speak with Tan Hadron again that night, but my father did allow me to receive the scion of the royal house of Hastor into our home on many occasions thereafter. Still, I had to mask my growing attachment and adoration for the Prince of Hastor. For all my father's protestations that Tan Hadron sought me out for my father's wealth, because it was obvious Tan Hadron himself had none of his own, I prayed that this was not so. I preferred to believe that he thought my company was sufficient for him.
In the months that followed we met, danced, played games, conversed on many subjects, and passed many zodes in pleasant pastimes. In all, those days were the happiest of my life.
The only woman in whom my confidence lay was the Warlord's daughter, Tara. When my father suggested that now was a good time to see if Tan Hadron would help us, meaning my father, visit the four luminaries of Helium, I responded that Tara of Helium would be the best one to visit as it would accomplish his desires without the appearance of sycophancy. He agreed, praising my shrewd, conniving skills, not knowing those skills were being utilized on him and not the royalty of Helium, and so I was able to visit my only female friend more often than I would have been able to without my father's consent.
Following hard upon my father's assent, Tan Hadron arrived and I suggested we visit Tara. He acquiesced with a slight, enigmatic smile and a gracious extension of his arm.
The ride over to Tara's palace was enjoyable as the sun was warm and the sky clear. Tan Hadron made small talk as he flew, his hands sure on the simple controls of his two seater. The flyer was of unusual make as it had two seats in a small compartment in the body with a small screen before it to block most of the wind during the flight, the standard flyer having no seats, the pilot and passengers clipping their harnesses to rings on the deck of the flyer as they lie down almost without protection from the wind.
Upon our arrival, the men of Tara's palace appropriated Tan Hadron and bore him off to look at a newly born riding thoat to help to imprint it with a lack of fear of man. The men disregarded my request to accompany them as nothing more than politeness on my part. They were wrong. Both Tara and I were truly interested in the animal's hatching, but the men would have none of our accompanying them to the hatching stalls.
Disappointed, I consoled myself with a long visit with Tara in which I confessed my growing affection for Tan Hadron. Tara started up from her reclining position on her couch which stood under the wide, cloudless skies of Barsoom on the balcony of her chambers, looking at me with wide eyes and a sharp intake of breath.
"Surely, you jest, Sanoma Tora. You would not be at all happy with Tan Hadron," she exclaimed. "He is too much like your father."
"No!" I cried. "You are wrong. Tan Hadron cares nothing for money or position." I paced to the balustrade and stared out at the great city below to hide from her my fears that those were the true reasons he sought my company.
Striding to stand at my shoulder, Tara intoned, "That is not what I am talking about. Both your father and Tan Hadron desire that which they know are beyond their reach, beyond their understanding, beyond their deserving. Do not blind yourself to their ambitions and their faults."
Glancing at the Warlord's daughter, I noted she stared out at the vista before us, but was not looking at anything. Her face was set and still. I returned my gaze forward and we stood in silence for a while. A sudden thought disturbed my composure. Did the beloved daughter of the Warlord of Barsoom know something of those pains herself? Was she not the happily married woman we all thought her? Did she have secret regrets of her own?
Suddenly, the Warlord's daughter turned and noted her sorak had laid several eggs last week, Tara having found them nestled in the center of her bed. It had taken several strong soldiers and nearly a zode to remove the eggs and the sleeping silks and furs from the bed to the birthing incubator in the corner of the room.
I asked to see the eggs and we spent a pleasing time approaching the wary sorak and the eggs. We contemplated the sex and attributes of the, as yet unhatched, eggs. Soon, though, it was time for us to join the men for a quick meal before the fall of night and we had to leave to return home. Tan Hadron was as loquacious as before, but Tara's words had sent a chill through me, causing me to see an intensity about him in the glances he sent my way, glances that reminded me of those my father made when he had his eye on a prize he would have, no matter the cost. Indeed, my father had almost, but never quite crossed the line that divided honorable, but sharp, dealings from the outright criminal. Those looks unsettled me, but I turned a blind eye to them, dismissing the misgivings engendered by Tara's words. Even his hand on my arm as he escorted me to the flyer seemed overly possessive, but I put it down to tensions engendered by my father's commands to cultivate Tan Hadron's favor. Tan Hadron loved me, I knew it.
Tan Hadron commented, on our way home, that I was unusually silent, but only after he had enthused about the infant thoat. I brushed his observation aside with a shrug and a question on the taming of the thoat. During the rest of the ride Tan Hadron told me many things about raising young thoats, most of which I already knew and the rest of which were wrong. After Tan Hadron landed his flyer on my father's roof landing platform, I invited him in for some refreshment, but he pleaded a need to report to his Utan, but stated that he would return that night. The look in his eyes set my heart to fluttering. Eagerly, I awaited sundown.
I made my way down to my father's study to transcribe more of my notes. I was surprised to find him in conversation with a sharp faced man in strange harness with medals I did not recognize. The stranger studied me for a moment, nodded to my father, bowed in my direction, and left without speaking a word. As the door closed behind the man, my father washed his hands in the air, a sure sign he had a business deal in the offing.
"Daughter, I have done it. I have assured your place in a royal family." His words brought hope to me that he was going to allow Tan Hadron to declare himself. But his next words quickly disabused me of any such notion. "It has taken a year of negotiating but I have obtained the consent of Tul Axtar, the Jeddak of Jahar, for the two of you to wed."
"But Tan Hadron is royalty from Hastor," I cried, a disquiet growing in my mind.
"Tan Hadron?" he growled. "Bah, he is but a prince of a lesser village compared to the Jeddak of Jahar. I have negotiated a merger with the Jeddak of Jahar and you as principals. Why the region of U-Gor is reputed to be the most fertile section of all Barsoom."
"No!" I whispered.
"Yes," he spat. "You will not oppose me in this. Do you hear?" His hand on my arm clutched tightly, numbing my hand. "You will sever your connection with Tan Hadron."
"But, I believe he will declare himself tonight," I wailed.
"I forbid you to accept. Indeed, you are to convince him that his suit is unwelcome."
Lowering my eyes, I nodded my capitulation, my heart breaking. Duty had so long been drilled into my psyche that refusal did not even enter my mind and I knew that soon I would give Tan Hadron of Hastor his dismissal. How I passed the afternoon, I do not know. My mind was mercifully numb with despair.
That night we sat in a spacious hall of my father's palace, the one that overlooked the overworked, opulent and ornate gardens that my father's wealth had decreed into existence. A suppressed excitement emanated from Tan Hadron, an excitement I would have welcomed yesterday. But today I was to destroy that excitement. As a prelude to that regretted destruction, I forced a studied calm to descend on me.
"You are uninteresting tonight, Tan Hadron of Hastor," I intoned.
"Perhaps," he replied, "it is because I am trying to find the words in which to clothe the most interesting thought I have ever entertained."
My heart plummeted. "And what is that?"
"I love you, Sanoma Tora," he blurted.
Hearing the words I had so longed to hear for nearly a year caused such pain that I broke out in a despairing laugh. Had I let my own affection to show through despite my father's orders? Was that why he was declaring himself now? Did he know I loved him? I had to stop him from further declaration. "That has been evident for a long while," I said. "But why speak of it?"
The moment the words left my mouth I knew I had made a mistake. I had asked him to explain, but he responded with a question of his own. "And why not?"
"Because," I responded with a heavy breaking heart, "even if I returned your love, I am not for you, Tan Hadron of Hastor."
"You cannot love me then, Sanoma Tora?" he pleaded.
"I did not say that!" The words burst out of my mouth in a torrent of emotion. The lies were shattering me.
"You could love me?"
"I could love you," I burst out without thought, but I recovered my self within moments and continued, "if I permitted myself the weakness, but what is love?" I loved them both, Tan Hadron and my father, but I owed loyalty to my father in addition and it would be weakness that would allow me to return Tan Hadron's affections when I had been ordered to sunder our connection.
"Love is everything." He laid his hand upon my arm, which burned at his touch. I looked down at his deeply bronzed skin which contrasted so sharply with my own. His fingers closed tightly around my wrist.
My own thoughts, which paralleled his, swirled around my head. I almost broke down and confessed my own love, but echoes of my father's words returned me to my senses. I had to follow my father's instructions; my honor would allow me no other option. Forcing a brittle laugh from my lips, from somewhere I found the strength to reply.
"If you think that I would link myself for life with a threadbare Padwar even if I loved him you are mistaken." Drawing deeply on my father's teachings which had been beaten into me from my youngest years, I stood straight and stared with dull eyes at the man I loved. "I am the daughter of Tor Hatan, whose wealth and power are but little less than those of the royal families of Helium."
Hadron of Hastor opened his mouth to speak. Before he could utter a word, I had to crush his desire for me for his own sake, for my father would do everything to destroy him. He would send Tan Hadron on the most dangerous and suicidal of missions and Tan Hadron, being honorable, would go and die. I could not have his death on my conscience.
"I have suitors whose wealth is so great that they could buy a thousand times over. Within the year an emissary of the Jeddak Tul Axtar of Jahar waited upon my father; he had seen me and he said that he would return and, merely for love," I crammed as much sarcasm into the phrase as possible, "You would ask me, who may someday be Jeddara of Jahar to become the wife of a poor Padwar." I could not tell him that the merger had just been completed; I could not hurt him more than I had to, even though I had to destroy his love for me.
He rose, removing his hand from my arm. "Perhaps you are right," he said. "You are so beautiful that it does not seem possible that you could be wrong." I bristled at his dismissal of any accomplishment of mine beyond the mere possession of a pretty face and body. "But deep in my heart," he continued, "I cannot but feel that happiness is the greatest treasure that one may possess, and love the greatest power. Without these, Sanoma Tora, even a Jeddara is poor indeed."
"I shall take my chance," I said.
Tan Hadron's next words revealed how much mine own words had injured his pride. "I hope that the Jeddak of Jahar is not a greasy as his emissary."
My response had to be equally as curt. "He may be an animated grease-pot for all I care if he will make me his Jeddara."
"Then there is no hope for me?"
It was then that I put the seal on my fate with my next words, "Not while you have so little to offer, Padwar." I pretended to be as mercenary as my father.
Anger, hurt and despair blazed from Tan Hadron's eyes and he made to speak, but, at that moment, Kal Tavan appeared, announcing the approach of Sil Vagis. My father must have sent his Teedwar to ensure I broke up with Tan Hadron. As Kal Tavan backed away, Tan Hadron leaned his lips into my ear, gazing past me towards the approaching Sil Vagis. His words at first elicited joy then concern.
"Even though hope seems dead, I have not relinquished my determination to win you. If wealth and power are your price, then I will achieve wealth and power." Tan Hadron bowed stiffly and, without another word, stalked away, brushing past my father's Teedwar and the retreating Kal Tavan who glanced back at me with a puzzled look on his face.
I watched my beloved walk away, my heart shattered within my breast. I had thought I was plunged into the depths of despair at his leave taking. How wrong I was.
CHAPTER 2 — I LOSE A FRIEND
Kal Tavan, my father's most trusted slave, peered at Sil Vagis and me for a few moments after Tan Hadron stormed out of the hall, then he turned and began a slow ascent to the upper floors. It was his duty, at this time of night, to arrange the silks and furs upon the beds of myself and my father. Always, he prepared mine first and then my father's.
Unable to stay in the great chamber where I had so cruelly rejected Tan Hadron's declaration of love as my father had commanded, I led Sil Vagis out into the rooftop garden. The twin moons, Cluros and Thuria, were rising to speed across the night sky as we stepped out into the graveled path, our sandals crunching the stones beneath our feet.
"One would think," Sil Vagis said, glancing back towards Tan Hadron's retreating figure, " Tan Hadron is somewhat vexated tonight. Has he suffered a torment at your hands, my dear?"
One look at the glitter in his eyes proved to me that he knew of my father's command to break off with Tan Hadron. I refused to give him the satisfaction of knowing I had done the deed as commanded. Negligently waving a careless hand, I spoke in a tired voice. "Of course he has. The poor fool thought I could love an impoverished nobody such as him. Why, such a marriage would be ludicrous."
"Because he is poor?" Sil Vagis pursued the thought.
"That, and other reasons too numerous to relate." I wandered further from the palace and deeper into the darkened park, fleeing from my cruelty to Tan Hadron. I could flee the place but not the memory of that betrayal.
"So," Sil Vagis muttered, "money is important."
I ignored the slimy oaf, examining one of the vividly iridescent flowers on a nearby bush so I wouldn't have to look at him.
He laid a hand on my arm, turning me towards him. "I have a business proposition," he rasped in a husky voice, "to present to you, Sanoma Tora, Daughter of Tor Hatan." He took both of my wrists into his soft hands. "I desire you."
"Are you saying you love me, Sil Vagis?" I inquired, puzzled at his tone.
He laughed with sardonic amusement at my naivety. "By my first ancestor, no. I said I desire you. I want to rent you for my pleasure. Your father is of low birth. I am a noble of Helium and more wealthy than your father can imagine. I do not need to wed you for my purposes and I can, in return, increase your father's wealth ten fold and not notice the loss."
At first I did not understand the meaning of his words, but as he continued to leer at me, I began to realize the affront he had accorded me. He wished to barter for me like a building or a thoat. Breaking free of his grip, I backed away a pace, anger swelling in my breast at his insult. He reached for my hand again.
"Touch me again, Sil Vagis," I swore, "and I will kill you."
Sil Vagis paused in his advance. "You would dare?" he cried.
My hand crept towards my knife as I scowled. His eyes grew round and his face paled in the moonlight so that he seemed almost white. I was surprised that my threat, no, my promise, had worked so well. A clattering of metal heralded his sudden flight from my presence as he whirled and leaped off the path, plunging into the lush vegetation that bordered the landing pad. I stared after him, dumbfounded at his arrant cowardice, until a troop of soldiers surrounded me, laying rough hands on my person. Outraged, I whirled upon my assailants only to find myself facing the sharp faced emissary of Tul Axtar, the Jeddak of Jahar, my newly betrothed.
"Come, Sanoma Tora," he said. "It is time to go to your fiancÚ's home."
"At night?" I exclaimed. "Without an escort?" I was appalled.
"Such is your father's wish," he replied in a soft tone. He bent forward at the waist and continued in a sibilant whisper, "It costs less."
I sighed in resignation. This was so much like my father that I did not question the emissary, but turned to follow him and his warriors onto his ship. However, I was not to enter the ship of my own choice, for the men drew alongside of me and grasped my arms with hard, calloused hands. They raised me from my feet and tossed me over the gunwale with as much ceremony as they would have thrown a sack of grain. As the last warrior clambered aboard, a frantic Kal Tavan broke free from the bushes and leaped onto the ship, grabbing at the laggard's harness. At the same time Kal Tavan raised his voice in the alarm as he shouted for the palace guards.
I called on Kal Tavan to stop but my words went unheeded and unheard. One of the Jaharian warriors on the deck drew his long sword and struck Kal Tavan in the head. My rescuer's thrashing body made hitting him difficult without clouting his own fellow soldier, but finally the deed was done and Kal Tavan slid from the ship to fall to the ground, limp and lifeless. I rushed to the gunwale of the ship in a vain attempt to leap to Kal Tavan's assistance, but the soldiers held me back until the cruiser had risen high enough for me to realize that such an act on my part would only end in my demise and still not succeed in helping my poor friend.
Angrily facing the emissary, I spoke through clenched teeth, "Why did you do that?"
The emissary's eyebrow rose in a surprised arc. "Surely, my lady, you would not have us allow anyone to attack the representatives of the Jeddak of Jahar without a suitable response."
"He was my father's slave, a member of our household. He was no threat to you."
The emissary's voice remained soft. "He attacked one of my men. We have a right to defend ourselves."
The Jaharian's act against the ethics of combat shocked me to the core. No warrior is allowed in personal combat to utilize a weapon greater than the one used by his opponent. The warrior should have used his fists or wrestled with Kal Tavan instead of cutting him down with a sword. "He had no weapon! We must return to my father's palace and see if he lives."
"No," came the smooth reply. "We will not return. The man was only a slave. Come, you will enjoy the voyage better in the cabin." Not waiting to see if I would follow, the emissary took my arm in hand and propelled me towards the cabin door. I stopped at the threshold, refusing to take another step. "Do not make this unpleasant," he said; his hand tightened on my arm, painfully assuring me that he would not hesitate to use his physical superiority to compel my compliance. Seeing no alternative to being forced inside the cabin, I proceeded down the short access ramp into the cramped compartment. Turning to give orders for the helmsman to resume course for home, the emissary latched the hatch. Then he did something quite unusual. He turned out the cabin lights, leaving the ship in darkness. Looking out the portholes, I noticed that the ship showed no lights at all.
"This ship is in violation of Heliumetic laws," I said. "The patrol ships will surely detain you without them."
"They can but try," the Jaharian noble said with subtle emphasis, pointing through the porthole to a patrol ship that was coming alongside, hailing our ship. It was a seven man craft with several short range guns mounted on the deck. The padwar in charge flashed the patrol cruiser's spotlight on us, blinding me for a few moments.
As the ship drew alongside, the Heliumetic warriors scrambled to man their ship's guns as the Dwar of the patrol ship called for us to halt and identify ourselves. The men on the Jaharian flyer remained silent and did not reply although I heard the scramble of many feet on the deck and the clattering of metal on metal as they arranged themselves at their stations preparing, I can only assume, to repel the Heliumetic warriors as they boarded the ship.
Suddenly, to my complete shock, the patrol vessel that had drawn alongside began to disintegrate. From one end to the other, every piece of metal began to disappear, the Eighth Ray tanks, the superstructure, harness buckles, swords, guns, everything metallic, simply faded away, leaving only the wooden, leather, and human parts suspended in the air for a moment until they began to fall. The men plunged screaming to their deaths nearly a haad below. The seven hapless, naked, doomed men's screams of despair and surprise will haunt me forever.
Even as they fell to their deaths, I demanded to know what had just happened.
"Did something happen, my lady?" the emissary inquired, his eyebrows raised to hide in his hairline. "I saw nothing." His face wore a look of patent innocence, which did not fool me. He knew exactly what had occurred, but refused to reveal that knowledge. I was at a loss to untangle the mystery of the incident. Nothing in my experience could explain the disappearance of metal. There had been neither explosion nor any heat, besides the metal had not melted, it had just vanished.
My prison surged off into the night. The emissary opened the hatch. "Please remain in the cabin," he said, "for your own protection." He exited onto the deck, enclosing me in the darkened cabin.
For a long while I puzzled over the happenings of the evening, but found no solace in the dark. Eventually I fell into a deep, tormented sleep. The sun shining in the porthole woke me. For a few moments I could not remember where I was nor what had happened, but soon pangs of hunger began to gnaw at my belly and I called for food. When no answer came I called louder and eventually began to pound on the hatch to emphasize my need. Suddenly the hatch flew open and a padwar burst in on me, knocking me to the cabin's floor.
"Silence," he roared. "Your noise offends the emissary's ears."
"Your lack of courtesy offends me," I returned.
The padwar folded his arms over his chest and stood before me in his martial splendor, thinking to overawe me with his manner. My contempt for his bluster was obvious as I rose to face him.
"I demand you return me to my father's palace. If you do this, then we will consider this incident at an end. My father is not without resources to repay you for this insult."
His response was as unnerving as it was unexpected. Abruptly he burst into laughter, not humorous, but sinister in import. "Sit down, you little fool," he hissed. "Your father is nothing and you are less than nothing. Jahar has no further need for you and if you do not behave, if you give us any trouble, Toban Axtar, our glorious Jeddak's brother, shall have no compunction about tossing you over the side of the ship to feed the denizens of the dead sea bottoms. No one would ever find your bones and you will remain lost forever. You have served your purpose in disappearing from Helium. A few, simple words at the right time will serve our Jeddak's purpose. We do not need to deliver you to Jahar. As far as our glorious Jeddak is concerned, you are expendable."
"You would not dare to harm me. That would mean war between Helium and Jahar."
I did not expect his response, which was so rapid in return, and so was unprepared to defend myself. The back of his hand struck my right cheek, throwing me to the cabin's floor. I tried to rise but the floor kept sliding to one side, making me nauseous. My mind knew I was not moving for my arms were solidly planted on the deck but still my eyes kept seeing the world whirl madly around me. Even so, I sought to stand and face him. I had no more than risen to one knee when, again, he struck me and I remembered no more.
The cabin of the Jaharian cruiser was dark when I awoke. My head ached abominably. I sat up, my head spinning. A small shake to try to clear the webs from my head, resulted in a sharp pain and nausea. I regretted the action as soon as it happened. Holding my head in one hand, I rose and sat on the bunk.
From above decks came the sounds of arguing, voices raised with menace. I could not hear the words, but I knew it was the emissary who spoke. The porthole on the starboard side of the ship was open, allowing me to lean over and hear better what was being said. The emissary hissed, "—and I tell you that if you do not pacify the woman and make her quiet I will personally throw you over the side of the flyer." Then followed the sound of a hand striking against flesh, a sound well known in my experience, a sound my father's hand made on my face many times before I became too valuable as a ceramic doll to be displayed for many to admire but none to touch.
"But, Prince Toban," the second voice said, "you made it clear she had no value to our Jeddak."
"But, I have need of her." The Prince's voice hissed with menace. "You will apologize to her for your behavior."
A short time later the hatch opened and the emissary leaned down into the doorway. Seeing me awake, he quickly descended into the cabin, profuse apologies dropping from his lips as he motioned another to enter. The padwar who had struck me entered with a silver salver in his hands. A delicious aroma arose from the food that was arranged upon a silver plate. A glass of a golden liquid stood next to the plate. The padwar knelt before me, raising the platter above his head which he bowed, hiding his face from my sight.
"Please, dear lady," the emissary continued, "allow me to once again apologize for the rude behaviour of this unworthy ulsio. Had I known what he thought, I would never have allowed him to come near you." The emissary spread helpless hands. "He has something to say."
"Forgive me, Sanoma Tora. I was wrong to think you without value to the Jeddak of Jahar. I have been instructed in the error of my ways and beg your forgiveness. Allow me to serve you and I will lay my sword at your feet." He raised his eyes to mine and I saw many bruises on his visage. One eye was swollen shut. Clearly his apology had been wrought from him by the use of duress and pain.
"That is unnecessary," I replied, hastily. "You are forgiven." In token of my word, I took the glass and drank deeply. The padwar rose and placed the platter beside me on the cabin's small built-in table. He retreated outside, bowing deeply as he left.
At the prince's urging, I drank more of the draft and found the liquor made my head spin, which was not unusual, for I have no head for wines, but I soon found I had difficulty in keeping my eyes open.
"Forgive me, your highness," I mangled the apology, dropping the cup from nerveless fingers. "But I feel a little drowsy."
"That is not unusual, Sanoma Tora," the emissary replied. "you did suffer a severe trauma to your head recently. Sleep will do you good."
The Jaharian prince left me and I soon fell asleep.
The next day I again fell asleep just after drinking the wine. On the third day I sensed a pattern and only pretended to drink. This time, although I did not feel tired, I pretended a dizziness I did not feel and feigned sleep. This drugging of me was disturbing and I wondered at the need for the strange treatment.
Except for the twice daily meals, the crew left me quite alone. Aside from the emissary the only crewman I saw was the man who had struck me. He was assiduous in his care, making sure I had all I needed and that each of my desires was met with prompt service. I did not know then which aspect of the padwar revealed his true nature then, and not for many days after.
My isolation in the ship's cabin left me with nothing to do but think. My thoughts were not cheerful nor did they comfort me. My father had sold me into a marriage which seemed doomed to prove little more than slavery. Obviously he did not care about my fate once his ends had been realized. I wondered if anyone cared about me. The panthan cared, but only because he feared for his life. Then I thought of Kal Tavan, who had died, unarmed and single-handed, trying to rescue me from overwhelming odds. The only one who had cared for me had been a slave. How the mighty, the wealthy, the powerful had fallen. What was to become of me? I did not know.
I searched the cabin and found a flask of water. This, at least, assuaged my thirst.
In the many days that followed, the ship flew slowly to the south and finally to the west. I nursed the water, doling out a swallow or two morning and night. I did not know how long the journey would last but I was determined not to lie in a drugged stupor when we arrived at our destination. Why we were traveling at such a leisurely pace, I do not know. I was thankful that the Jaharians did not molest me.
Sleep was my only escape from the monotony of my miserable existence. Thus I passed the time in restless slumber, haunted by visions of my last night in my father's house. My betrayal of Tan Hadron and the death of Kal Tavan battled with each other as the most disturbing of my dreams.
During the day my only entertainment was to stare out the porthole at the endless parade of slowly passing plains of ochre colored moss with a thin fringe of mountains at the horizon, sometimes visible, sometimes hidden by the curvature of the planet, but always sand and moss. As a rare interruption of the monotonous landscape, a herd of thoats would lumber past in the distance. The unlovely beasts rumbled across the ochre plains on their ten nailless legs which changed color from the slate-grey of the back to yellow at the ground. The animals averaged ten feet in height at the shoulder with a large head on a long supple neck. The tail was flat and wider at the tip than at the root.
Once we passed a lone Green Man mounted on one of the irascible beasts. I have met Tars Tarkas, the Jeddak of the Tharks, the greatest of the desert hordes of Green Men. The Green Man has six limbs, two arms, two legs and an intermediary pair which can be used as either arms or legs. When he stands at his fullest height, he towers over me at nearly three times mine own height although when he stands on his four legs he is barely two times my height. With eyes on either side of the head and two tusks rising from his mouth and two slits in his face for a nose, the Green Man is as unprepossessing a creature as ever I have seen. One look at our ship from his protruding red eyes and he threw his long spear to the ground, drawing his radium rifle from his saddle's holster. As he leveled his sights at us, our cruiser surged forward, cries from the lookout having warned the ship's master of the danger. The flyer dove to one side in an effort to spoil the aim of the enemy below.
The Green Man of Barsoom is known for his skill with the radium rifle. This one was no different from the rest of his olive skinned brethren. Even mounted on a charging thoat, aiming at a moving target, his first shot slew our helmsman. Even though I was trapped in the cabin and unable to see what happened on desk, I knew the moment the helmsman died because the ship was rocked with a small explosion as the radium bullet entered his body, breaking the little glass shell that protected the tiny particle of radium which provided the rifle its deadly effect. When exposed to light the radium dust explodes with frightening force. So powerful is this explosion that only the tiniest particle is needed to rupture the chest wall of its hapless victim.
Immediately following this blast, the ship swerved abruptly to the right, throwing me across the compartment into the bulkhead which painfully stopped my career through the air. My frantically questing hand caught the edge of the portal. The sight of the Green Man drawing a bead on the new helmsman held me enthralled.
Our ship had flown close as our savage assailant urged his thoat to charge up towards our flyer. As his weapon trained on the ships officers, I was suddenly startled to see his rifle begin to disintegrate, as well as the rest of the metal in his harness and saddle. When the cinch buckle disappeared and the staples and brads holding the saddle tree together vanished, the thoat sensed his rider's stunned reaction to the disintegration of his weapons and saddle. The Green Man lost his concentration and the control of his mount in the same instant. The thoat stopped running, throwing the rider off balance.
The Green Man slid off the ruins of his saddle onto the springy moss which broke the force of his fall, allowing him to rise, naked, to his feet, the leather of his harness straps hanging loosely over his shoulders. He stared stupefied at the ship for a moment, his mount completely forgotten. The thoat, however, had not forgotten him nor the brutal methods of control which the Green Men employ. The heavy club which was used to subdue the thoat still hung by a leather thong from the creature's lower wrist, but the bludgeon proved to be an ineffectual defense against the enraged beast's vengeance. No sooner had the Green Man risen to his feet, than the thoat charged, trampling the man beneath its huge nailless extremities, grinding the corpse into the mossy ground, bellowing out its rage and triumph until its need for vengeance had been sated and it sauntered off grazing on the moss.
The laughter of the Jaharians above deck echoed in my ears. The laughter of the Green Man is reputed to have a chilling, terrifying effect on the listener, because the loudest convulsions of the humorous hysterias of the Green man is reserved for those times when the victims of the most horrendous tortures the creatures can devise are creating a cacophony of screams and groans as they endure their death throes. I can only hope that I never hear those laughs, because the ones I heard coming from above decks, were as horrible as any I had ever heard.
The laughter died down and the ship righted itself, accelerating to the west, flying low and fast to avoid meeting any of our attacker's fellow warriors.
Then, the body of the luckless helmsman plummeted past the porthole through which I had seen the demise of the Green man. Such a burial is common among the peoples of Barsoom. The food represented by the body was best delivered to those animals who would need it to survive, besides which, I knew, my captors had no plans to risk the ship in a useless ceremony for a warrior of no account. However, they had first stripped the body of its valuables and harness, to deliver them to the man's heirs, if he had any left on this war torn planet.
Still, I wondered why the Green Man's harness and weapons had fallen apart. How had that happened? By what mechanism or force had the very existence of the metal in them ceased to be? Did the Jaharians have aught to do with it? The thought was inescapable. Both incidents had occurred when the Jaharian ship was near. Did they have a weapon that disintegrated metal or was it a side effect of the hideous blue paint that covered the ship's exterior? I discarded that theory immediately because the metal in my harness had not disintegrated upon my approach. I pondered these enigmas until my head ached again, but could discern no answer to my questions.
As the sun rose with characteristic rapidity, the onset of day being swift and the transition from dark to light lasting no more than a tal, the Jaharian ship approached the dead city of Torquas. All was a stillness as the ship sailed over the wall of the deserted city; I saw the inspiring towers of the Jeddak's palace in the distance. Miles of desolate streets that were overgrown with ochre moss separated us from that long dead edifice that had housed one of the most powerful royal families in all of the history of Barsoom. The quiet avenues that lead down the mountain, following the receding waters of the evaporating ocean chronicled the futile pursuit of the trade that had created this magnificent city. Here and there a roof had fallen in, a result of the neglect of ages, the inhabitants of Torquas having fled when the oceans had finally dried up.
Above decks, the emissary called out for the helmsman to align the ship with the first warehouse on the promontory and the Jeddak's palace. "We ll use that as our starting point on the flight home," he said.
A gentle turn showed the helmsman had heard and responded promptly to the order. The city unrolled beneath the keel of the ship, a sleeping behemoth of man's ambition, dead from entropy's slow acting predations, forgotten in the mists of time, little more than an ink blot on a map. Rank gardens, choked with moss and weeds, vied with courtyards, caked with dust, for the honor to be the most dilapidated. Even crushed beneath these melancholy growths, the city still stirred with life. White Apes peered out from windows in the larger buildings and banths prowled the streets in search of unwary food. Finally the ship flew over the wall of the palace and rose to ride over the spire. The ship passed over the royal courtyard. From beneath us came a squeal of rage as our flight disturbed the grazing of one of a score of angry thoats. The mad bull's squealing aroused the tempers of the rest of the herd and in moments the uproar could be heard, I was positive, throughout the entire city. Of course, the noise did not have to penetrate far, for no Green Man is far from his mount, and immediately a Green Man from the tribe that claimed Torquas as their own sprang from the palace and began to beat on the beasts to quiet them.
The ship was almost out of sight, but, as is always the case that fate decrees another end than luck, its shadow rolled over the Green Man. Immediately the man raised an alarm. Windows and other portals in the ancient buildings bristled with rifles and Green Men began to shoot. The Jaharians threw the throttle wide and flew between the buildings of the city at street level. For most of the Green Men, they did not see the ship until it was almost upon them. I saw the rifles and armaments, harness and metallic decorations on the buildings disappear as the ship passed. Several of the Torquasians' rifle magazines dissolved and the shells dropped to the floor to shatter in the sunlight. The Green Men disappeared in massive explosions.
The Jaharian ship flew over the city wall and the men rejoiced in their escape but a lone rifleman at the far edge of the wall loosed one last bullet which blew apart one of the buoyancy tanks, crippling the steering vanes. Only the speed of the ship allowed it to escape, but the damage would have to be repaired before the ship could continue the voyage.
The Jaharians decided to fly to Xanator where they had hidden repair facilities and 8th ray supplies.
They landed in the city in a courtyard that had been walled off to prevent encroachment by white apes as the seas receded and the apes grew more numerous in the surrounding areas. As the Jaharians repaired the ship, they allowed me the freedom of the enclosure, They ignored me after warning me of the apes. The openings into the courtyard had been filled with stone and mortar, thick enough to dissuade the Great Apes of Barsoom from attempting to enter the area and, save for a single gate of skeel wood, the courtyard was impenetrable. So sure were my captors that the wall was impregnable that they did not even set a single guard to patrol the perimeter. Perhaps they thought I was resigned to my captivity, perhaps they thought me unable to think for myself and therefore secure. Perhaps they did not think of me at all. Thus was I able to escape by throwing a rope over the wall. I slipped down the rope, losing a little skin as my limbs scraped against the stones and rocky projections in the sheer fašade surrounding the courtyard.
I fled through the city, peering carefully around corners before swiftly racing to another bend in the avenues of Xanator. Relief at escaping from my captors faded as I heard a noise, the sound was that of someone following me. I ran, frantically seeking a secure place to hide. A quick glance around the corner of the building whose safety I had achieved, showed a red warrior who was also peering over his shoulder. The distance between us was so great that I could tell little more than he was a panthan; I could not even recognize what metal he wore, what city claimed his allegiance. He continued towards me and I fled again. His movements were unhurried as he glanced around looking at the buildings. But I saw another movement behind him and saw he was being followed by one of the Great Apes of Barsoom.
These unlovely creatures are of a size with the Green Men, and have a similar shape, having six limbs, two for walking and two for grasping and two intermediate limbs that could be used for either walking or grasping. However, the Apes have a shock of hair which grows up the spine and over the top of the head. With a wide nose and thick lips under a beetling brow the face could frighten even a hardy warrior who happened upon the animal without another to aid in his defense.
I turned left at the corner of a cross street and fled as fast as I could run. As I turned another corner I glanced back just in time to see the Red Man turn right at that corner and continue walking away from me. The Ape loped after him and followed him into a tower. I hoped the ape caught the Jaharian, for I thought, who else could have been in the city save one of my abductors?
Finally, I rounded a last corner and perceived the broken gate to the city lay at the end of a broad avenue. Carefully hugging the wall and utilizing every piece of cover I could find I, at long last, achieved the desert and swiftly fled, for death in the desert was preferable to the fate that loomed behind me.
My escape from Xanator did not free me from the necessity of finding food, water and a way out of the dead sea bottoms of Barsoom where the abandoned city lay. Behind me were the terrible Great Apes, gigantic creatures which could tear a man apart with little effort. And my erstwhile captors also lay behind me in a courtyard in the center of the city. I could not return there without being captured and then slain for food, for fun, or perhaps the worst of all, carried off to Jahar to become a slave in the harem of Tul Axtar or the Jeddara of Jahar. I did not know which was the worse fate. I therefore set my feet on a resolute course away from the city and prepared to die in the desert. However, I had not traveled far when I spied ahead of me a grove of Mantalia trees. Such is the spirit of that spring from which wells hope that, even though I had resigned myself to death, the sight of the life giving trees gave wings to my feet and a spring to my step as I raced for the fabulous forest.
I entered the mantalia grove. The cool shade of the spreading cover was a welcome relief from the heat of the noontime sun. How long I would be able to stay in the grove would depend on whether the desert dwellers would have the use of the spring which fed the trees in the grove. Should the fearsome ten-legged banths come to drink at the oasis, then my refuge would become a trap. The great carnivores had long claws and sharp teeth that would have soon ended my life had any been near.
Hurriedly I picked some of the Mantalia fruits and ate those I could not stuff in my pouch. I would need many more than the few that fit in the small pouch were I to attempt to walk the thousands of haads to my father's home in Helium.
Wandering aimlessly, I saw a glint as though the sun fell on some shiny metal. Sneaking closer I discovered I had found a flyer. Ducking behind a tree, I looked to see if anyone was about. I had not escaped from the apes just to fall lightly into the hands of another Jaharian. The blue paint on the ship declared its origin better than any flag or pennant. But no one came. The ship, which had been somewhat disguised by a few tree limbs that had been tossed over the ship, breaking up the outline of the vessel, remained abandoned. Finally, plucking up what little courage I still possessed, I approached the craft. A stout rope encircled the slender bole of one of the trees anchoring the vessel to the ground. My ears were cocked to hear any sound which might herald the presence of the owner of the ship, but no sound came. I peered over the gunwale and discovered the ship was truly deserted. A quick search of the small storage cubicle revealed that the ship had no food, so I went to collect some milk in one of the cans from the flyer.
I saw a troop of ten Green Men enter the grove and hid. The ship was not in their path, but I feared the Green Men would discover the only method I possessed that would carry me home and away from the dangers of the dead sea bottoms. I was so concerned for the safety of the flyer, I did not hear the other ten Green Men approach from the right. The first hint that I had that I was not alone in the woods was the slight clink of a piece of harness against another metallic part. Before I had a chance to do more than react, spinning on my heels, the men had surrounded me, laying rough hands on my person, and, knowing resistance was futile, I was captured without a fight.
My return to Xanator was ignoble, clasped as I was in the great paws of the leader of the Green men, balancing on the rude platform of the pommel of the saddle of his giant thoat. The 20 Green Men rode into the central plaza of Xanator.
They dismounted and corralled their beasts in a small garden just off the plaza near the building they had chosen for their headquarters. A massive door had been torn from its hinges many years ago and lay against the door jamb in a pile of debris that denoted the passage of endless time since its destruction. Inside, the hallway gave way to an enormous room. The furniture that had been so lovingly produced so long ago was either thrown against the wall to make room for the huge monsters or had been broken up to burn in the fires that were ignited on the stone floor. Various circles of blackened stone attested to the fact that this chamber was a commonly used gathering hall for the Green Men. Murals graced the walls with figures of fantastic mythologies that ranged from the Tree of Life from whose seeds had been born all life on Barsoom to extraordinary pictures of men and women with white skins that stood on ships that sailed on waters that stretched as far as the eye could see.
The Green Men met with another set of warriors who boasted of having captured a red man in the same mantalia grove. I wondered if it had been the man who had been pursued by the great ape last night. If it had indeed not been one of my captors, I wished the man well, although, once a great ape begins its pursuit of its prey, that prey is almost certainly dead.
The second troop were gambling for the privilege of torturing their masculine captive. The Green Men all laughed at the anticipation of the pleasure of the red man's death throes. They also gambled for me. The winner chained me to the wall in his rooms and forced me to clean his harness and cook dinner.
The Green Men decided to wait until the morning to begin the torture of the red man whom I could just see through the open door of the dark chamber just beyond the common room. I was sure the man saw me, but he made no sign. One of the Green men, in passing, closed the door to my prison, leaving me in the dark along with my fears. Eventually I slept.
I was awakened by the sound of fighting. Red men, two of whom were carrying the strange rifles, poured through the doors. As they pointed the weapons at the green warriors, the harnesses worn by the monsters fell apart and the metal in their weapons dissolved. The red men lept in and slew the Torquasians, but the Green Men, unarmed and naked as they were, were still ferocious fighters and the red men died, almost to a man, before the last Green Man was gathered to his ancestors.
The last men discovered me chained to the wall.
"Well met, Sanoma Tora," their commander said. I saw it was the man who had struck me on board the ship. "Hold your hands to the side, away from your body." Unsure of his intentions, I held my hands out. He pointed the strange weapon at my manacled hands. The man's face was not distorted with anger nor hatred, yet I could only surmise that he wished me mutilated for the beating he had taken from the emissary.
I felt a strange vibration in my hands and saw the shackles on my wrists and ankles disappear. "Rise, Sanoma Tora," he said. "I am glad we found you before any harm could befall you."
"Thank you," I replied. Pointing to the door in the far wall, I continued, "One of your number is tied up in that room."
Swiftly, the padwar dashed across the room and thrust open the door, but all they found were the ropes that had bound the man, severed by a sharp blade, and the captive gone. Entering the room, I knelt where the man had been bound, idly stirring the frayed ends of the rope, and found a medal that had fallen from the red man's harness. A quick glance upwards showed no one was paying mind to my activities and I was able to hide it in the hidden pocket of my harness, thinking I might be able to use it somehow.
They lead me back to the wall where the ship lay. Unfortunately, because the red men had run out so fast and had not closed the exit from the courtyard, a white ape had found the opening. The red men strolled into the hangar's courtyard without taking care to reconnoiter the area and paid a high price for their negligence. A small growl was all the warning the warriors had before the great ape, which had been hiding in the ship, was upon them. Slashing swords rasped from scabbards as the men retreated into the doorway, but another three apes, attracted by the sounds of combat struck down the man who stood at the rear of the gateway. His death cries alerted my captors to the new assault, but they were hemmed in on both sides.
The Great Apes are as ferocious and as vital as any denizen of Barsoom, even the fabled orluks of the polar regions. Slaying one of them is beyond the ability of a lone warrior and even two men, working in tandem would find it difficult to accomplish that goal. Three men can, by prodding and retreating, confuse the ape into attacking first one then another and then a third while the others slash and stab it from the back, until they finally wear the animal down sufficiently for one to strike the fatal blow. However, the men were in the center and unable to retreat without backing into another great ape. The Jaharians were brave, thrusting me to the center of their circle, fighting and slashing with grim determination to sell their lives dearly, but it was a losing battle. The men had slain two of the apes and had wounded a third, but the fourth ape had grabbed one of the warriors in two of its massive paws, ripping off one of his arms, while it reached for another soldier with its third arm.
Dropping the now deceased warrior's hand, the white skinned beast took the other man in its hands. The dull thud of the abandoned arm as it fell at my feet was followed by a sharp ringing as the dead man's sword clattered up to my sandaled feet. Reaching down, I raised the sword and thrust its sharp point between the ape's upper and lower arms and into its torso. My assault was not fatal, but it did serve its purpose for the enraged ape dropped the man in its grasp. As it turned on me, I skipped back, avoiding the remaining ape's grasping hand. A quick slash from my sword dissuaded the ape from completing its intended assault. Suddenly, a sword point emerged from the ape's breast. A stunned look of amazement flashed across the ape's face before all emotion was erased from that ferocious visage by death's hand.
The ape's body fell heavily to the ground, staining the courtyard with its lifeblood. Across the body from me was the panthan who had assaulted me on board the flyer. We stood still for what seemed like a full tal, staring at each other, our swords dripping crimson gore onto the flagstones.
Then the panthan did something that amazed me. He knelt in the blood and laid his bloody blade on the ground in front of me, his head bent toward the ground. Not unnaturally, my reaction was one of complete astonishment. He had laid his sword at my feet. This was a signal honor: he was giving me his life. If I took up the sword and handed it back to him point first we would be enemies until one of us was dead. Should I simply walk away, I would insult him beyond all honor, calling him unworthy of consideration. I could slay him with my sword; he was defenseless, but I would loose honor from the cowardly action. But, if I handed his sword back to him hilt first, he would be my man until death took him. I was in a quandary. What should I do?
He did not move, even when I reached down and grasped the sword by the hilt. Reversing the blade, I pushed the hilt under his nose. "Arise, panthan. I accept your service, though I do not deserve it."
"Sanoma Tora," he said, rising to take the sword from my hand. "You have saved my life twice. No other has done that for me. You are worthy."
I said nothing, but looked around only to discover that all the other Jaharians were dead as well as the four great apes. We were alone in Xanator.
He cleaned his blade and sheathed his sword before turning to examine the ship. Unfortunately, the first ape had found the ship as well as the guard who had remained aboard. His remains were spread over the deck of the ship in a pool of gore. The Ape, in the manner of his kind, irrational curiosity combined with irresistible strength, had ruined the ship's motors and steering vanes, pieces of which lay strewn about the courtyard. Even had the Jaharian been able to repair the broken buoyancy tanks, the ship was unusable.
When the panthan told me the news I said, "I discovered a flyer in the Mantalia grove outside the city. Perhaps we can use it."
He nodded and, turning, led the way to the city gates.
The man and I left the now completely dead city, walking side by side in the manner of equals for I would not have him walk behind me.
I led him to where the flyer I had found had been hidden, but it was gone. I saw it flying off slowly to the southwest with two men clipped to the deck. When I pointed it out to the warrior, he denied that it was one of his compatriots, they had all died in Xanator.
The Green Men had little food that we could use, but we procured some sleeping silks and furs for use against the cold desert nights.
We finally caught one of the thoats and rode off, heading southwest, for the Jaharian's home. I had little choice in the matter; no other city in the area would welcome us.
As we set out from Xanator, the padwar espied a blackened lump in the distance which he thought looked like a flyer. If it was still usable, our trip would be easier. We passed the downed flyer which I recognized as being one belonging to my father's Umak. Upon investigation we discovered it to be damaged beyond repair. It was Tan Hadron's ship. He had been here and had not found me. Had he been one of the men who escaped on the other flyer? I did not know, then.
We set off for the distant mountains. Riding for days which led into weeks, we searched for landmarks that were familiar to the padwar, but could find none. Suddenly we were surrounded by warriors in the metal of Tjanath. The troop of warriors swept out from around the backside of a low hill upon riding thoats, encircling us with drawn rifles and pistols. Surprisingly, they stayed a great distance from us. Well trained, they kept their arms leveled at our heads.
Their officer cried out, "Halt, in the name of Haj Osis, Jed of Tjanath."
We decided that utter stillness was the best defense against their assault. Slowly we raised our arms in surrender.
"We come in peace," the panthan called. "We are lost and in need of succor."
"The soldiers of Jahar do not come in peace."
"It is true I am a soldier of Jahar. But I have no quarrel with any in Tjanath," the panthan returned. "But the woman with me is not of Jahar. She hails from Helium. I rescued her from her abductors and am now trying to return her to Helium. Will you help her?"
"That is not for me to decide, panthan," the officer said. "Drop your weapons and your bags."
We let our burdens slide from our shoulders and laid our weapons down. As soon as we were unarmed the warriors swarmed over us, binding our hands together with brutal efficiency.
The city of Tjanath was small compared to my beloved Helium, but it was still of fair size and well kept, the avenues being both broad and swept clean of debris. Low flyers passed overhead sending small shadows over us as we were led through the city toward the palace of the Jed. Many were the stares sent our way from balconies that were crowded with people indolently staring at the passing parade of captors and prisoners. However, none vouchsafed more than a moment of intensity before returning to their busy lives of idle immobility.
Soon we passed through the gates of the palace and into the courtyard which was filled with warriors practicing and honing their fighting skills. All stopped to look but were quickly recalled to their duties by angry drill instructors.
Inside the palace we were escorted into the jailer's office on the fourth floor. As we passed through the door, I was amazed at the number and variety of the keys that were hung on the walls of that office, not a square sofad was without its quota of keys. The keys framed the gross body of the Jailer and added to the horror of the room. He took his time in looking up from the papers on his desk, a petty tyranny that failed in its intended effect. Far from cowing either the Padwar or me, it infuriated us. Our heads rose higher as his nose elevated above his heavy jowls.
"And just who are these, this calot and his—" here The jailor paused to consider his next insult. "—his woman." The import of his choice of word left no doubt of his opinion of my morals. The Padwar gritted from between gritted teeth, "The lady Sanoma Tora is no man's woman . She is a lady of Helium and noble."
The Jailor leaned across the desk and struck the Padwar across the face with the back of his hand. "Silence, fool." Straightening up, the jailor announced, "I am Yo Seno, Keeper of the Keys. You are nothing and shall not speak except to answer my questions. Who are you, Jaharian?"
The padwar stiffened further, if that were possible, as he said, "I am Nur Dan of Jahar." So, I finally knew his name.
Yo Seno wrote the name down on the papers in front of him, muttering to himself, "I know that name from somewhere." He shook his head. "No matter, Jaharian, you will not live long enough for me to worry about that." He handed the paper to one of the soldiers. "Take him to the pits. Haj Osis will decide his fate tomorrow."
The warrior saluted and three of the men dragged Nur Dan out of the room. I never saw him again. As I turned back to face Yo Seno, he rounded the desk and approached me. "I will question this—woman myself. You may go," he told the warriors. They turned as one and marched out of the room.
His gross features twisted into a grimace he intended to be a smile, but which failed signally in that attempt. Beady eyes swept up and down my body with oily import. I shuddered in revulsion. "Come, princess," he said. "I have good news for you. I find you pleasant to look upon."
"Too bad I cannot return the compliment," I responded.
"You would do well not to anger me, woman. I have the power to make your stay in Tjanath pleasant." He laid his hand on my shoulder.
A ferocious shrug slipped my shoulder from under his heavy paw. "No power you have can ever make my sojourn in Tjanath anything but a distasteful occasion."
Yo Seno frowned. "Do not despise my advances."
"I do not despise your advances, Yo Seno," I replied. "It is you I despise."
Yo Seno twisted his hand in my hair causing me to gasp in excruciating pain. Tears sprang into my eyes, but I struggled not to let them fall. But I failed, a single tear rolled down my cheek. Yo Seno brought a surprisingly gentle hand up to wipe my tear away.
He released me and returned to his chair behind the desk. "Your name?" he demanded.
"Sanoma Tora of Greater Helium. My father will reward anyone who returns me to him."
"Save your pride, slave. Your father's wealth has no meaning in this city. You are going nowhere. Our Prince, Haj Alt, has need of a teacher/companion for his new child." He peered at me with amused eyes. "I have decided you will meet the requirements given."
He pressed a button on the desk and a warrior appeared. "Take her to the apartments of Haj Alt's child's egg."
Saluting, the soldier led me out of the room and down the hall to the long spiral ramp which led upwards to the fifth level. The son's chambers were just above Yo Seno's office. The soldier installed me in the chamber, pointing out the incubator. "Watch it well and be sure to call for help when the egg hatches."
I nodded. The man had hardly left, locking the door behind him, when I looked into the incubator, only to see the egg, which had grown from a lump the size of my fist when it had been laid into one as long as my arm, immediately, began to rock from side to side and crack as the boy struggled to free himself from his shell.
I nearly panicked then, not being familiar with the hatching of a person. The only hatchings I had witnessed had been those of riding thoats and of house pets. Pounding on the door elicited no response beyond a shouted reply that the guard would send for the Jedda.
I staggered back to the incubator to watch in awed fascination as the shell cracked and a leg thrust itself straight out from the fractured shell. Another limb followed and soon the son of Haj Alt entered the world, almost perfect in form and about half the size of a full grown man.
The collection of the remnants of his shell was soon accomplished, the pieces gathered in a cloth and placed near the door for sanitary removal. At least I knew to do that for him. And I washed him and clothed him while I waited for the boy's mother to come. He whimpered, uneasy because his barriers against telepathy did not yet exist. His mind was beginning to waken and direct his limbs, but he, like all children, was a blank slate upon which thought patterns had not yet been arranged and codified. The first few zodes or even days were important to the well being of the boy, his brain needing protection from intrusive thoughts. Without such protection, he would be vulnerable to telepathic attacks. Cradling him in my arms, I rocked back and forth, all the while laying a blanket of soothing thoughts across the boy's fears, teaching him, by telepathy, to exclude all other thoughts save mine, and to think in the universal language of Barsoom.
All Barsoomians speak the same language which is universally understood from the frozen north to the ocean of Omean in the south. When I had been young, just learning to assist my father in the keeping of his mercantile records, I was surprised to discover that each city had its own written language. Many philosophers and sages tried to clarify why this was so but none could devise a theory that would explain this anomaly. Personally I think that the fact that the written words are represented by symbols and not thoughts themselves provides the best answer, thought is universal, but the symbology connects a thought with an arbitrary emblem which must be learned by rote and memorization.
The Jedda arrived nearly a zode later, tall and stately, clad in an elegant harness encrusted with jewels and precious metals. Feathers nodded as she strode into the room. Giving me a dismissive glance as I rose from the silks and furs which cradled the boy, she crossed to the bed. Before bending over his face, she bared her breast and brought his lips to her chest. I turned around, to give them privacy.
The boy suckled at her breast for a while and fell into a deep sleep.
Immediately, the regal woman rose, adjusted her harness and, with a negligent hand, motioned for me to return to holding him. She was gone before I had crossed the chamber to the bedside.
Throughout the remainder of the day I cradled him when his fragile barriers threatened to break down and overwhelm him in unwanted thoughts. When he would fall into another deep sleep, I would rise and stare out the window, confused by my need to nurture my enemy's child.
Later the Jedda returned and he suckled again, this time on the other breast, alternating thereafter for a period of five days. But, each time she fed him she would leave immediately thereafter. Then his mother left and never returned, leaving him totally in my care.
Haj Alt visited his son rarely, though, while I looked after the young scion of the house of Haj, he was solicitous of the boy's education. The child had been hatched not ten days earlier and he was but a head shorter than I. Although the boy was tall for his age, he was slow in his learning, being far from proficient in his speech and a little ungainly, due to his rapid growth. In another ten days he would be taller than I and much stronger. Part of my duties as his nursemaid was to provide him with visual and mental stimulation. Each time the father appeared, I feared his regard of me and tried my best to efface my presence in the room as much as possible. But, try as I might, with head bowed and shoulders stooped, he still noticed me and his surveillance sent waves of apprehension through me.
Haj Alt beckoned to me, drawing me into his presence. "You, girl," he said. "How does my son do?"
"He does well, sire," I replied.
"Show me," he commanded. "Make him perform."
Reluctantly, I stood before the boy and executed the ritual patterns of the balance dance. Despite his ungainly gait, the boy succeeded in the achievement. His father gathered his son into his embrace, praising the boy's performance. Maintaining his arm around his son's shoulders, Haj Alt laid his hand upon my shoulder, complimenting me on my good work. The boy looked up at his father and smiled.
Almost I was content in the service of the son of Haj Alt. Left alone with my charge when the boy was not required to be elsewhere, learning riding, fighting and his position in the household, we passed many pleasant hours in which I taught him the myths and legends of Helium and of Tjanath, at least those with which I was familiar. In the way of my own nurse when I was young, I acted out the stories with the help of my young charge. We were playing the legend of the first warrior, Kon Tov, and his enemy, Bar Mal.
As my old nurse had told me:
Bar Mal was the oldest of the two and so inherited his father's lands. He, not liking his brother, Kon Tov, kicked him off the land and sent him into the world alone and without defense. Kon Tov had many adventures, one of which was chronicled in the earliest records. Kon Tov wandered the world until he came across a man standing over a fire pounding on a piece of metal with a great stone hammer.
"What are you working on?" he asked of the burly stranger.
"I do not know," the smith replied. "I found this shiny rock in the ground and I am trying to pound out the other rocks from it, but the shiny part is very hard and I am having little success."
"I have heard that heating hard things without burning them sometimes makes them soft," opined Kon Tov.
The smith started a fire and stuck the rock inside. He found that it did make the rock softer, but not soft enough. Kon Tov blew on the fire with his mighty breath and the fire blazed hotter. It melted the shiny rock into steel. The smith pounded on it making a long, flat bar.
"What is it," Kon Tov asked.
"I know not," replied the smith, "But for your idea I would still be pounding on it with my hammer for a long time before I made it this pure. Take it as a gift." The smith handed Kon Tov the bar.
When Kon Tov took the bar in hand, inspiration came in the form of a vision and he told the smith he would like to have a handle placed on one end of the bar of steel and the edges sharpened and a point ground onto the other end. The grateful smith did as he was asked and soon Kon Tov held the first sword. Satisfied, he strapped it to his waist and returned home to a hero's welcome from everyone except his brother. Bar Mal, in his anger, picked up a cudgel and struck Kon Tov with it until Kon Tov's feet sank into the ground to his ankles. Kon Tov struck Bar Mal with his sword and slew him in honorable combat. Thus ending the first duel.
The son played the parts of Bar Mal and the smith, while I pretended to be Kon Tov. We were nearing the end of the play where Bar Mal attacks his brother with his cudgel and Kon Tov slays him with the sword, when I turned around to discover that a panthan in the uniform of the Jeddak's guard had entered the room somehow. I would have thought that he had gained entrance through the window, except that the window was too small for him to fit between the bars that crossed the opening. Otherwise there was no entrance that I could see in the wall behind him.
"What do you here, panthan?" I asked.
The burly man said not a word, but advanced towards us with silent tread. When he came near his hand stole towards his sword, drawing it out of its sheath with a harsh rasp of steel on steel. Backing away, I pushed the boy behind me and raised my sword into the high guard position. Our attacker only laughed and crossed his sword with mine. A quick tap of blade to blade and the duel was on in earnest. The power of his arm was tremendous and his skill with the sword was not inconsiderable, but I had the advantage of learning from the best teachers in Helium. Within moments I knew that I could defend myself from his assault but that I could not gain an advantage due to his superior strength. I called out for the guard as we danced across the floor, but I knew they would not arrive in time to save either the son or myself. So intent were we on the duel that neither one of us was aware that the son had crept from behind me until the boy's club fell on the brainpan of the assassin. Instantly my sword slipped past his guard. Fully a foot of steel must have protruded from the assassin's back, so deeply had my sword penetrated his torso. As he fell the blade of my sword ripped from the assassin's lifeless body.
Behind me I heard a bellow of rage. Yo Seno stood in the doorway through which a dozen soldiers poured, weapons at the ready. "Arrest that woman," he roared. "She is an assassin!"
Within moments the sword was dashed from my hand and my hands were bound tightly. I was dragged before Yo Seno, the great beast in charge of the prisoners, who refused to hear my defense. He only saw a woman fighting with his sovereign's grandson with a dead guard on the floor. No explanation would satisfy him but that I should die for attempting to assassinate the boy. I was taken to the office of Yo Seno.
I stood before his desk which was surrounded on each of the walls with keys of all sorts and sizes. He stood behind me and dismissed the guards. "Stand outside the door and await my call," he said.
"I demand a mentalist to come and to examine me to see if I am speaking true," I said, incensed at the vile treatment I had been accorded.
Yo Seno snorted, "That will not be necessary. You were discovered with the bloody weapon in your hand, therefore you must be guilty." He paused for a moment and looked me over with that familiar longing that so disturbed my equilibrium, but from him it was an unwelcome disturbance. "However, I might beg the Jed to have mercy if you should agree to admit me to your sleeping chamber."
Had my hands not been bound I might have refused him with more than words.
He leaned over into my face and hissed, "You will rue the day you refused Yo Seno."
In reply I spit in his face.
Yo Seno bellowed for the guards as he wiped my spittle from his sagging jowls.
"Search her," he raged. The guards ran impersonal hands through my harness and found the medallion I had hidden in my hidden pouch and then had promptly forgot.
"All we found was this, Yo Seno," the padwar said, handing the metal disk to the Jailor. "It is the metal of the Jeddak of Jahar's harem." The padwar stared at me in wonder. I, myself, wondered what had the Jaharian warrior, who had been captured by the Green Men of Xanator, been doing with that particular medal in his possession. Where had he gotten it? Why had he left it?
"So, she lied," my greasy captor murmured. "She is from Jahar."
On the basis of this flimsy evidence, The merciful Jed of Tjanath, Haj Osis himself, sentenced me to the Death. The warriors who executed the Jed's orders were not anxious to send me to my death, but none dared risk the Jed's displeasure. They led me into a great chamber which was filled with the sounds of terrible groans and moans which issued from a chasm at the far end of the cave. The suffering of the victims of the Death was long and awful the men said. Haj Osis sat on a throne on one side of the chamber along with many courtiers. Among them was his grandson, here to see his first execution. At a signal from the Jed, the warriors pushed me into a spherical cage which was suspended over the chasm from which the awful sounds emanated. The door was latched behind me and I was lowered into the shaft in the great circular cage.
As the cage descended into the depths, the moaning and groaning sounds changed into a more familiar sound, one I had heard long ago on my father's farms near the canals: that of rushing water. The bottom of the cage swung open and dropped me into a river. This did not dismay me as much as it might have for I learned how to swim while working on one of my father's farms which bordered on one of the great canals that crisscrossed the surface of Barsoom providing irrigation and potable water to the parched landscape. I scrambled onto the beach, alive but drenched to the skin.
The chamber into which I had been so summarily and ceremoniously deposited glowed with a dim light quite unlike that of radium. The luminescence was sufficient for me to discern that I stood on a gravelly shore. A pale skinned lizard wandered into my sight, not a small lizard, or even one the size of a zitidar. No, this beast was fully as tall as three times my height with a long neck on which reared the most hideous head. Its jaws were as wide as a man is tall and filled with teeth, long and terribly sharp.
Quickly I dropped behind a rock outcropping, peering over the rim to see if the lizard had espied me, but it seemed that the eyes of the lizard were not keen; its head swung back and forth on its long, supple neck. When it looked away for a moment, I fled away from the giant reptile, gathering, as I tripped over skeletons and rotting bodies, a suit of harness and weapons in my flight. In my anxiety to arm myself, I allowed the harness to jiggle in my hands, rattling the metal clips against the scabbard of the short sword. With a hiss, the repulsive head whipped around and its beady eyes, set low and forward on the face, finally focused on me. So the creature compensated for bad eyesight with enhanced hearing. I outraced the lizard to the water which I clove in a running dive and swam away. Fortune favored me in that the lizard did not appear to have aquatic tendencies.
Given a choice of only two directions in which to travel, I chose to follow the flow of the river, taking to the water whenever the lizard approached. Eventually, the lizard lost interest in me and returned upstream.
Soon I saw the end of the tunnel, but heard sounds of two men following me. The echoing walls of the cavern distorted their voices so that I could not understand a word they said, but I could take no chances that they were executioners sent by Haj Alt. Panic lent wings to my feet and I fled through the dimly lit cavern until I saw a spot of light that led to the outside and, I hoped, freedom.
CHAPTER 3 — BLESSED CITY OF FREEDOM
I came out of the cave that contained the river that led away from Tjanath and the cavern where the Jed of that city sentenced his most nefarious criminals or, at least, the ones he needed to send to a most horrifying death. A verdant garden of sorts appeared before me and I strode quickly away from the caverns. Almost immediately thin, sticky strands which were strung between the trees and bushes began to brush at my face and hair, which I found to be revolting in the extreme. A scuttling sound from in front and above me brought me to a halt. Caution made me back away from the sounds. The scuttling grew louder and I found my way blocked by spiders which had woven their gossamer webs across the path. The spiders legs grew upwards from their bodies, but, never the less, I loathed the ugly creatures and, panicked, I retraced my path, running like the Black Pirates of Omean were after me. With throat burning from my flight I ran blindly, not caring where I was going as long as my path lay away from the spiders. When my legs could no longer carry me, I collapsed to the ground and lay gasping for breath.
Much later, as the sun approached the western horizon, I rose and staggered onward. A narrow path led out onto the moss covered plains of the dead sea bottoms.
In the distance I discovered a thoat which was attached to the dead body of a red man who had been dragged to death. An examination of his body revealed him to be a red man with an unusual diadem upon his brow. Some strange apprehension prevented me from even touching that vaguely repellent jewel. I disentangled the gory corpse from the thoat's harness and mounted it myself.
Suddenly, behind me, from the direction from which the thoat had come, arose a jangle of metal upon metal. My fears were confirmed when I espied a troop of Green men in the distance. They were obviously following the trail of the dead man, but had yet to see me. Otherwise they would have abandoned the search for the chase.
I turned the head of the thoat down a canyon that led into the mountains. Soon it narrowed and I feared that I would be trapped in a cul-de-sac at the end, but the ground was worn in such a way that I knew that this was a well traveled path. I did not know what lay ahead, but I did know the fate that awaited me should I turn back. I had no choice but to continue up the gorge.
As I rode along I was suddenly set upon by a silent people who spoke no words and sent no thoughts. Even after the soldiers had surrounded me, I could hear no hint of thought from them. It was as if I were alone in the narrow defile in which I had been accosted. One man rode close sitting upon his zitidar erect in his arrogance. He spoke softly, but with command in his voice.
"Be still," he said. "We will not harm you if you obey." As he spoke the diadem on his forehead, which was exactly like the one on the dead man's forehead, seemed to glow with each word. At the time I thought this effect was but a trick of the light as it reflected off the jewel in the coronet. "Follow close behind me and we will take you to a place of safety. No one will harm you."
"No one will harm me," I intoned. Despite my natural wariness, I believed what the man on the zitidar said was the exact truth. I now know his words were but a trap to capture me without any conflict.
"Where did you get the thoat?"
"I found it near the head of the gorge."
"And its rider?"
"His thoat dragged him to death."
"Was he still wearing his coronet?"
"Yes, I left it there."
The man turned to two of the warriors who suddenly turned away and galloped back down the defile. The officer then motioned for me to ride on. Almost without thought, I continued up the pass, for such I knew it now to be. I led the way upon the desert thoat with the officer's zitidar following closely behind, which was strange because the two animals were deadly enemies in the wild, the thoat especially apt to attack any other animal that dared to approach it too closely from behind. However, at that time, I thought nothing of the incongruity of the animal's behaviors. Without any commands being given, neither verbal nor mental, I knew the way to ride to the city which appeared in the distance as the defile ended at the top of a low valley.
I wondered what the name of this city was and was surprised to hear the man in the diadem say, "The city is known as Tuzon, the blessed city of freedom."
The rest of the journey passed in silence. In spite of numerous questions that crossed my mind I did not ask them, as if I forgot the need to know even as I thought of the question.
The city was nestled in a snug valley which was no more than five haads across and just under seven haads in length measuring it from one end of the river that meandered through it, which disappeared at the southernmost end of the valley, to the source of the waters in the north. Ochre moss covered the floor of the valley where trees and river did not grow. The walls had a look of neglect although repairs were visible throughout the fortifications. However the work was sloppy; the stones did not match and the inferior skills of the repairmen was evident in the lack of joinery in the fit of the new stones in the ramparts.
Just as we approached the gate in the fortifications, the war party of Green Men, which had been tracking the thoat I rode, charged from the hills towards us. Before them rode the two soldiers who had been sent back for the dead man's body, which was slung over the saddle of the leading soldier's thoat. Shortly before the Green Men reached us their thoats stopped suddenly as did mine and those of the two padwars who carried the body. The padwars dismounted and dragged the corpse behind them by its arms, fleeing as though death incarnate were after them. The childhood description of the Green Men came to mind as I watched them leap from their saddles. The terrifying warriors continued on foot, some running on their hind legs while others ran on four limbs carrying weapons only in their upper arms. The padwars, burdened as they were by the corpse, were soon overtaken by the Green Men. The soldiers did not even look backwards as the Green Men swarmed around them and hacked at the two hapless men. But it was not a swift demise that the Green Men had planned. They surrounded the red men and sliced at their arms and legs, scoring them with dozens of painful, but not disabling, wounds. But the men ignored their tormentors as though they were alone, continuing to run for the city gates.
The man with the diadem swept me off the frozen thoat and onto the pommel of his saddle as he raced for the gate which opened at our approach. As he rode inside a barrage of arrows flew from the massed soldiery on the walls, passed over us and landed among the marauders wreaking havoc among the Green Men.
On the walls, each of the soldiers wore a metal cap similar to those which I had heard the Warlord describe as "helmets". The word was used on Jasoom to identify the head protection worn in battle. I had never seen any helmets in use—the red men of Barsoom disdained such armor—and marveled that any were used on Barsoom at all. I had also heard of that weapon called a bow which threw a long stick called an arrow. The Warlord had described it once, long ago at a party in Helium. Many of the people surrounding him at the time had decried the idea that a small stick could be as effective as the Warlord had claimed. I now saw what John Carter had meant when he said that a mass of archers could be quite as deadly as a troop of soldiers with pistols. The arrows arched high over my head to land in the swarm of killers.
The Green Men were struck down to the man by the volley of arrows. The number of the dead raiders evoked no emotion from me, but the precision of the salvo that slew them did evoke a troubled reaction in me. The arrows landed in a grid pattern that left no point of ground that did not have an arrow in it so that if the arrow were laid down on its side it would have touched another arrow, they were packed so tightly into the battlefield. A second volley completed the massacre, the Green Men died with arrows feathering their bodies like pincushions. I was shocked to realize that the arrows also had struck the padwars as well, killing them as surely as the Green Men would have done. No effort had been made not to hit the red men, but they had been as much targets of the arrows as were the Green monsters who had tormented them earlier.
My captor stopped short of the gate and turned to stare at the battlefield, if such it could be called. Two of the padwars ran to the bodies and lifted one of the red corpses, dragging it to where my captor sat. They raised the corpse up to him. The skin of the body had been lacerated and torn from all of the abuse it had suffered, both before and after it had been dragged by the thoat. It's grinning skull flopped backwards, revealing that the diadem was still attached to its forehead.
The officer drew out his dagger and dug the diadem, which was not worn but had been implanted in the skull. That which I had taken to be a coronet was actually a set of wires which led around the skull and penetrated the skin. As soon as the jewel had been removed, the padwars dragged the corpse away.
The officer looked out over the battle field and suddenly the thoats began to move, marching side by side in a phalanx of monstrous proportions. The beasts trampled over the bodies, sweeping from right to left and curving back to retrace their path over the corpses again and again until only a bloody field remained. Then the thoats turned as one and raced away from the city. All of the animals disappeared over the horizon in less than half a tal. The commander nodded and finished riding through the gate.
Inside the city the air of disuse and of disregard of the finer details of repair was more evident than in the wall. The streets were swept clean, but the curbs were choked with caked dust and debris. The banners still flew, but they showed signs of neglect being faded and tattered. Paints and whitewashes were cracked and sometimes massive chunks of stone had fallen out of the walls leaving gaping holes in murals and other decorations. Other places showed signs of repairs made to the walls but the repairs were of plain stucco which filled gaping holes with splashes of white plaster. In one place a mural of a heroic figure had no head because the hole had been fixed with red plaster.
My captor rode into the center of the city where a gorgeous palace stood in the center of an enormous garden which was tended with meticulous care by an army of workers each of whom sported the same metal cap as the soldiers of the army had worn.
The officer lowered me to the ground and leapt down to my side. Grasping my arm above the elbow he escorted me down the flowery paths toward the massive palace which dominated the courtyard. The towers of the palace rose a full haad into the air. I was surprised to note that not one of the towers sported a landing pad for flyers of any size. When I asked about this anomaly, the officer replied, "We have no need of such plebian toys. No one wishes to leave Tuzon, everyone is happy with their lot."
"Have you no communication with the rest of Barsoom?"
"No," he responded. "Why should we? We have everything a civilized country needs. Here the world is in harmony. Each worker is assigned their labors at birth and work diligently and happily at whatever they do. I, Jin Tal, am a thinker and poet. At times I find the need to seek solitude in the valley and so ride out with my guards. That is why I discovered you before any other of the Tuzoni. Your coming is an opportune fortuity for me. You can tell me of the world outside the valley. My poetry will be improved by the introduction of new ideas. Lately I have found it difficult to come up with new, different, entertaining poems." He sighed. "Sometimes I think I am running out of ideas. My work seems stale and lifeless. Still," he said, "our jed will be pleased to see you. We have so few intelligent women in Tuzon."
"Why is that?" I inquired.
"Why, simply that they are tested while in the egg and are found to be deficient in their mental capacities."
"In the egg?" I cried, scandalized that anyone would treat another in so cavalier a fashion. "How could you discover they were deficient even before they were hatched?"
"Because our psychologists have discovered a particle in the molecules of the nucleus of the egg which are present in all defectives. Because the defect is known before the hatching, the youngster is fitted with a brain cap at birth. That way no time is wasted in teaching those who cannot think for themselves."
The women of the city had vacuous eyes and bland smiles permanently affixed to their faces as they served the meals to the men at the long tables in the dining area. Throughout the city men and women worked side by side without speaking. I was confused by their rude behavior in refusing to acknowledge my questions and even my presence unless I interrupted their work by grasping a broom or standing in the way. Always one of the men with the diadems would appear and ask me not to disturb the workers who were upset that I would interfere with them in the pleasant pursuit of their jobs.
My last day of freedom in the city of freedom began inauspiciously. I woke and bathed, breakfasted and roamed the halls until dinnertime. Then I entered the massive hall where the meals were served.
Tur Jid, the Jed, had me seated upon his left, admiring the wit and wisdom of my conversation, based as it was upon the idea that what a man likes most to talk of is himself. All was well until I questioned why they did not repair or replace the broken statues and murals in the city proper outside the palace so all could enjoy them.
Tur Jid broke out into a merry laugh that chilled me to the bone. "The mindless debris of our civilization cannot appreciate the gifts of culture and to waste our manpower on a fruitless endeavor to improve the minds of the mindless would be a crime against the perfection of Tuzonic culture, the complete freedom from the bondage of beauty and the conflict of original thought in the unintelligent masses. Such a civilization, I say, will last a thousand millenia. It has lasted more than a thousand years already and everyone in the city is content with their lot."
"How do you know if they are happy?" I wondered. "The caps prevent them from having an independent thought."
"They have no need for independent thought. Why, such a thing is abhorrent to civilization," he scoffed. "There are workers and there are those who think for the workers. We write the songs and the stories. Our sculptors create great works of art for all to enjoy."
"But the workers do not enjoy these works of art. They ignore them as if they do not even see them at all. They labor all day and have no time for rest or recreation."
"What need have defectives for rest or relaxation? They cannot think for themselves. That is why we have the caps, to aid them in the day to day labor that they perform, which they could not perform with their withered minds unless we controlled their every act."
"But that is monstrous," I cried, thinking of my father's control of his laborers and slaves—and of me.
"Nonsense," Tur Jid said. "We care for them because they are without ability. Without us they would be helpless and would soon die." He raised his goblet which a slave ran forward and filled with wine. "They cannot think for themselves."
"Have you ever let one even try to think?"
"By, Issus, I tire of your incessant questions. I will show you the error of your thinking!" He slammed his goblet down on the table. A slave ran forward and knelt in front of the jed. Tur Jid ripped the helmet off the man's head. Instantly, the man screamed, gripping his head in his hands as his eyes rolled up inside their sockets. His muscles knotted in agony as he alternately curled up into a fetal position and stretched out in an arch of rigid terror. In moments he was dead; the echoes of his screams reverberating in the air.
The Jed turned malicious eyes on me, indicating the funereal form on the floor. "Now do you see why we have the caps on them? Without the caps and the protection of our guidance the defectives would simply die." He rose to his full height and stared hard at me. "I thought you would understand this simple fact without having it explained to you."
Other capped defectives came forward and swiftly removed the corpse from the room. The other Diadems made a great show of having seen nothing unusual. Thereafter Tur Jid sat silent, watching me from under knotted brows as the others carried on with false animation, one reciting his dull poetry to others who were deeply absorbed in the doggerel that tumbled from his flabby lips.
The rest of the dinner was a silent affair as far as it concerned my contributions. Soon I retired to my room.
Cluros, the farther moon, had begun his slow, majestic path across the sky as I rose from my bed. The four massive gold chains that hung from the ceiling and supported the bed away from the floor rattled slightly as I slid my feet onto the cold ersite tiles. Quickly I settled my harness about my body and gathered what necessities were available to me. I had to flee this city before the madmen in charge decided I was a mental defective, for I was certain that no one was capable, in their eyes, of having sufficient intellect to match theirs. Most especially I feared Tur Jid, a mad man if ever I saw one. Finally, positive there was nothing more I could take that would aid me in the desert, I thought to find the thoat on which I had ridden to the city, I opened the door to my rooms and discovered that my way was blocked by the Jed of Tuzon.
"You were not," Tur Jid said, "wanting to leave us so soon, were you?" From his tone I knew he did not require an answer. "I have come to enjoy your company tonight. The burdens of governing such a diverse population as Tuzon boasts weigh heavily upon my mind and I require diversion." He thrust himself past me and wandered the room, stroking tables and chairs in a sensuous manner, a manner that I recognized as one of seduction, for many had tried those wiles on me before. And as before I was not impressed with the artificiality of the movements. "I have decided you shall provide me with this much needed stimulation. I find I need more incentive each day to continue with my administration of the city."
"Perhaps you need more people around you who can think for themselves," I suggested.
Tur Jid frowned at my words. "No," he said. "I think not. Very few people have the intellect to stimulate me. I find that you excite my reason which urges me to connect with you in a more intimate way than simple conversation."
His words struck a chord of apprehension within my breast. Cautiously, I placed a table between the two of us. "But dialogue is the best way to stimulate the mind," I said. "What did you think of Tah Dan's poem to the Fallen Wall?"
"It bored me," he stated. "As a matter of fact, everything bores me to distraction. I need stimulation beyond the mere mental. I need physical interaction."
"What about your princess?" I asked.
"I have no princess," he growled. "Not one of the women in Tuzon is near to my equal. That is, except you."
He skirted the table striding towards me with deceptively lazy steps and I retreated away from him, backing around the table myself.
"Come, Sanoma Tora," he cajoled. "Join with me tonight."
"My lord Jed," I said. "You do yourself no honor. I do not wish to mate with you."
"What you wish, woman, is of no importance," he said. "I require your cooperation, not your approval."
"Not only do I disapprove, sir," I cried, "I will not cooperate!"
Tur Jid sprang forward and seized my wrist in a painful grasp. I twisted my hand, but he refused to release me. "Let go of me," I growled between clenched teeth. He laughed and enfolded me into his embrace with his powerful arms. He tilted my face up to his and ground his lips to mine in a degrading kiss that left no doubt within me what his ultimate intentions were. He raised his lips from mine and stared into my eyes. What he saw did not please him and he returned to his prior endeavors with renewed passion. His embrace sickened me and I struggled against his imprisoning arms. Freeing one arm, I reached for my dagger. My hand found no hilt where one should have been. I remembered that mine had been removed when I arrived in Tuzon.
Suddenly, Tur Jid released me. "You would—" he gasped. "You would kill me?" He staggered back until he crashed against the table. "Issus, woman," he said. "Would it be so awful mating with me?"
"Without my consent," I replied, "Yes!"
Instantly, Tur Jid stood straight, his finger stabbing the air between us. Behind him the doors to the chamber burst open and a pair of men in Iron Caps ran into the room, their dead faces horrific as they approached me. No emotion showed in them.
"You are a defective, Sanoma Tora," Tur Jid shouted, "and the tribunal of Tuzon will determine that you shall be equipped with the cap of peace."
Two of the Caps came and took me by the arms. Their grips were unbreakable, even though I tried with all my might. "You are mistaken," I shouted. "I am not defective."
Yur Jid merely smiled, now that the threat to his person was past, "Of, course you are. Were you not defective you would have complied with my request to join with me with willing alacrity. Were you not defective you would also know that you could not break the grip of one Cap, let alone two of them. No, the tribunal of Tuzon will decree pacification for you."
His laughter followed me down the hall as the two Caps propelled me towards the lower levels of the palace. They led me to a room which was dominated by a massive machine which had many stations which were manned by Diadems, who sat still facing screens which showed areas of the city and gardens. On their heads were ornately wired caps which were connected to the machine by numerous bundles of wires. The Diadems seemed almost to be asleep, their eyes were half closed.
The Caps forced me into a chair to which they strapped my arms and legs so that I was unable to move. Tur Jid appeared at my side. "Wonderful, isn't it, Sanoma Tora. This is what enables us to have the freedom to think and create. Here is where the defectives are controlled." He pointed to the caps worn by the Diadems. "Those instrumentalities allow one man to control hundreds, even thousands, of workers in the routine performance of their duties. For only a few hours each day one of the Thinkers is required to labor in exchange for the freedom to create beauty and knowledge. I do not expect you to understand what a perfect system we have created here, you being a defective, but still you can admire it."
"I cannot admire the work of a madman, Tur Jid. No one deserves to be treated in so vile a manner as this. You are destroying everything that makes a person an individual. Without unique personalities, mankind is nothing more than a tool."
Tur Jid sighed, "With each word you utter, Sanoma Tora, you prove what a waste it was to try to teach you something of the wisdom of the Tuzoni civilization. It is just as I thought, my dear, you are a defective and so must be restrained before you do to yourself an injury." He turned away and I head him mutter under his breath, "—or to me."
He waved a negligent hand as a scientist approached with a cap in hand. As the man brought the cap up to my head I saw that the inside of the metal hemisphere was covered with small connections and what looked like sensors, each so close to the others that they almost seemed to be one single unit. He placed the cap over my head and strapped it under my chin. The moment the cap was placed on my head my ability to speak or project thoughts ceased to exist as though I had never had those abilities. In addition, I no longer had control of any of my voluntary muscles. Tur Jid smiled at me and left the room leaving me alone.
For even though I saw the Diadems across the open expanse of the chamber, for the first time in my life I was totally without any thoughts save my own. I nearly panicked at the realization that I had not only gone deaf but that I was now broken in my mental capacities. How could one live so all alone? I had heard that the Warlord himself, hailing from Jasoom where all peoples on the planet were not telepathic, had lived like this for all his life until he came to Barsoom. Now I understood why he sometimes took a flyer and fled Helium for the emptiness of the dead sea bottoms, saying he craved the solitude of the desert. I did not like the sense of emptiness that I now felt, but found I could endure it with some semblance of sanity, understanding as I did, that it was bearable by even one so august as the Warlord himself.
Jin Tal entered the room. He stood in front of me and stared at my face. My eyes could not move although I could see and understand all that was within my line of sight. He shook his head. "I did not think you were a defective, Sanoma Tora. It just goes to show you how wrong even a genius can be."
No matter how hard I tried to communicate with Jin Tal, how much I needed to hold out a hand, my body refused to respond. My silent scream was truly silent.
"I know not why our beloved Jed has commanded me to be your first Diadem," he said, "but, I do not like this emotion, this sense of loss, I feel."
The singular diadem upon his brow glowed as he gazed into my eyes and I found my body responding to his mental commands. He led me out of the chamber and down the hallway to a dormitory where I was forced to lie down on a stone bed along with nearly a hundred other metal capped people, each of whom lay as though dead, save for the coordinated rising and falling of their chests as they breathed, but the other defectives made no other movement at all. The compulsion to lie there was so strong that even the thought of resistance did not occur to me until late into the night. However, even though I could think about resistance, my body refused to obey me. My thoughts were sluggish and my movements, jerky.
Morning found me still struggling to move and failing. An overseer entered the dormitory and everyone sat up, myself included. We rose and, forming a double line, marched in unison out of the chamber and down the hall. No sound or thought entered my brain but I obeyed a silent command as though it was my own thoughts that had dominion over my limbs. I did not know where I was going, but my feet walked as though they had been over this path many times. As I turned a corner, my eyes caught sight just at the periphery of my vision of one of the men who wore the strange diadem on his forehead as he walked behind us. He made no overt movement other than walking, yet I knew he was the one who controlled my thoughts and movements.
The group left the building and entered an enclosed garden. We separated into smaller groups and began to till the ground with the tools that were already on the ground. The sun rose and topped the sky and still we worked. At noon, as we suddenly dropped the tools, we turned and trudged off into the building and into a plain, utilitarian room lined with long tables with benches on each side. One by one we walked to the table and sat down in front of a plate of plain food and a goblet of ordinary water. The food was tasteless and the water warm. Still we ate with mechanical precision, each of us picking up our utensils at the same time and chewing with monotonous care. We rose at precisely the same instant and strode back to the garden and returned to work. Dusk had fallen when we broke for a meal, ending the day eliminating our bodily wastes in a large facility for that purpose, then were marched back to the dormitory to simultaneously recline on the rude cots. Again, I could not move despite my every effort. I strained all night but was trapped in a body that did not obey me.
The next few days followed the same pattern, waking, working, eating, working, sleeping, except that the Diadem that had followed us no longer accompanied us on our peregrinations. The rooms in which we labored were plain and unadorned, the colors flat and dull. The gardens were bright with blooms and flowering plants, but I could not enjoy them. The entire community of defectives had no life, only work and sleep.
One day I woke up but did not leave with the others. Instead I walked to the right as I left the room, down the corridor and into another chamber which was filled with tables on which lay pieces of equipment that looked like the cap that had been placed on my head when I was captured. I sat at one of the tables and began to assemble the caps. My hands, unfamiliar with any mechanical workings, knew without any instruction which part fit into which hole and which wires to attach and where. My hands worked automatically, precisely, monotonously. No thought was required on my part. My mind was free to think, to dream, to desire freedom. Foolish thoughts of rescue came to mind. I would see Tan Hadron walk into the room and carry me off. Strangely, though, the arms felt like those of Kal Tavan, my only friend, the only man to have been willing to sacrifice his life for mine. I remembered the last time I saw him, falling from the deck of the Jaharian flyer, wounded by a cowardly stroke from a padwar's blade, and found my cheeks were wet with tears for my friend.
My days became a monotonous drudgery. Work, sleep, work, sleep. Because I had no control over my body, all I could do was think and rage at my imprisonment. All I could do was to work and think, remembering my life before I, at my father's command, rejected Tan Hadron's suit for my hand. My life had been without any meaning, simply a sojourn through existence. I had never made a decision for myself. Always I was a pawn in someone else's hands. They called me a free woman of Helium, but always I was a slave to my father and since a slave to any man who wanted me. My thoughts ran in this vein for months and my will to resist faded. I stopped thinking and just worked in this tedious way.
I discovered that no one created anything. Every act was exactly like the one performed the day before and would be exactly like the one performed the day after. We were reduced to nothing more than a cog in the works that was the city. No one was happy, nor sad, nothing was created, nothing was made better, life simply continued one colorless day after another until one day a chunk of rock from the long ruined ceiling fell onto my head. I plummeted to the ground and lay there unconscious.
Hours later I woke to find I had been transported to a strange room which was lined with slabs on which were laid bodies one after another in a long unbroken line. I would not have been able to see this except my head had been turned to the left as I had been laid on the slab. Men who wore diadems on their foreheads strode up and down the rows of blocks, alternately poking and prodding the bodies, sometimes bending over to adjust the skull caps on the heads of the stone like figures on the slabs. Every once in a while one of the caretakers laid an ear on the chest of one of the bodies. Standing up he would look at the wall at which stood a number of people in the same skull caps as I wore. Immediately a pair of the immobile bodies sprang into action, striding over to lift the body that the overseer had just left and carried it out of the room. Finally, he stood back and the bodies on the slabs rose as one and walked out of the room in a column of twos, leaving only myself on the cold stone blocks. As his back was towards me, the overseer did not notice that I did not rise with the others. He followed the column out without a backwards glance.
As soon as he left the room, my body felt a release and I could move. Groaning in pain, I strove to sit up, but was still too weak to do more than raise myself to one elbow.
A noise at the door brought my eyes round to focus on the face of Jin Tal. He rushed to my side, gathering my weak body into his arms.
"I just heard, Sanoma Tora, you were hurt by a falling rock," he said. "I know you are a defective and cannot understand me, but I had to see if you were all right."
"Thank you for your concern, Jin Tal," I replied, much to his surprise. "But I am not all right. This cap has done something to my head. I cannot think with it on."
Jin Tal raised his hands to each side of my head and removed the skull cap. Suddenly my mind was inundated with thoughts from all around me, each driving in on my mind with the force of a blow. They came so quickly and furiously that for a moment I was paralyzed with agony. The pressure of so many thoughts trying to enter my consciousness at once nearly drove me insane before I discovered the one thought that bore down on me with massive force. It was concern emanating from Jin Tal. His alarm at my distress was almost more than I could bear. But, I could focus on the one thought until it loomed foremost in my mind, eclipsing the others until it was the only one. I discovered I could still block out one thought. Even as his thought disappeared, I realized that all my barriers against telepathy had fallen away because they had been unnecessary while I was under the influence of the Cap. Slowly I found each mind that was sending and erected my blocks to reception. One by one I cut communication with them and regained a semblance of silence although there was a low bustle of mental noise just behind my conscious thoughts that would remain with me forever save in the empty desert. As a test, I let my barriers loosen the tiniest bit and the mental pandemonium returned in full force. I writhed in agony until I could re-erect my barriers again.
"Are you sure you are not defective?" he asked.
"No more than you are, and probably less," I exclaimed bitterly. "These caps prevent all thoughts from penetrating to the brain and allow another to control everything the body does, but it does not stop someone from thinking. I was alone inside my head without any connection to anyone else at all. No wonder your defectives die when the caps are removed. They have no defenses against telepathic communication. It is all so overwhelming when the cap is removed that the mind cannot stand the pain."
"Then how did you survive?"
"Because I had barriers before your Jed, the benevolent Tur Jid, crowned me with your cap of horrors." I groaned as I sat upright and tried to stand. "I was able to rebuild my barriers thanks to your concern for me. Had I been alone and removed the cap myself, I might have died."
Concern tinged Jin Tal's voice as he asked, "Are all the defectives like you?"
"I have no idea, Jin Tal. I only know that your city is doomed if you cannot correct this monstrous idea that you can separate genius from simplicity, thought from work, art from labor. Look around you. This city is in ruins, the grounds are uncared for and the decorations of the past so neglected that most have fallen or are worn away by time."
He glanced around at the beautiful works of art that surrounded us even in this tomb of horrors.
"Not here," I continued. "Look outside, in the city proper. Nothing has been done for the other people, because Tur Jid has decreed that they do not need any art or fancy surroundings. Only the barest minimum of effort is expended to repair their homes, those ugly, plain dormitories where they are stored until they are needed to perform work. Really look at the shambles that is Tuzon."
We were surprised by a sound at the doorway. Tur Jid stood at the head of a troop of Caps. "So, the rumors are true. Jin Tal, you are planning to overthrow my benevolent rule and replace it with yourself at the head with a defective woman as your jedda. I cannot allow this to happen."
Suddenly the caps were running at us. They spread out to surround us and I, angered beyond all thought, threw my cap at Tur Jid. Surprisingly, as Tur Jid dodged the cap, all of the defectives stopped moving. Jin Tal and I swept through the advancing line of caps and ran out of the room. We fled down the hall with the silent horde of caps behind us. We turned a corner and found ourselves confronted by another mob of defectives. Spinning on our heels, we fled down another corridor, stopping when we heard the sound of others coming towards us. Jin Tal dragged me into another room, stopping short, because we were in the control center. Jin Tal ran to the console and, raising his sword, crashed it down onto the equipment. "They cannot fight us if they are not controlled," he yelled. He ran to another console, shoving the operator aside. Again his sword flashed and sparks flew from another work station. Again and again he hacked and slashed at the consoles until every one lay in smoking ruins.
Tur Jid slid to a stop at the doorway. "What have you done?" he screamed. "All the caps are dying."
Jin Tal, his chest heaving with passion, cried, "I did only what had to be done. I freed your mind slaves."
"You have killed us all. Who will work the fields if not the defectives?"
"We will. It will be good to labor with my own two hands again."
"You will do nothing. You have done too much already." So saying, Tur Jid swept out his sword and attacked Jin Tal with a blind fury that almost overset Jin Tal within moments of the start of the fight. However, Jin Tal recovered and they fought around the room with Jin Tal giving way before the onslaught of the madman that had been Jed of Tuzon. His swings were so wild that Jin Tal had no problem in blocking them. Finally, Tur Jid missed Jin Tal and his sword struck a console, burying itself in so deeply that it could not be withdrawn. Tur Jid placed his foot beside the blade and pulled, but something in the console sparked and exploded. Tur Jid writhed in the shower of sparks and fell to the ground, dead.
Jin Tal looked up from the charred body of his Jed. "Stay, Sanoma Tora, and be my Jedda." Jin Tal said.
Before I had a chance to respond to his proposal, Jin Tal put a hand to his head, covering the jewel in his diadem. His face contorted in agony. "They are dying!" he screeched, the timber of his voice rising higher and higher until his voice broke. "I have killed us all. Tur Jid was right and he was wrong." He fell to the ground and lay still, ominously still.
Then I heard it, the sound of many voices, many minds, each screaming out in pain as the thoughts of all the others bore in on them overpowering their defenses, killing them. The defectives were dying because they had no mental barriers, but they were also killing by having no restraint on their sendings. The mental noise surrounded me and penetrated my mind until I collapsed into oblivion under the onslaught of thought.
CHAPTER 4 — SPIDERS AND CONCUBINES
I woke from my stupor, weak and groggy. I laid my hand on my head and felt gritty dust on the skin. Opening my eyes I beheld the carnage that surrounded me. The room was in a shambles, bodies were strewn everywhere, locked in mortal combat, strangling each other where they had not used weapons to hack each other to death. The stink of death was a sickening miasma in the air. Jin Tal still lay where he had fallen but he was buried under several other bodies. Mourning his death, I staggered to my feet.
The corridor outside was also filled with the corpses of defectives, but interspersed among them were men of the diadems. Most of their bodies were curled into fetal positions, their hands clutching their heads in agony. A search of the city revealed that not one of the inhabitants of Tuzon was left alive; they had either died from the mental onslaught or they were cut down by the rampaging defectives, who finally being free of the control of the diadems, took revenge. But they had no skills of their own, without the control of the diadems, they could do nothing save rage. And, in their rage, killed everything and everyone. I cannot account for my survival except to think that, because I had been unconscious, the defectives had not discovered me.
Thirst drove me to the fountain in the courtyard, but the presence of numerous bodies floating in the water prevented me from slaking my thirst.
The stink of the dead drove me to gather what food and water I could find and to quit the relam of the dead. I retraced my way back to the defile through which I had entered the valley; I knew no other way out and I wished to quit the grisly carnage behind me. At the edge of the gorge I turned back to look one last time at the empty, dead city that was just the next to die in the long, slow, inevitable decay of Barsoom. Choking back a tear, I fled up the defile.
Thus ended the history of Tuzon, the city of freedom where no one had truly been free.
Knowing no other way to go for fresh water except to return to the river that flowed out of the cavern of the "Death", I trudged on until I discovered that the spider webs that had stopped me before were no longer strung across the path. Several of the spiders lay on the ground, killed by sword thrusts. The way forward was clear of immediate dangers, but I was in a quandary. Behind me lay only desert and Green men, before me was water and forest, but also unknown dangers. Which death was I to choose?
Forward appeared to have the least chance of torture and slow death, so I entered the forest path and prayed to Issus for succor.
The path must have been used rather regularly for no debris littered the trail and no fruit, which grew in profusion in the trees, hung near the path, but was separated from me by the gossamer webs of the spiders. As long as I did not touch the strands the spiders ignored me.
The end of the trail revealed a black walled pile of masonry which rose some twenty sofads above the ground. Only one opening was visible in the wall, but behind it rose a number of buildings which were dominated by a single tower from which rose a column of smoke. As I approached the wall, I espied numerous figures on the parapets waving scarves and giving me welcoming smiles.
They hailed me for I could see their lips moving and hear noises coming from their mouths, but I could make no sense out of them. They were obviously trying to communicate with me but, for the first time in my life, I could not understand what was being said to me. The noise of their voices hurt my head and I held it in my hands. I tried to speak, but they shook their heads. In frustration I pounded on my forehead with the heels of my palms, screaming at the top of my lungs, falling to the ground in exhaustion.
Silently, the women came out and guided me, gently, into the lair of the Spider of Ghasta. With smiling faces they drew me to my feet. Their smiles did not travel to their eyes, though I did not feel any animosity in them, rather, they seemed full of pity. The city seemed to be twisted in an indefinable way, what with the buildings being made out of black, volcanic rock. Depressing figures marched through the city on various errands. The girls led me to the largest of the black buildings. A fat, greasy padwar approached. The girls hailed him and he responded, but I could not understand them, their words seeming to be gibberish. I suppose my responses were like gibberish to them, for they continued into the building.
The walls were lined with tapestries made from a finely woven fabric which was decorated with painted figures of fantastically perverse natures, Ladies with the heads of spiders and thoats standing side by side with animals with human heads. The furniture was warped in form though it was made with the finest of woods so cunningly manufactured that the grain and luster of the wood seemed to blend into a monstrous, yet beautiful, whole.
They led me down hallways into a large open chamber, the walls of which were lined with monstrosities of human deformities. Soon it became obvious that these deformed wretches were manufactured through torture. Broken bones, amputations, scarrings, all were inflicted on the bodies of the unfortunate inmates of the city. Fear laid its icy fingers on me and I tried to convey my terror to the inmates, but no one could understand me.
They dragged me before the great throne of Ghasta. Made of black volcanic glass, the throne was enormous and ornate, fully the most ornate throne I have ever seen, including those of Helium and of Gathol. Seated upon the throne was the most hideous man I have ever seen, tall and gross in shape, his arms hung down to his knees and, despite the fact that no man on Barsoom is so hairy, he had hair that covered his entire body. His features were misshapen with his eyes set far apart on his face, nearly at the sides like a Green Man's eyes. A flat nose separated the eyes that were set beneath a receding forehead and beetling brows. All in all he presented a most unpleasing aspect, although it was at once complete and unfinished. The girls set me down before the leader. I begged for my life, I pleaded, I implored. I failed to communicate. Perhaps that is what saved me.
Ghron, the jed of this place called Ghasta by its inhabitants, stared at me with a searching intensity. Afraid, I searched the room for an escape, but found none, the walls had both women and men who were also staring at me, those who were not fixated on the jed. Somehow, he came to a decision concerning my future. He had me chained to the wall at the far side of the torture chamber.
Daily, along with a number of the beautiful women and the fat, greasy guards, I was exposed to the most horrific tortures imaginable. People, both women and men, were Chained to racks and roasted over fires, the rack being so designed that the doomed wretch on the rack could be pushed close or drawn away from the flames and even turned to expose the other side of the body to the flames. Others were broken in limb and muscles were cut and shortened until the poor victim bore little resemblance to the formerly handsome or beautiful person it had been before the Jed of Ghasta got his hands on them. But the most horrifying part of the procedure was the fact that, except for the screams of Ghron's doomed prey, the room was silent, no sound came from the lips of the audience. Each day that I watched these tortures continue haunted me until I was like to go mad myself.
Fortunately, one day a pair of men were led into the chamber and I cried out, for it was Tan Hadron and another, one who reminded me of Nur Dan although it was not he. For my reward, I was beaten senseless. Tan Hadron did not even notice me, he appeared to avoid looking at any of the people if he could avoid eye contact. When I awoke, to my surprise, I could hear the thoughts of others again. In fact I could hear more than ever before, as if my mind had been improved somehow by the cap and the time of insanity. This is how I learned so much of the valley of Horz. Soon the Spider tired of the tortures, preferring to watch the wretches he had constructed dance and cavort for him. Because he deemed me witless, the Spider set me to digging trenches to irrigate the fields without first mutilating me as he did with all of his other prisoners. Observing the lack of skill exhibited by my fellow laborers, I mishandled my mattock and dug a long tiny trench followed by a deep hole and then dug a circle in the ground. Ghron watched me and laughed out loud at my antics. Thus by dint of feigned madness I was able to survive the terrors of Ghasta.
I was closely guarded until one day a strange floating object rose above the towers. Beneath were hanging two men, Tan Hadron and his companion. Everyone turned their eyes upward, staring at the strange sight, and I ran away, fleeing for my life, for I could not stand another day in that hell hole. I ran far and fast, only to fall into the river. The current carried me away and I climbed out of the river, only to be captured by a farm worker who escorted me to the farmhouse on the outskirts of Jahar.
The two sons of the house found me to be a delectable dish which they each wished to sample. The resulting fight resulted in my arrest for enticing the "boys". The youngest son of the overseer, to whom I had been sent, recognized me. He had been in the first delegation sent to my father By Tul Axtar. Upon hearing this intelligence, the overseer summoned Prince Tul Wahr, the younger brother of Tul Axtar. I was taken into custody and shipped off to Jahar.
The ship slowed and descended as a series of one man flyers appeared on the horizon in front of us, circling at high altitudes. One of the scout ships, after receiving a signal from one of the other flyers, broke formation to descend to our level, drawing alongside. To my surprise the flyer was also painted the same hideous blue as had been every other ship in the Jaharian fleet, not a portion of metal was unpainted. The scout was little more than a long board, pointed at each end with a small screen on it behind which the pilot lay face down, tethered to the deck with straps attached to specially designed rings on his harness. A lump near the rear of the flyer housed the motor.
Responding to the sentinel's hail, the commander provided the proper responses and soon we were again cruising towards Jahar, under the escort of two of the one man scouts. Soon we passed through a second line of scout cruisers, each carrying from ten to fifteen men, each painted blue, each armed with four peculiar looking rifles. A third line of ships, huge battle ships, small by comparison with the dreadnaughts of Helium, but still impressive in number, crowded the sky with tens of thousands of men and all bristling with big guns.
The towers of Jahar were a disappointing spectacle when measured against my beloved Helium. Perhaps this perception was fueled by the carpet of enormous transport ships which were massed on the ground outside the walls of the city. Each ship could carry ten thousand men. The massive fleet could carry millions warriors. It was the most staggering and appalling sight I have ever seen. Nothing could stand up to the amassed firepower and manpower represented by the fleet of Jahar. What was the purpose of such martial might? Before I had a chance to formulate an explanation, our ship had topped the city walls, closely observed by countless sentries on roofs and ramparts of wall and palace.
The pale towers of the Jeddak's palace rose in front of us as we settled on the landing platform of the women's wing of the palace. Numerous guards surrounded our vessel in long lines that led to the portal through which I was escorted, flanked by four warriors on each side.
Down corridors decorated in ostentatious opulence we strode, descending two ramps and proceeding down a further corridor, at the end of which was a single door set in a wall decorated with a mosaic of images of numerous nubile and naked women. Just short of obscene, the pictures showed the women indulging in excesses of food, wine and each other. The lower portion of the fresco was obstructed by a contingent of soldiers who, I later learned were eunuchs, hand chosen by the Jeddak, Tul Axtar, himself.
Once our bona fides were established, Prince Tul Wahr turned me over to their care with a sardonic salute to me. The eunuchs opened the door and leaving the emissary and the other guards behind, escorted me up the ramp which was the sole entrance to the women's quarters. We were met at the top of the ramp by another set of guards. These soldiers were smaller, not as fully muscled, than the others, but equally as well armed. Their faces were painted as were all warriors, their visages grim. The lead eunuch made a deep obeisance and motioned me forward. Without a word the eunuchs saluted and returned to their post at the bottom of the ramp.
Unusually soft hands took hold of me as the guards dragged me down the door lined corridor which ran for many sofads, ending in a large window through which I could see the outlines of trees swaying in the breeze. The detachment of guards paused outside one of the portals. The padwar of the troop used a large key to unlock the door, throwing it open. Thrusting me inside the warrior and two others followed, closing the panel behind us.
The room, though not tall, was immense in length, bare of any furniture or decoration, save endless shelves of compartments, each with a flat topped chest inside each recess. At the far end of the chamber was a second door, opening onto a room, through which was revealed the corner of a bed hanging from the ceiling on four stout gold chains.
My heart quailed as the guard motioned for me to remove my clothing. When I refused, the two other guards advanced with obvious intent. Without speaking, the guard again motioned for me to disrobe.
Aghast, I refused. "This is an outrage," I said. "Do not think so little of my honor that I would reveal myself to men not of my family for any reason."
At the chief guard's signal the other two soldiers pinioned my arms, looping short ropes around my wrists. They pulled my arms out from my sides, horizontal to the floor. Advancing with a slight smile the guard ripped my harness from my body. Although I struggled with all my strength, with my arms so restrained I could not stop the degradation from occurring. Taking the remnants of my harness in hand, the padwar opened a chest and threw it inside, closing and locking the chest. The key, which depended from a chain, was placed around my neck, falling between my breasts.
"Do not loose this," the padwar said, "or you will never be able to retrieve your possessions." The tone and pitch of the guard's voice was at odds with the martial aspect of my captor. Higher and softer than I expected, the voice was feminine. I stared at my three guards and observed that each was a woman, dressed like a man, a soldier in the army of Jahar.
"What is the meaning of this?" I cried. "Why are women dressed, painted and armed like men?"
The commander laughed at my na´vetÚ. "No men are allowed in this wing of the palace. We are all women: soldier, slave and consort. Which you shall be depends on the whim of the first consort."
They dragged me into the other room. Reclining on the bed lay a beautiful woman. I am not given to exaggeration and when I use the word beautiful, I mean beautiful, her long black hair framed a perfect oval face. Dark almond shaped eyes scrutinized me from each side of a long patrician nose. Their gaze affected me in the same way as had Sil Vagis leer. Her full lips were pulled back in a grimace of distaste. She rolled her eyes in derision.
Enraged by their dismissive glance, I drew myself straighter. While I knew I was in no way as perfectly formed in face and figure, the woman on the bed was not my equal. She was a petty tyrant and nor all her beauty could overcome that lack in her character.
"Is this," I inquired, "how the concubines of Jahar treat she who is to be the Jeddara of Jahar? My father has contracted with Tul Axtar for my hand in marriage."
Only the lead concubine laughed. The others in the room stood silent, their faces grim or sad, some were perhaps even amused. "Jeddara, you say? How droll. Amusing little thing, isn't she?"
The woman unwound herself from the silks and furs on the bed and stalked around me, her weight shifting from one foot to the other with an undulation of the hips that told the world that she knew she was beautiful and knew well how to please a man. She finished her stroll facing me. Even in her high heeled sandals, we stood eye to eye. Suddenly her hand whipped out propelled by the full force of her body, striking me on the cheek with an open palm slap. My head twisted round from the force of her blow and I would have plunged all the way to the floor had not the two women holding my restraints retarded my fall. Landing upon my knees, I stared back at the woman. She leaned over me, entangling her hand in my hair, pulling my face to within inches of hers.
"You little fool," she spat. "The great Jeddak of Jahar, Commander of an army of millions, Terror of the World, will never ally himself to such as you. If ever he marries anyone, it shall be me." She motioned to the guards to raise me to my feet. "Take her, clean her, bring her back. I find I have a need for a hand maiden. Perhaps she can be taught to clean my sorak's teeth."
They dragged me from her presence.
For the next zode, I was subjected to the most thorough cleansing of my body I have ever endured. They immersed me in a vat of an astringent fluid which stung my eyes, scrubbed my skin with stiff brushes, shampooed my hair in scented fluids and removed all of my makeup. One of the women handed me a vessel of water which I emptied at a draught. The water was faintly scented and tasted slightly acrid, but I was too thirsty to care. With a sigh of exasperation she took back the jar and, refilling it, dumped the contents over my head, to rinse out the shampoo. After they dried my body, they dressed me in the most minimal harness available. I was allowed neither weapon nor pouch. The sigils of the Jeddak of Jahar were emblazoned on a medal attached to the front of the harness as a sign I belonged to the House of Tul Axtar.
Thus began my term of service as a slave to the favored concubines of the Jeddak's women. For weeks I was shunted from concubine to concubine, performing the most menial of tasks at the vindictive whims of the women, each of them striving to outdo the other in the ingenious aberrations of their malevolence and caprice. Of them all the chief concubine most enjoyed heaping continuing degradations upon me. Day followed day in a monotonous succession of miseries and petty insults. Trained as I had been for decades to obedience to authority, I withstood the urge to retaliate until one day, for a minor infraction— I dropped a bottle of scented oil—the chief consort had me whipped.
Ten times the lash slashed across my back as I stood stretched between two columns in the concubine's chambers. I refused to cry out while the executioner's scourge slashed my skin for the first five lashes, but by the last strokes, I had slumped against the cold stone column, whimpering in agony. She stood over me demanding an apology for wasting her valuable oils.
Angered beyond reason, I glared at her. "The oil did not belong to you. You own nothing. You are as much a slave as I."
The chief concubine paled at my words and battered me in the face. The other concubines and the guards had to drag her off me by main force else she would, I believe, have killed me with her bare hands. Perhaps it would have been better if she had.
Standing over me, she threw off the restraining hands and sentenced me to my quarters, a small cell the width of my outstretched arms and three steps from end to end. The others had to carry me because I was too weak from the pain to walk. One of the women was a physician in her own country before she had been kidnapped to provide care for the women of Tul Axtar's harem menagerie. The physician apologized as she anointed my skin with a healing balm which would prevent scaring but did nothing to ease the pain. Her orders from the chief consort had been plain in that regard and that woman had the power to punish anyone in the harem and was not lax in the prosecution of her power.
Awakening the next morning with my back throbbing with discomfort, I realized I had suffered enough. Ripping my sleeping silks into strips, I began to plait a rope. Working swiftly, I made a long cord, sufficient, I hoped, to reach the parapet below my window. Tying one end to the chain on my bed, I coiled the rope, preparatory to throwing it out the aperture, but paused, listening, as I heard the slap of sandal on ersite flagging.
I peered over the sill and saw a sentry marching his rounds. Had I thrown the coil a moment earlier, the rope would have landed on him. Faint with relief, I slumped down the wall, staying there until I heard his footsteps again. I raised myself to peer over the sill. Yes, it was the same sentry. I began to count slowly to myself. I had reached a thousand when he again appeared. Starting over again at one, I counted to a thousand. He rounded the corner right on time. Repeated countings determined he was as punctual as a chronometer.
No one had fed me that day, presuming, I think, that food would not interest me in my pained state. The sentry was replaced at sundown by another who resumed the rounds with the same punctuality as the first.
I waited until the sun had well and truly set before coiling the rope again. As the sentry disappeared around the corner on his rounds, I threw the line down and followed it as quickly as I could. I had no choice but to leave the rope hanging in plain sight, but fled in the direction the sentry had marched, not wanting to meet him coming towards me on his appointed rounds, but to delay the discovery of my escape as long as possible.
The walkway was bounded by a low parapet; the wall was much too high to risk climbing down, even if the stones had not been set so evenly as to seem seamless. Hope began to wane in my heart. Perhaps there was no way down from this wing of the palace. Slumped against a merlon in the wall, I moaned my frustration. Behind me I heard a low moan in return. Startled, I whirled to see if someone was approaching. No one was there, but the sound was repeated. It came from over the wall. Upon leaning over the embrasure I discovered that a tree had been allowed to grow near the fortification and a thin branch brushed the rampart below the parapet. In the darkness I could not tell if the limb was strong enough to hold me or not, and I was contemplating hurrying on to see if another escape route would reveal itself when I heard the shuffling sounds of the sentry approaching.
Almost without thinking I sprang over the wall, hanging onto the stone face with my finger tips. Had I stopped to consider the utter stupidity of my act I do believe I would not have dared its accomplishment. The sentry passed without stopping. I waited until he was gone to try to raise myself up, but found my arms were not strong enough to pull my tired body up. My only escape, then, was to try for the tree limb below me.
Looking down, I realized I would not be able to step onto the branch, which was just out of the reach of my toes. Throwing my destiny to fate, I let go of the wall and hoped the tree would hold me as I fell. Leaves lacerated my arms as I grabbed for the branch. I slipped off the limb and fell into another just below it. My descent to the ground was a series of misadventures, slipping from one branch to another, not obtaining a solid hold on any limb. By the time I landed on the softest part of my anatomy, I was a mass of small lacerations and cuts. Welts from the bruising covered my arms and legs, but I was alive.
I was safe on the ground, if being trapped in a city of millions of strangers—not to say of enemies—with no plan of escape, nor any friend can be termed as "safe." Not daring to rest on the ground for fear a patrol might discover me as it traversed the darkened grounds, I leaped to my feet and fled away from my erstwhile prison.
The walls of the palace towered overhead, blocking out much of the sky and the light of Thuria, the lesser moon. Balconies lined the street, each filled with lounging ladies and men taking their ease from their daily tasks. Music floated in the air, issuing from the instruments of the house musicians. Many of the houses had been raised on their towering hydraulic poles as protection from assassins and other marauders. Even at night countless numbers of flyers cruised overhead, crisscrossing the city at separate levels, each level of flyers heading in one direction to prevent collisions which would endanger those on the ground from falling debris. Each time the light of Thuria was blotted out by a passing flyer and a shadow crossed my path I cringed, fearing it was the palace guard coming to apprehend me but I dared not look up for fear of drawing unwanted attention to myself.
The paucity of my harness marked me as having no status, for no one goes out in the city without the marking of one's house as protection. Many were the glances directed my way as I strode down the wide street. I wondered at this until I remembered I wore the Jeddak's metal on my harness. Of course, I appeared to be a slave of the house of Tul Axtar. To remove the metal on the street would cause the city guard to arrest me immediately. No woman ever went out without an escort except slaves on tasks for their masters and those women who plied a degraded trade. Even though it was unusual for a slave to be abroad at night, it was not unheard of and so my best protection was to appear to be on an errand. Squaring my shoulders, I strode down the street, dodging other pedestrians as they approached, hoping my demeanor was sufficiently bold as to invite no interference with my task but not so bold as to draw inquiry as to my errand.
Somehow I must have failed in my intention, for one man stopped in front of me, blocking my path. As I dodged around him keeping my eyes cast down, he stepped to the side, again impeding my progress. He wore the plain harness of a panthan, a soldier of fortune, which was not unusual for a red martian, but he was the first I had seen in Jahar, where every man wore the metal of Jahar, each man being in the army from birth. He was tall and not unhandsome, but his face was hard.
I moved to step around him but he reached out and grasped my arm in his hard, calloused hand. "Stay, maiden," he said. "Where do you go in such a hurry?"
"Unhand me, panthan," I said. "I am on the Jeddak's business."
His eyes narrowed. The realization that I had spoken in the tones of a lady of Helium caused me to check my impulse to tear my arm from his cruel grasp.
"Truly," he cried. "What is this mission for the Jeddak?"
"Whatever my mission is, panthan, it is none of your business. Let me pass or I shall call for the guard."
"Truly?" he laughed. "Shall I call them for you?"
My hesitation was my undoing. "I thought so," he said. His hand spun me about so he could examine my back. The raised welts from the scourge were still visible. "You are a runaway slave. Come with me and I will save you from the Jeddak's wrath."
So speaking he removed the metal from my harness and placed it in his pouch. He started off in the direction from which he had come, not caring if we drew the regard of passers by. He pulled me into an inn, thrusting me into a chair near the door and, pulling up another, blocked my escape.
The inn was not one of the better ones in the city, being both dirty and noisy. In fact it was a low dive, populated by ruffians and other riff-raff. The room extended from the door to the bar, broken by several low barriers which were surrounded by scarred tables with stools occupied by men in various stages of intoxication.
Calling for beverages for both of us, my captor asked, "Why did the jeddak have you whipped?" He seemed mildly interested, speaking more for the form rather than seeking answers.
"Please," I begged, "Let me go. You can only come to harm if I am with you."
"Truly?" he said. I was becoming weary of the word.
"Truly," I said.
The bar maid set two mugs before us, taking the coin from my captor with practiced nonchalance, and retreated quickly to the bar. Drunken men at the surrounding tables stared openly at me, judging my figure and face, calculating what my connection with my captor was. One man, it appeared, thought I would be willing to change masters and approached the table. He wore the metal of a soldier in the service of Jahar.
"How much for the wench?" he inquired of my captor, nodding his head in my direction.
"You are mistaken, my friend," my captor replied. "The wench is not for sale."
The newcomer was a giant of a man with bad breath, which he sent my way as he asked, "Is that true, girlie?"
Before I could reply, my captor spoke. "Go away or face the consequences."
"And what would they be?"
My captor whipped out his sword in reply and the fight commenced. The two of them were fairly evenly matched, the bigger man having the advantage of reach and weight behind his sword, but in the other's favor was the fact that the burly man was drunk. They danced across the floor, absorbed in the fight. With everyone watching the combat, I tried to edge out of the inn, but one of the bystanders, one of the men who had been sitting with the man who had approached us, almost absently grabbed my arm, pinioning me to him.
Suddenly the fight was over, my captor standing transfixed with surprise as he stared at the sword which pierced his breast. My prediction had come true. Withdrawing his blade, the burly panthan ignored the other's body as it slumped to the floor.
Relieving his friend of his care for me, he said, "Well, my princess, I, Dat Or, have fought for you. Shall we go...?"
Before he could finish the insult, I struck him across the face with my fist and neatly extracted his startled friend's sword from its scabbard.
"Calot," I cried. "I am no whore."
Laughing, the drunken panthan attempted to disarm me with a slash on my blade but the lessons I had learned from my father and from Kal Tavan stood me in good stead. I slipped his guard and sent a riposte into his arm, missing my mark because he had leapt back at the last instant, twisting to avoid my thrust which I had aimed for his heart. He realized he was not facing a weak woman whom he could overwhelm at his ease, but an experienced fighter who was trying to kill him as quickly as possible. I carried the fight to him for I had to escape the inn before the guard could be summoned.
However, no matter how I tried to press my way to the door, someone was always in the way, a drunk too stupid to avoid the contest or to get out of the way or the panthan who had insulted me.
I had just succeeded in disarming the drunken panthan and was racing for the doorway, slashing at the hands that were extended to impede me, when the panel opened and I ran into the arms of the patrol that had come in response to the innkeeper's summons.
Ripping the sword from my hand the guards demanded to know what had happened. When none of the men were forthcoming with an answer, we were all, including the corpse of my captor, gathered into a patrol flyer and taken to the hall of justice.
Inside the ship, Dat Or leaned close to me. "You are friendless in our fair city. I can protect you if you would consent to become my princess."
"Does your kind offer come with a proposal of marriage?"
Dat Or chuckled, scratching his greasy belly, "Issus, no. I am already married."
"Then I must again refuse," I said. "Too bad I do not have, at this time, the wherewithal to respond to your offer in the proper, pointed manner."
He settled back against the wall of the flyer and sulked, "You will regret rejecting Dat Or."
"Perhaps," I sighed. "I already regret meeting him."
When we were brought before the magistrate and questioned about what had happened, I related the facts of the circumstances of my capture and detaining by the deceased leaving out the fact that I had just escaped from the women's wing of the palace. The judge stared at me for a moment and asked if what I had said was true. Pointing to Dat Or, the judge demanded his version of the incident.
"Well, Your eminence," declared the burly man, "when the dead man entered with this woman, he ordered drinks for the two of them and they conversed for a while. She was negotiating with him for a price and, when he refused to pay her that amount, she slapped him and he hit her and she grabbed my friend's sword and killed her escort. When we tried to stop her from escaping, she stabbed me." Dat Or pointed to his own wound as proof of his statements.
The judge surveyed us with his dead eyes. "Does any one have anything else to say?"
"Aye, lord," said the man whose sword I had utilized in my defense. "Dat Or spoke the truth. This woman killed her escort with my sword."
The Judge turned to me and asked, "Will you allow our psychologists to examine you to determine if you are telling the truth?"
I shook my head. I dared not have the mentalists delving into my mind: they could easily discover that I was an escapee from the Jeddak's harem. He speared me with a cold eye. "Silence is an admission of guilt. Of what you are guilty, I am not sure, but were you innocent you would jump at the chance to free yourself." He beckoned to the watch warders and demanded, "Has the psychologist any evidence?"
One of the patrolmen came forward. "I have not yet examined the dead man. We came here immediately after the fight was over."
The Judge nodded and said, "Proceed with your examination."
The mentalist came forward and laid his hands on each side of the dead man's head. He closed his eyes and concentrated. Obviously his efforts were not rewarded with much information. Shaking his head, he released his hold and faced the Judge. "I am somewhat confused. The brain in this man has deteriorated too much for me to obtain any images of any note. It is as though he has been dead for nearly an entire zode. He has no evidence to present before this court."
The Judge grunted. "Has the watch any evidence?"
The patrolman in charge spoke up. "We searched the dead man's pouch and found the Jeddak's metal inside." He handed it to the Judge who examined it.
He handed the metal back to the patrolman. "Does it belong to her?"
The patrolman placed it on my harness. The metal fit the wear marks perfectly.
The judge's frown deepened. "So, you are a slave. The Jeddak has noted we are short of proletariat for radium powder, levying a tax of one slave for each ten citizens. This time let the Jeddak provide the worker. Send her to the radium mines. Court dismissed."
Dat Or grinned as I was led away. The other witnesses grew pale as the sentence was pronounced dispatching me to the radium mines, from which few ever returned.
CHAPTER 5 — THE RADIUM MINES
The transport that bore me and a hundred other convicts to the mines was old and decrepit, having seen many years of use in the military before being retired from service as superfluous. The below decks bore the miasma of despair and crowded bodies. The passage took most of a day, so slow were the laboring motors of the ancient scow.
The radium mines of Jahar lay to the southwest of the city in the U-Pag district. An enormous building sprawled atop the extensive tunnels that twisted their way underground following the receding veins of the explosive ore. Plain and grim, the compound was to be my home for several months.
The guards led thirty other prisoners and myself down the ramps deep into the caves that had been excavated over the previous millennia. Because radium powder explodes upon exposure to any light source that is not powered by radium itself, the tunnels are dark and we were never allowed topside unless we were scrubbed thoroughly to remove even the slightest trace of the powdered residue of the ore.
I was assigned to a work crew of ten women and one male foreman.
The days, or rather what I took to be days, for we had no way to judge the passage of time save by the number of meals and rest periods we were allowed, passed slowly in a succession of tedious, backbreaking labors interspersed with minimal rest periods and meals of almost inedible food.
Early in the time I spent underground I discovered there was a way to ease the troubles of my incarceration—for a price. All I would have to do to secure preferential treatment, to gain time off, to be positioned at the top of the shaft, to eat good food, would be to abandon my honor and supply the male guards with nocturnal companionship. I was down in this hellish hole because I refused to comply with the insulting suggestions of Dat Or the drunk from the inn. Why would I give now what I refused then? Such was my thinking early in my incarceration. But as the days passed and all hope of rescue, even dreams of rescue by my beloved Tan Hadron, faded, I began to consider the possibility of easing my torment. The great lady of the house of Tor Hatan, the daughter of riches and royalty, learned her true value to men and that was not for her brains, intelligence, loyalty or any other skill. All they wanted was to use and abuse my body and that solely because I had inherited my mother's beauty.
My nights—for such was the term by which I referred to the rest periods—were filled with vain dreams of the appearance of Tan Hadron who would fight his way into the mine and carry me out of the caves. But sometimes my rescuer wore the face of Kal Tavan, the only man who had given his life for me. At those times I woke screaming. By day while I dug at the rock with the heavy copper trowel, I could hold at bay the despair that began to overtake me, but the nights were long and sleepless, for the dreams I had were no comfort.
Digging radium ore is simple in the extreme; the miner thrusts the trowel into the cave wall. If the trowel breaks off a flake of the strata, it is radium ore which is extremely impure, for a barrel of ore will net only enough radium to cover the palm of my hand. If the trowel strikes a hard surface, it is rock and the worker moves on to the next patch of the wall. Women are used most often in the mines because we are smaller than men generally and can reach into the ends of the veins as they meander through the rock formations. Since the rock is not disturbed by the digging the threat of collapse is minimal. The greatest danger lies in the possibility of striking a flint with the trowel and causing a spark. The resultant explosion will kill the miner and possibly several others further back in the tunnel. Being sentenced to the radium mines for more than a year is tantamount to a death sentence because, should one survive the occasional explosion, the dust seeps into the pores and exposure to the sun will result in the skin burning off and the miner dying horribly by immolation.
Because I refused to lie with the overseers, I was placed deep in the shaft at the very apex of the digging. This meant that, should the unthinkable happen, an explosion, I would most surely die. But on the day the unthinkable did happen, I was not at the front because I had finally consented to give myself to the guard. As a reward he put me at the rear with the transport basket which is used to haul out the ore. When full I took the basket on my back and crawled out of the shaft into the central core and deposited the ore in a covered gondola which would whisk the ore away to the processing plant on the other side of the mine over a hundred haads away.
I had just dumped my load into the gondola and had closed the cover when the cave was rocked by a terrible detonation and the roof caved in at both ends of the rails.
Out of the three tunnels leading into the bowels of the mine came billowing clouds of smoke and radium dust followed by the remnants of three work crews. Besides myself, fifteen inmates and two overseers survived. I was pleased to see that my overseer was not one of the survivors.
An examination of the cave in proved difficult and dangerous due to the smoke and the dust, which could explode at the hint of a spark. The dust settled slowly, taking several zodes to clear while the women complained of the noxious fumes and the danger of another explosion.
I urged the others to help me dig our way out but none wanted to risk death, so I dug alone. Each time my trowel struck a stone as I pried each one away from the other, my heart stopped beating until the echo of the ringing stones died away. Then I would recommence the excavation. My arms grew weary and my legs weakened, but I struggled on until, at last, a diffuse gleam of light rewarded me by appearing at the breach.
The other women had worried themselves into such a state that they sprang for the welcome sunlight, tearing both me and the stones away from the cave's opening and ran outside only to burst into flaming torches which disintegrated into nothingness as the sunlight activated the radium powder.
Had they not trampled me in their haste to escape I might have been one of them but the force of their exploding bodies sent me into oblivion.
Rescue teams sent in after dark found me and carried me out of the mine and into a hospital ward where one of the doctors discovered my key, and recognizing it as belonging to the Jeddak's harem, reported to the palace that one of Tul Axtar's slaves had been found.
Before sunrise I was back in the women's wing of the palace, transported while wrapped head to toe in opaque cloths; not an inch of me was left exposed to the light. I had thought my first bath in the women's wing had been thorough. This time not only was my skin cleaned but at least two layers of it were scrubbed off with stiff brushes. My hair was washed many times with strong detergent soaps until it was dry and frizzy. The torture of the bath and the effects of my long imprisonment and the battering I suffered from the explosions made it difficult for me to stay awake and the depression of having offered my honor as well as being returned to the active persecution of the chief consort threw my spirits into a near suicidal condition.
This time the women dressed me in fancy harness and elaborate make-up and hairstyling, pampering both skin and hair with ointments and scented oils, and escorted into the Jeddak's entertainments chamber when they had finished. I had not eaten for nearly a day and was weak from hunger as well as my injuries.
The entertainments chamber was enormous, an amphitheater with a pool in the center where women disported themselves for his diversion. Row upon row of benches rose in concentric circles around the pool and dancing floor each so situated as to give the Jeddak an uninterrupted view of the woman lounging thereon..
As I sat huddled and despondent among the fifteen hundred beautiful women of the Jeddak's harem, trying hard not to disgrace myself by falling asleep, the door at the far end of the hall opened and the troop of women warriors who were dressed, painted, and coiffured as men entered forming two lines connecting the door and the throne which overlooked the dance floor. In walked another courtier, also a woman masquerading as a man. She strode to the edge of the dias and sent a rousing call for all to listen.
"Give thanks!" she proclaimed. "Give thanks! The Jeddak comes!"
Her words were the spur for us to rise as Tul Axtar entered the chamber. He waddled across to the throne and I imagined I could hear it groan as he lowered his immense bulk onto its cushions. I covered my mouth to hide a small smile at the unworthy thought. A flick of his hand indicated we were to resume our seats. He surveyed each of us and I thought, even though I was far across the chamber from him, that his eyes centered on me for a long time before he leaned to the side and spoke to the woman courtier at his left. She stepped to the edge of the dias.
Her voice rang throughout the hall. "The great Jeddak designs to honor you individually with his royal observation. From my left you will pass before him, one by one. In the name of the Jeddak, I have spoken."
Immediately the woman nearest the Jeddak's throne rose to her feet and walked to the throne, pirouetting slowly once and exiting the chamber. One after another each woman rose, pirouetted, and followed the first woman out of the hall. The number of women between me and Tul Axtar dwindled until it was my time to rise and walk to the throne.
As I mounted the dias my limbs began to tremble violently. It took all my willpower not to show my trepidation as I turned about, my arms raised slightly to the side as I had seen the others execute the pirouette. I heard the Jeddak's high voice call to me to tarry. His eyes gleamed; I had seen that look many times before, most recently in the eyes of the overseers of the radium mines. He told the woman at his side to ascertain my name and to note where I was quartered.
My fate, then, had been sealed; I was to become the Jeddak's plaything. My spirit plummeted. How I was able to remain standing and to walk to the room set aside for me tonight at the far end of the long corridor is a mystery to me. Perhaps I still had a smidgen of pride left. Thoughts of flight, of grabbing one of the soldier's swords and slaying or being slain flashed through my mind but I was too tired, dazed and beaten to act on any one of them.
My escort opened the door to my room and I entered, closing the portal behind me. As I turned to close the door I sensed an errant passage of a breeze, light as a zephyr, near me, almost as if someone had swept past me, but no such thing could have happened, I was certain. I was alone in the room, but not for long, and soon to be dishonored beyond all redemption. There was no one who could help me now. Tan Hadron was half a world away and Kal Tavan was dead. I did not even think of my father, for he would not spend any money for a lost and fallen woman, not even his daughter.
Listlessly I crossed to the vanity table.
Behind me came a low voice, "Sanoma Tora!"
Shocked at the familiar tone, I spun about to behold my beloved. "Tan Hadron of Hastor, or am I dreaming?" I could easily believe I had fallen asleep, I was so tired, and was dreaming of him.
The vision of Tan Hadron continued speaking, "You are not dreaming, Sanoma Tora. It is Tan Hadron of Hastor."
My mind could not grasp the implications of his presence. I truly believed I had lost my senses and had gone mad. "Why are you here?" I cried. "How did you get here? It is impossible. No men are permitted upon this level."
Hadron chuckled, "Here I am, Sanoma Tora, and I have come to take you back to Helium, if you wish to return." The last part of his sentence had a subtle emphasis, reminding me of the last time we spoke and I had told him I was to be a Jeddara. My circumstances now gave lie to that boast.
Shamed, I exclaimed, "Oh, name of my first ancestor, if I could but hope."
"You may hope, Sanoma Tora," he assured me. "I am here and I can take you back."
"I cannot believe it," I said, still trying to make sense of this miracle. "I cannot imagine how you gained entrance here. It is madness to think that two of us could leave without being detected." I remembered how difficult I had found it to escape.
Hadron threw his arms up and around him and abruptly vanished. Then I knew I had lost whatever sense I had been left with after the explosion in the mine. "Where are you, Tan Hadron? What has become of you? What has happened?" Each sentence was more shrill and desperate as I gave way to panic. My only hope of rescue had miraculously appeared only to vanish just as quickly. I was alone again.
Hadron's disembodied voice haunted me. "This is how I gained entrance. This is how we shall escape."
A swirling in the air heralded Tan Hadron's reappearance.
"What forbidden magic is this?" I cried.
"No magic, Sanoma Tora," he said, "but science. A Jaharian scientist named Phor Tak who worked for Tul Axtar and made him a ray gun which disintegrates metal was cast aside by the Jeddak of Jahar without proper reward. He has vowed vengeance on Tul Axtar and has invented a paint..." Here Tan Hadron brought out from his pouch a small jar which looked like it was broken, only a rim and a lid remaining, but when he held his hand flat, the lid and rim floated above his palm. "...a paint which bends light around the surface of whatever it covers. I don't understand the principle, but then neither can I distill the Eighth Ray although I can pilot a flyer." He turned and absently set the jar on the vanity. He turned back with a soft question, "How have you fared here, Sanoma Tora? How have they treated you?"
Gods, I could not tell him of the horrors I had endured, for I would have to tell him I had been willing to sell myself to a lowly overseer in the radium mines for a decent meal and a good night's rest. "I have not been ill treated. No one has paid any attention to me. Until tonight I had not seen Tul Axtar." My words were bitter, but I could not help myself, "I have just come from the hall where he holds court among his women."
"Yes, I know," Tan Hadron said. "I was there. It was from there that I followed you here."
His words reminded me of my impending peril. "When can you take me away?" I begged.
"Very quickly now," he replied.
"I am afraid it will have to be quickly."
"Why?" he asked.
My shame held me silent for a moment, then I burst into impassioned speech. "When I passed Tul Axtar he stopped me for a moment and I heard him speak to one of the courtiers at his side," I said. "He told her to ascertain my name and where I was quartered. The women have told me what happens after Tul Axtar has noticed one of us, and I am afraid; but what difference does it make, I am only a slave." There, I had spoken the ultimate truth for the first time in my life. I have always been a slave. My first master was my father. Ever I had to defer to his will and never to follow my own. Never have I had any say in what happened in my life. It is so with all women on Barsoom.
Tan Hadron stood at the window, peering out into the night. My words fell on unresponsive ears, he had asked the question and then turned away immediately, not caring what my answer would be, he did not care. He nodded to himself, satisfied with what he saw. "Listen to me, Sanoma Tora," he said. "I have a plan to effect your rescue. Just like this cloak, I have an invisible ship called the Jhama. I must go and bring it to you. Prepare yourself while I am gone that there might be no delay when I am ready to take you aboard the Jhama."
He took my hands in his. "And now, Sanoma Tora," he said, "for a few moments, good bye! The next that you hear will be a voice at your window, but you will see no one nor any ship. Extinguish the light in your room and step to the sill. I will take your hand. Put your trust in me then and do as I bid."
An excess of emotion wrought a passionate, "Goodbye, Tan Hadron!" from my soul. I said in earnest intensity, "I cannot express now in adequate words the gratitude that I feel, but when we are returned to Helium there is nothing you can demand of me that I shall not grant you, not only willingly, but gladly." I prayed my father would honor my promise.
He raised my fingers to his lips. When he turned toward the door, I heard footsteps approaching. "Wait!" I said. "Someone is coming."
Tan Hadron disappeared beneath the swirling folds of his cloak of invisibility as the door was thrown open by a courtier. The woman in her gorgeous harness stepped inside my cell and then to one side. She announced, "The Jeddak! Tul Axtar, the Jeddak of Jahar!"
The supreme ruler of Jahar entered the room along with a number of his courtiers. Once he had been handsome but his features had coarsened over the years reflecting his arrogance, pride and even doubt of his own abilities. Now his face was repulsive, his smile sent shivers down my spine. His masculine, female courtiers smirked at my discomfiture, acting more like men in their coarseness than any man I had ever known, prince or common soldier. For several tals Tul Axtar examined me, his eyes following the curves of my form from head to floor and back to head. He laid a hand upon my shoulder to turn me more towards the light.
"I was not wrong," he gloated. "You are gorgeous. How long have you been here?"
His question stunned me. He did not know me. He had contracted with my father to marry me and he did not know me. To him I was nothing more than a plaything for his momentary entertainment. Fear paralyzed my tongue and I could say nothing.
"You are from Helium?"
He did not know me. The emissary had been right. I was nobody, good for only one thing, the thing that the Jeddak intended to perform on my body whether I was willing or not. I was a commodity, a plaything, a toy. My face flamed in shame as I realized again how far I had fallen from the grace that had been the daughter of Tor Hatan.
"The ships of Helium are on their way to Jahar," he laughed. "My scouts bring word that they will soon be here. They will meet with a warm welcome from the great fleet of Tul Axtar." Walking behind me he turned to his courtiers. "Go!" he commanded, "and let none return until I summon her."
The women backed out of the room, bowing in the accepted manner for men, closing the door after them cutting off their girlish giggles and raucous comments.
"Come!" he said again stroking the skin of my shoulder. "I shall not war with all of Helium, with you I shall love, by my first ancestor, but you are worthy of the love of a Jeddak."
I glanced around. There was no sign of Tan Hadron. Had he left with the courtiers? Or had he even been here at all? Was he just a figment of my imagination?
All thought ceased as Tul Axtar took my shoulders in his pudgy fingers and drew my lips towards his leering face.
As Tul Axtar's pendulous lips approached mine I thought, so this is how I lose my honor, as a plaything for a gross misshapen beast, the Jeddak of Jahar's entertainment for the night to be forgotten at the sun's rising. My honor would not be sold as I had so often thought my father would have done, not given in love or marriage, but taken as a prize seized by a rapacious raider, a marauding malevolence. My soul died a little within me then. I wished to die, but had no sword or dagger with which to salvage my honor. The gross bulk of the Jeddak enveloped me with his arms, pinning mine to my side and away from his weapons.
The rasp of a sword being withdrawn from its scabbard halted the descent of Tul Axtar's flabby lips towards mine. His arms stiffened around me, his face pale. The point of Tan Hadron's sword passed over my shoulder and pressed into the Jeddak's fleshy throat, depressing the skin in warning.
"Silence!" Tan Hadron hissed.
Tul Axtar's lips worked for a moment, then he found his quivering voice, "Who are you?"
"Silence!" The look on Tan Hadron's face terrified me. Tul Axtar's life hung in the balance in that moment.
Hadron's ungentle hand spun the corpulent Jeddak around, ripping the man's weapons from his harness. Tan Hadron threw the weapons into the corner of the room before binding and gagging Tul Axtar securely.
Hadron glanced around the room. "Where can I hide him, Sanoma Tora?"
I pointed to a small door hidden behind decorations in the wall that led to a tiny closet. I crossed over to it and levered the latch, opening it. Tan Hadron dragged Tul Axtar behind him and cast him into the closet with casual brutality. He slammed the closet door on one of Tul Axtar's legs. With a muttered curse he kicked the leg inside the closet, again slamming the door shut.
This was the first time I had ever seen the suave and urbane Tan Hadron of Hastor reveal an inclination to brutality. The bright-eyed look of satisfaction on his face as he turned towards me sent a chill of apprehension through me. Tired and abused as I was, I spoke aloud the thought that flashed through my mind at the sight of his unholy glee: "I am afraid."
What I did not say was that what I feared was Tan Hadron, his half wild look gave me pause. I continued with the only words that would bring him to his senses. "If they come back and find him thus, they will kill..." Tan Hadron's eyes darkened with intense anger as he assumed I thought he was afraid. I shied away from him and his volatile temper and changed my last word into the only one that would salve his wounded pride. "...me," I said.
Tan Hadron's contempt for my apparent cowardice was palpable. "His courtiers will not return until he summons them. You heard him tell them that such were his wishes, his command." At another time, in another place, Tan Hadron would not have dared to speak to me in such demeaning tones, yet I dared not antagonize him who was my only hope of rescue, therefore I simply nodded.
Extending the jeweled dagger he retrieved from the pile of weapons he continued, "Here is his dagger. If worse comes to worst you can hold them off by threatening to kill Tul Axtar."
Tan Hadron's callous words were as unnerving as had been Tul Axtar's threatened kiss and attempted violation. The memory of the Jeddak's venture into rapine made my heart to quail within my breast and my hands to shake uncontrollably. I was shocked at my inability to control my limbs. Unshed tears welled up in my eyes nearly blinding me. Silently I cursed my treacherous body which had so betrayed me with weakness at the thought of the Jeddak's embrace. How I longed for Tan Hadron to hold me and tell me everything would be all right.
But he did nothing of the sort. "I shall return soon," he said, groping for the cloak of invisibility where he had dropped it on the floor when he had revealed himself to Tul Axtar. "Leave that large window open and when I return, be ready."
With no other word of farewell, no words of love or even encouragement, Tan Hadron swirled the cloak around him and disappeared. The door opened and closed so quickly that I was not even sure it had moved. I was alone in the room, prey to all the horrors of my confinement and memory. Had I not held Tul Axtar's dagger in my hand I would have sworn the events of the evening were just a dream brought about by my extreme exhaustion and possible concussion.
I knew I must not fall asleep but my legs would no longer support me. The stool was soft and comfortable and as the tals passed my eyes grew heavier. It is probable that I fell asleep while waiting for Tan Hadron to return, for his hail from the window startled me so that I almost dropped the dagger.
His whispered command: "Darken your room," sent me across the floor to stagger against the button that plunged the chamber into darkness. That last act rendered me helpless, my limbs no longer answering the commands of my mind, shock combined with exhaustion to finish my ability to perform any act of will.
Tan Hadron's strong arms lifted me and carried me to the window where I saw a strange, young woman standing halfway out of a hatch that opened in the thin air just outside my room. She helped Tan Hadron lower me through the hatch. I noted it did not connect to any ship, floating in the air by itself, but, by that time, I was past caring about the marvels I had just experienced, for I was unconscious before they laid me on the floor of the cabin.
When I awoke another person was tending to my needs, bathing my face with a moist rag. The gentle hands ceased their ministrations at my murmured, "Thank you, Tan Hadron, for my life." When I received no reply, I opened my eyes to look at what I thought a young boy with a softly formed oval face, as though he were just out of the egg, until I recognized it was another woman in men's attire. Rest assured, my first thought at the sight of the girl was to think that I was still in the hands of Tul Axtar's women.
My screams of panic brought Tan Hadron and the other woman to my side to reassure me that I was safe. Tan Hadron introduced the two women to me. Phao, the woman who was not masquerading as a man, was a citizen of Jahar who had escaped from Tjanath earlier and was the friend of Nur An, another Jaharian and a friend of Tan Hadron's he had picked up in his search for me.
Tavia was the other, a girl from Tjanath who had escaped from Jahar where she had been a slave in the women's quarters, stealing a one-man flyer and flying away, accomplishing what I had been unable to achieve alone, but she had been captured by Green Men from whom Tan Hadron had rescued her. He glossed over the adventures they had experienced in the months that followed that rescue. She wore men's harness and had cut her hair short and painted her face in the manner of warriors. Her body was slim and underdeveloped but withal she was a woman and for her Tan Hadron reserved his gentlest tones and most soulful glances. So she was why Tan Hadron was so distant in his reactions to me. She was my chief rival for his love. He still professed his affection for me but, he was solicitous for her welfare. Tavia was sweet, but I could not find it in me to be more than civil to her. I think I knew then that I had lost his love to her, but I refused to believe that for a long time, prolonging my suffering by many months.
Tan Hadron moved to the side of Tavia standing shoulder to shoulder, so close they could touch each other at any moment, but unlike the two men they appeared to be, one was a woman and the two were fully aware of the differences between themselves. Should his hand graze her arm as he reached for a control she would glance at him from under lowered eyelashes. Should her shoulder rub against him, he would stiffen for a moment and look away. My chagrin at being forced to watch the woman ply her wiles and entice the affections of the man I loved away from myself was almost more than I could stand. What was worse was the fact that Tavia was well aware of Tan Hadron's long search for me, but still she deferred to him in such a manner that he felt the need to reassure her of her freedom and her favor in his eyes.
Phao ignored me, for which I was grateful, I could not stand pity from her., But Tavia would come close and ask if I needed aught, a drink, some meat, a pillow? To each of these overtures I refused to grant more than the barest of civil responses. I knew if I said anything, Tan Hadron would put me in the wrong, siding with her in any controversy, and I tried to please him by saying nothing but even that was doomed to failure.
With elaborate nonchalance she showed me ungrateful and ungracious in all of our encounters; I tried to condemn her in my heart for her theft of the affections of Tan Hadron, but despite all, I liked her. She had a strong will and the character to back it up. She would never give up and never be dominated. I thought she was the better woman of the two of us. I felt like crying.
Leaving Tavia to set and align the automatic compass, Tan Hadron came aft to me, where I stood staring out a porthole, Tul Axtar's bound form lying near my feet. Tan Hadron checked the bonds that enclosed the wrists and ankles of the Jeddak of Jahar, noticing that the prisoner was having a hard time breathing through the gag in his mouth. With a muffled imprecation, Tan Hadron removed the gag. Tul Axtar stayed silent except for the rasping gulps of air he struggled to inhale.
"No, Tul Axtar," Tan Hadron said. "Do not die. I need you alive."
With a sly smile, he patted Tul Axtar on his cheek and rose to face me. "I am sure, Sanoma Tora, that deep in your heart you are fully appreciative and grateful to Tavia for her kindliness, but I wish that you would show it by some word or deed."
Tan Hadron could not know how deeply his words cut me. We stared at each other for a moment before he shrugged and went forward to wake Phao whom he had told to rest.
"Come, Phao," he said. "Tavia and I have been up all night and we are tired. Come forward and I shall show you what to do. The Jhama is flying above the normal altitude for a battleship but we still need a lookout to prevent our accidental collision with another ship. The ship's compass will keep us headed toward Helium. All you must do is peer through this scope, moving it from side to side from time to time. Can you do that?"
"Certainly, Tan Hadron," she replied.
"Wake me should a ship approach us."
As she took her place at the scope Tavia and Tan Hadron sought their sleeping silks and furs, which were situated amidships. With Phao at the control panel in the bow, Tavia and Tan Hadron asleep in the middle of the cabin, Tul Axtar and I were effectively alone on board the ship.
"So this Tan Hadron fellow loves you, do you think, Sanoma Tora?" That the Jeddak of Jahar would deign to address me came as a distinct shock. I glanced down at his bloated body, his face red with passion at his helpless condition.
I said nothing. What could I say?
"Do you know he has sealed the fate of your beloved Helium with his kidnaping of me?" the fat Jeddak inquired.
This statement I could not let pass without explanation. "What mean you?" I cried. "How sealed?"
Tul Axtar shifted slightly to a less uncomfortable position. "Why, my dear," he said. "You are aware that the entire combined fleets of Helium are sailing right now for Jahar with the intent to destroy my own fleet?"
"How do you know this?"
"Why do you think you were abducted if not as bait for my trap. I would have sent word to Helium myself if he had not done so for me."
"But how is the fleet doomed?"
"Why, my dear," he sneered, "your precious warlord of Barsoom, who styles himself a proper southern gentleman of Virginia, wherever that is, refuses ever to strike the first blow or fire the first shot and has vowed never to start a war. That is how the fleet is doomed, for my ships are all armed with a gun that disintegrates metal." My mind recalled the deaths of the men aboard the patrol flyer in Helium and the Green Men in the desert when I had been abducted. The metal in their harness and their ships had disappeared, but I had not known why then. This explained everything all too clearly. "My ships will not fire until they are all within range of your greatest battleships which they will destroy with one great stroke, ending Helium's domination of the skies."
"But the men," I cried. "You would so heinously slay them with this coward's weapon?"
"Perhaps not, Sanoma Tora," he said, "if you would set me free and consent to be my Jeddara. Were you married to me, I would have no need to destroy the fleet for we would have a defacto treaty with you as my wife. You would bring peace to our two countries."
"And what of Tan Hadron?" I cried. "Must he die?"
"No, I swear by my first ancestor," Tul Axtar said. "I will let him live. I will even set him down outside of the city of Jahar."
"With weapons?" I bargained.
"Yes, with his bladed weapons."
What a dilemma did Tul Axtar present to me. Consent to marry this monster in order to save my city and my beloved Tan Hadron, throwing away my only hope for happiness, or allowing my city to die and perhaps even the world just to keep my honor intact, an honor I would have sold for a meal and a softer bed, or saving that prize for a man who no longer loved me. Perhaps it is a measure of how naive I was then that I believed Tul Axtar's words.
I loosened his bonds and Tul Axtar rose with surprising agility for one with so gross a girth, stepping lightly over the recumbent forms of Tavia and Tan Hadron. He snuck up behind Phao who was intent on her duties as lookout, battering her on the back of the head. His arms caught her before she could fall to the deck and he bound her hands together quickly and gagged her. He then turned on Tan Hadron with a loop of rope, which he cast about the sleeping man's wrists as he drove his knee into Tan Hadron's stomach. As a pain-staggered Tan Hadron sought to rise, Tul Axtar hissed, "Silence! If you would live, make no sound." The stunned padwar from Hastor was bound and gagged in an instant, with Tavia following close behind.
Ignoring both his prisoners and me, Tul Axtar took the controls and set course for Jahar. I could tell he had no knowledge of the use of the destination control compass for he made no changes in any of the settings on the console. As long as he remained at the controls the flyer would go as he directed, but should he leave them with the motors running, the Jhama would return to the course to which it had been set before, towards home, to Helium it would go.
As soon as he was sure of the path of flight he had chosen, Tul Axtar peered back over his shoulder at Tan Hadron. "I should destroy you, Tan Hadron of Hastor," he said, "had I not given the word of a Jeddak that I would not." Tul Axtar glanced at me to see the effect of his statement. I kept my face still although I could feel heat rising in my cheeks.
"Give thanks for the magnanimity of Tul Axtar," he continued, "who exacts no penalty for the affront you have put upon him. Instead you are to be set free." My blood chilled at the tone in his voice. "I shall land you. Free!" He chuckled quietly, "I shall land you in the province of U-Gor." I did not know then the fate to which I had sentenced my beloved Tan Hadron. Had I known, I wonder what I would have done. Would I have thrown my word to the winds and stopped the Jeddak of Jahar from his self-appointed vengeance? Quite possibly, but I did not know and my poor Tan Hadron had to suffer for my ignorance and vanity for thinking I could, alone, stop a war for world domination under the thumb of Tul Axtar.
Tul Axtar toiled alone at the controls. I certainly was not going to help him. It took nearly a full day before Tul Axtar hit the control that governed the ship's altitude and brought the invisible flyer down close to the ground.
He flipped a switch that silenced the purring of the motors and walked back to stand over Tan Hadron's body. "We have arrived in U-Gor," he said. "Here I shall set you at liberty, but first give me the strange thing that rendered you invisible at my palace."
How did the portly Jeddak know about the cloak of invisibility? This revelation was a puzzle to me until I remembered that Tul Axtar had been facing the mirror over the vanity table in my cell. He must have seen Tan Hadron remove the cloak just before he imprisoned the ruler of Jahar. What had Tan Hadron done with the cloak? I could not remember, that night being a haze of confusion bought on by exhaustion and concussion.
Tul Axtar removed the gag from Tan Hadron's mouth. Tan Hadron worked his lips and jaw to relieve the strain of a night with a wad of cloth in his mouth. "When you return to your palace at Jahar," he said, "look upon the floor beneath the window in the apartment that was occupied by Sanoma Tora. If you find it there you are welcome to it. As far as I am concerned it has served its purpose well."
Tul Axtar looked his disbelief. "Why did you leave it there?" he demanded.
"I was in a great hurry when I quit the palace," Tan Hadron sneered, "and accidents happen." Tan Hadron's words sounded like a plausible happenstance but I was convinced that another explanation, that he had stuffed it in his pouch was more probable. I could not see how the cloak could help Tan Hadron in U-Gor but I was not about to aid Tul Axtar to retrieve it from Tan Hadron. If he was not intelligent enough to search his prisoner before abandoning him in the province of U-Gor, far be it from me to point out his error.
Muttering almost inaudible imprecations under his breath, the corpulent Jaharian strained to open the floor hatch and rolled Tan Hadron's bound body through it. Fortunately the short fall did not harm Tan Hadron nor did it harm Tavia who followed Tan Hadron over the edge. Tul Axtar descended to stoop beside Tavia, his dagger in his hand. Not truly trusting his word I scrambled to the hatch and watched as he cut the cords that bound her wrists.
As he rose Tul Axtar said, "I shall keep the other." He must have meant Phao. "She pleases." Pointing his dagger at Tavia he continued in a contemptuous voice, "This one looks like a man and I swear that she would be as easy to subdue as a she banth. I know the type. I shall leave her with you." With that the portly Jaharian clambered up into the ship and strode towards the control panel. As his hands reached for the button that started the motors, I asked, "You promised him his weapons."
Tul Axtar looked at me with a strange smile on his visage, then he returned to the hatch and leaned out, saying, "I shall drop your weapons when we are where you cannot use them against me." He paused to glance at me and continued, "And you may thank the future Jeddara of Jahar for the clemency I have shown you."
My heart plummeted as those accusing words, however true they were in fact, fell from Tul Axtar's lips. Surely, Tan Hadron could interpret them in only one of two ways. Either I had sacrificed myself for his life by agreeing to wed a lecher or I had sold myself for the title of Jeddara. Remembering the hateful words I had used when my father had ordered me to reject Tan Hadron's suit, I could not doubt that Tan Hadron would choose the second interpretation according to his thoughts about my vanity.
Tul Axtar started the motors and sent the Jhama speeding towards Jahar. He motioned I might toss out the weapons. "Leave the pistols alone, Sanoma Tora, or I shall have to shoot your precious padwar." I had no choice, I threw down only the swords and daggers that belonged to Tan Hadron and Tavia. Thus was I parted again from Tan Hadron.
Tul Axtar set me to mind the controls. I had no choice but to obey for I had given my word that if he would free Tan Hadron with his weapons I would marry him and thereby stop the war with Helium. He then examined his newest acquisition, the Jhama, an invisible flyer built by Tan Hadron and rendered invisible by Phor Tak, a scientist formerly in Tul Axtar's service. He poked and prodded into each cranny and cubbyhole in the ship until he discovered the ammunition compartment. The numerous shells inside were variously marked with the writing of Helium.
Upon Barsoom only one spoken language exists, some of our greatest philosophers are convinced that this is because most of speech is mental and the telepathic powers with which each Barsoomian is born supports the spoken word with mental images shared by the speaker and listener. However, the written language is symbolic and not mental, therefore the symbols do not transfer into mental images until one is exposed to their meanings through a long process of memorization.
As Tul Axtar approached with two of the shells in his hand, I turned to face my betrothed husband, for such he was in truth. The formalities of a wedding ceremony would not bind me any tighter to him for, once I had accepted his offer, I could marry no other until he died.
Placing the shells in my hands, he demanded to know what was written on them. My examination of the shells was cursory at best, but they were longer than my hand from heel to fingertip but only as big around as my thumb. Both were a golden red color and marked in black with a complicated sigil. "This one," I said, "is marked organic and this one is marked metallic. " I placed them in his pudgy hands as I spoke.
"Fascinating," he muttered. Stepping over the bound and unconscious body of Phao, he sought the rifle in the bow port. The shell slipped into the magazine with a click. He peered through the gunsight. "Sanoma Tora," he cried. "Turn the ship to the left."
As the ship responded slowly to my turning of the wheel, a ghastly sight came into view. On the ground about a haad away crouched a group of the most pitiful excuses for humanity grouped around a carcass, slicing off strips of meat and consuming it raw. They were naked, both men and women, which was shocking enough without the added horror that the carcass over which these bestial people fought was that of a man. These wretches had fallen so low as to become cannibals, living off the flesh of another. But, even as my mind reeled under the onslaught of the realization that Tan Hadron was marooned among these creatures, another even stranger sight occurred. The cannibals disappeared, their skin, their own flesh and then their very bones vanishing before my very eyes.
Tul Axtar cackled with glee as he flung himself from the gunport to the forward viewport. "Phor Tak, you are a genius," he exclaimed. "I must have the secret of these shells as well as the secret of this ship's invisibility." He danced about the cabin, whooping with glee, a parody of human endeavor, his flesh jiggling and bouncing with each leap and bound. He returned to the ship's controls, thrusting me aside and shoving the accelerator to maximum. "I must return to Jahar and institute a search for Phor Tak," he chortled. "He must be returned to my service."
His attention being focused on the handling of the ship, Tul Axtar did not notice when I unbound and lifted Phao from the floor. The wound on the back of her head was not serious, being no more than a contusion from when he had attacked her as she kept watch in the periscope. Soon she roused and I lifted a cup of wine to her lips which she avidly consumed.
"What happened?" she said.
"Tul Axtar hit you."
She glanced around. "Where are Tavia and Tan Hadron?"
"He landed them somewhere in the province of U-Gor. They are safe."
"Safe?" she exclaimed. "No one is safe in U-Gor. Ever since Tul Axtar began his mad quest for the world's largest army, the people of U-Gor have fallen into cannibalism. It started when the population outgrew the crops and ended when the starving people fell upon each other for food. From there it was but a step to the catastrophe of complete and universal cannibalism. Now the inhabitants no longer farm, they have developed a taste for human flesh. Tan Hadron and Tavia are doomed to become a meal for the roving bands of man-eaters, if they have not already served as the main course of their grisly meals."
As the shock of this intelligence hit me Phao stared at Tul Axtar's back. "How did he get free?" she asked.
"He promised me no one would get hurt," I said. "He promised."
Phao hissed, "You are a fool. Even with weapons, the two of them are probably dead by now. Not one of Tul Axtar's diplomats, bureaucrats or armies have survived more than a week in U-Gor." She leaned further towards my ear and whispered, "Help me. Together we can overpower him."
"I cannot," I said. "I gave my word that if he let Tan Hadron go with his weapons, I would be his Jeddara and he would stop the war."
"But he won't keep his word. He won't stop the war. It is his dream to rule all of Barsoom himself."
"But he has kept his word about Tan Hadron. I cannot break my word. You ask too much of me."
The girl started to rise, intent upon doing mischief to Tul Axtar but the hit on her head rendered her too dizzy to stand, much less to attack him. As she fell back to her former recumbent position, Tul Axtar laughed at her discomfiture. He returned to the steering of the ship, ignoring the two of us. I tried to make Phao more comfortable, but she refused all assistance from one she called a "traitor."
What followed was a terrible time for me. Phao's statements, no matter how much I wanted to disbelieve them, sounded so much like I believed Tul Axtar would act that I began to realize that Tan Hadron and Tavia were going to die, if they had not already provided the entree to a cannibal's dinner. My misery was so deep that I could not even cry.
Eventually, Tul Axtar made a shout of relief as he sighted one of his blue painted cruisers. As it was now night, his cruiser was unaware that the ship hailing her was invisible because all they could see were the lights shining from the portholes Tul Axtar had opened to guide his cruiser to dock with the Jhama. Only when the deck crew prepared to throw lines into Tul Axtar's hands did they see that the Jeddak of their city was visible only from the waist up. It is a credit to the discipline of the Jaharian cruiser crew that the men did not hesitate to assist Tul Axtar to moor the Jhama alongside. However, Tul Axtar was so eager to board his cruiser that he looped only one rope to the Jhama before pushing Phao through the hatch and onto the cruiser's deck.
As I followed, I realized that, with the Jhama in his hands, with the terrible weapons aboard, Tul Axtar could be a menace to any ship or city without fear to himself. Therefore, I set the motors to their slowest speed before climbing to the deck and released the mooring line from the Jhama as I stepped onto the unseen platform of the cruiser, pushing the invisible ship away from the cruiser. Because the chaos on the deck of the cruiser as the crew assisted the Jeddak and Phao to regain their footing, Phao being still unsteady on her feet, needing help, drew the attention of everyone to her as she staggered toward the cabin, no one saw the mooring line snake through the cleat on the invisible ship and slide off to drop to the side of the cruiser with a hollow slap.
Stunned at the sound, Tul Axtar ordered some of the men to leap to the deck of the Jhama. Many tried but none succeeded, falling to their deaths far below. The deaths of those men prey on my conscience, but I would do everything again that I did that night for I am sure I saved many other lives, including two of which I was unaware until much later.
Tul Axtar, watching the men plummet to their gruesome fates, plunged into a rage which was assuaged only when he slew the man who had thrown him the mooring line, ignoring the fact that it had been the Jeddak of Jahar himself who had failed to tie off the line properly. He ordered the cruiser to search for the Jhama, dropping ropes below the ship in an effort to scrape them across the invisible ship, but he finally had to leave for Jahar without finding it.
Our arrival at Jahar was different than the last time because the men on the vast array of ships greeted us with rousing cheers that echoed in the open air above Jahar. Many of the ships were unmoored and floating high in the air, their upper reaches bedecked with flags and banners, a mighty array of martial splendor.
"Relax, little one," Tul Axtar said as he led me off the cruiser to the women's wing. "I will personally follow the fleet and direct their actions and bring peace to all Barsoom."
As the cruiser settled onto the rooftop hangar Tul Axtar ordered a guard to escort me to the women's quarters to outfit me as befit the Jeddara of Jahar, noting at the same time that the wedding would take place in the records room at noon, but first, had orders for the fleet. Without a backwards glance he strode into the palace. My fears for the future of Helium and all Barsoom were set to rest at these words and I followed the guard with an easy mind. How wrong I was!
CHAPTER 6 — I BECOME JEDDARA OF JAHAR
My entrance into the women's precincts caused a mighty furore. All the women scrambled to do me obeisance, all except the chief consort who refused to believe and was unceremoniously escorted, by force and in chains, from my presence by the very women whom she had degraded and ordered to serve her every whim. Almost I pitied her. This time my bath was again thorough; but, unlike the other two, was a pleasant interlude before they draped my form with rich jewels and costly silks. I felt like a prostitute, which I suppose I was, having sold my honor for my city and Tan Hadron's life.
As they led me out of the dressing area, we met Tul Axtar coming out of my chamber. Bent over, clutching at his belly, he appeared to be suffering from some gastric distress. He staggered back, shuffling his hands about an inch away from his stomach, and threw a startled glance my way. "Wait here," he ordered, "until I return, then we will continue to the records room, there to solemnize our mutual pact."
Without another word, he turned on his heel and ran off down the ornately decorated corridor, still hunched over, which made his ever ungainly stride even more ridiculous. I dared not allow my merciless mirth to show as he waddled around a corner and out of sight.
A wayward impulse to see once more the cell that had been my home sent me through the door. Nothing seemed to have been touched since I had left in the arms of Tan Hadron, almost unconscious from shock and lack of sleep. Idly, my hands ran over the vials and jars of cosmetics that littered the vanity. Each container was examined with a distracted disinterest until my hand landed on the jar which had only a lid and the upper half of the vial visible, the rest being coated, as Tan Hadron had said when he showed me the jar, with an invisibility paint invented by Phor Tak. The shock of discovering that Tan Hadron had left the pot of paint in this room nearly caused me to drop the container. Clutching it to my breast, I bethought to remove it from this room where some slave or concubine was likely to discover its presence at some time in the near future. With much care to appear nonchalant, I slipped the jar into my belt pouch.
Within moments Tul Axtar, apparently none the worse for his stomach ailment, reappeared at the doorway and presented his pudgy arm to me, with an invitation to accompany him to the records room. Schooling my face to stillness, I laid my hand on his arm,, being careful to touch only the metallic bracelet that encased his bloated forearm.
The walls of the records room were lined with cubbyholes filled with thousands of scrolls, each recording a proclamation, a law, a marriage, or even a whim of the Jeddak of Jahar. Beyond the doors in the far wall lay hundreds of other rooms, each equally filled with an almost incalculable number of records going back to the first Jeddak of Jahar. The wizened clerk who stood behind the table appeared as old as the city itself, his face seamed with lines and creased with wrinkles.
With an economy of words and ceremony, Tul Axtar recorded our vows before the proper witnesses and signed the document which tied my fate forever to his.
The moment my signature was affixed to the certificate Tul Axtar burst into raucous laughter, his amusement tinged with a terrible triumph. "So, my wife," he chortled, "with this stroke of a pen you have sealed the fate of your beloved city of Helium."
"What mean you, my husband?" I asked.
"Why, dear lady," he chortled. "It is just that now I have a legal tie to the throne of Helium. Should any unfortunate happenstance occur that would deprive Helium of its rightful rulers, I may now ascend to the throne of Helium as its Jeddak and none may say me nay."
The import of his words made my knees weak and my legs to buckle beneath me. Tul Axtar stooped over my kneeling form and planted a mocking kiss upon my brow, sweetly patting my cheek, before sweeping out of the records room. His retainers followed until only I was left in the chamber. My trembling hands could barely support my weight as I struggled to rise, shocked to my core by the thought of what had happened: I had betrayed not only Tan Hadron and Tavia to death, but also my home, my city, and my father. Everyone I knew in Helium would feel the pressure of Tul Axtar's heavy sandal on the yoke of the city. What had I done? But, more importantly, how could I correct this terrible mistake I had made?
A rustle of paper across the room revealed that I was not completely alone. The records keeper, who was on the far side of the room, placed scrolls into their appropriate cubby holes, glancing at each one before stuffing it in its proper receptacle. The marriage certificate lay in the center of the room, abandoned by the old man who stood with his back to the table and it was but the work of a moment for me to snatch the offending document and to fold it into a tight bundle and to stuff it into my belt pouch. I dared not leave any proof that I had been so foolish as to believe that madman would keep his word to bring peace to our world. I now realized that the peace he meant to bring was total world domination with every man's fate in the hands of a totally amoral maniac.
By the time I reached the corridor, my husband had taken his entire retinue and disappeared. Phao and a Dwar of the army stood just outside to escort me to my new quarters. At the door to Tul Axtar's apartments, the Dwar saluted us. As he was about to leave, though, another warrior raced up to seek an audience with his Jeddak. On his face was a look of blind terror, the whites of his eyes showing all around his irises. A small trail of blood trickled down his left cheek from a cut above his eyebrow.
"What is it, man?" the Dwar demanded.
Straightening at the tone of command in his superior's voice, the warrior saluted. "Beg pardon, sir," he reported. "Several bands of citizens have attacked the food storage warehouses on the south side of the palace. All of the guards who were left when our glorious Jeddak embarked on his war with Helium have been slain and the warehouses have been sacked. What food has not been taken is now on fire. We need reinforcements or our position will be lost."
The Dwar's frown deepened at this recitation. He issued quick orders that sent the entire troop off in divergent directions to gather warriors and to assemble them in the main courtyard. He then turned to us. "Ladies," he said. "Please remain in these chambers. You will be safer here than anywhere else." After walking a few paces, he turned back and said, "Please, lock the doors. They will be very difficult to break down and, perhaps, as there is no food in the rooms, whoever comes will simply pass by, leaving you unmolested."
We retreated into the Jeddak's quarters. Phao closed and locked the doors. Her venomous look at me sent me deeper into the opulent room. "Were I not here, Sanoma Tora," she hissed. "I would not care if you lived or died for the treachery you have practiced. But I am here and I intend to survive, unlike poor Tavia and Tan Hadron whom you condemned to death by cannibalism in U-Gor."
I tried to explain why I had betrayed Tavia and Tan Hadron and herself, but she closed her heart to my reasons, how I had bargained for peace with Helium and for their lives in return for marrying that madman who sat on Jahar's throne. All that I succeeded in accomplishing was to enrage Phao into threatening me into silence with promises of grievous bodily harm should I fail in that demand.
While I was fully capable of defending myself against any attack Phao could make, should she be so foolish as to attempt to harm me, I saw no reason to make our wait any more unpleasant. Besides, I had other thoughts to occupy my mind. Her reminder of Tan Hadron and Tavia in U-Gor, for example. I was sure, by now, both Tavia and Tan Hadron must be dead.
My gloomy thoughts occupied me for several zodes as the sounds of fighting in the city rose to a crescendo and then fell silent for a while. How I wished Tan Hadron would again appear out of his invisible ship and rescue me, but alas I thought, he is dead and the little ship was drifting over the desolate surface of Barsoom with no human hand at the controls..
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, through the aperture of the window, I saw an invisible hatch open and Tan Hadron leap into the room! My senses reeled as I beheld the image of my love whom I had unwittingly sent to his death. Had the wish to undo all I had done become so strong that my disordered mind had created this fancy to plague my miseries? I sprang from the divan and drew away from this dread apparition. The shock of his abrupt appearance brought a scream of mindless terror to my lips. Truly, I had never believed in ghosts until now.
Thankfully, even as Tan Hadron warned me to silence, Phao seized my arm and clamped a hand over my mouth and the scream of dread was held captive in my throat. Then the apparition spoke and I knew that Tan Hadron had returned from the bosom of the River Iss, his welcoming voice reassuring me that he was indeed alive.
"The fleet of Jahar," he said, "has gone down to defeat before the ships of Helium and I have come to take you back to your own country."
Relief set my limbs atremble and I stared at his rugged face.
At my side Phao said, "I am glad you have come, Tan Hadron of Hastor, for I know that you will take me, too."
"Of course," he replied, expansive in his victory. "The Jhama lies just outside that window. Come! We shall soon be safe aboard the flagship of the Warlord."
In the silence that followed his declaration a sound arose from below, the now familiar sound of a hungry mob assaulting the palace. It was this sound that covered the approach of Tul Axtar who burst through the door in a headlong panic only to stop short at the sight of us. He drew back in surprise but, glancing back at the portal through which he had gained entrance, turned back to face fully the man he had abandoned to the cannibals of U-Gor.
"They are coming!" he cried. "They will tear me to pieces."
Hadron's voice was cold as he inquired, "Who is coming?"
Tul Axtar's eyes kept flitting back to the doorway. "The people," he gasped. "They have forced the gates and they are coming. Do you not hear them?"
Indeed the rumble of the revolting citizenry of Jahar was easily heard, rising louder with every padding moment as they sought the author of their misery.
Tan Hadron pointed to the window where the invisible ship awaited, saying, "The Jhama is outside that window. If you will come aboard her as a prisoner of war, I will take you to the Warlord of Barsoom."
Tul Axtar's wail of horror pleased my ears: "He will kill me, too."
"He should," Tan Hadron said.
Tul Axtar's eyes fell away from Tan Hadron's implacable face then fell on a cabinet across the room. The sudden look on his face gave me a sense of unease, but his words were humble as he said, "I will come; but first let me get one thing to take with me. It is in yonder cabinet."
I thought to warn Tan Hadron of my unease, but he silenced me with a glance. "Hasten," he told the Jeddak.
Tul Axtar hastened to the cabinet, which due to its excessive size, hid him from view when he opened the door. The noise of renewed combat on the floors below and in the courtyard distracted Tan Hadron who turned to the far window and looked down.
Seeing that Tan Hadron had lost track of Tul Axtar, I turned to the cabinet, but before I could take a step I felt a hand grab my arm and a knife press into my back just below my ribs. "Be silent, Sanoma Tora," said the disembodied voice of Tul Axtar, "Else this knife will draw your life from you." Even though my husband's words echoed in my ears, his face was not to be seen. My eyes widened as I realized he wore Tan Hadron's cloak of invisibility. My memory dredged up the image of Tul Axtar staggering out of my chambers clutching at his stomach. Then I knew he had not been ill as I had thought, but he had been holding the cloak clutched in his hands as he ran from the room. Issus! Tan Hadron had told the truth when he had said he had dropped the cloak on the floor. I had thought that he had lied, but my eyes could see the truth, or rather, they could not see because Tul Axtar was invisible.
As the fighting in the avenues below us died down, Tan Hadron turned impatiently to the cabinet. "Hasten, Tul Axtar," he called, crossing the thickly carpeted floor to the cabinet.
Tul Axtar pulled me back with him as he dodged the approaching warrior. Tan Hadron threw wide the door, shocked to discover Tul Axtar had disappeared. The cabinet held drawers of myriad sizes but none, he could see, was large enough to hide a man.
Tul Axtar's knife still pressed into my flesh and I could feel, as Tul Axtar silently dragged me towards the window where Tan Hadron had appeared, my life hung on a thread. Not knowing if this was the last moment of my life, I strained to attract Tan Hadron's attention with slight waverings with my hands, pointing to the window. I could not tell where Tul Axtar's eyes were, nor what they could see, but I knew, should Tul Axtar escape, all Barsoom would never sleep free from fear again.
Hadron noticed my signals and glanced toward the window where the Jhama lay. Frowning, he turned back and rushed to my side, crying, "What is it? What are you trying to say?"
My only chance to survive was to sweep Tul Axtar's blade away before he could thrust it beneath my ribs. I spun on my heel and swung my arm around, seeking to strike his hand behind my back but my arm passed through empty air.
Stunned almost beyond belief, I could only repeat the one word, "Gone! Gone!" Tul Axtar was no longer within arm's reach.
"Who is gone?" Tan Hadron's angry question brought me to my senses.
"Tul Axtar," I replied.
"Where?" he demanded. "What do you mean?" His groping hands on my arms brought my eyes round to the window where I saw Tul Aztar was closing the hatch, his grinning face floating above the hand which dragged down on the hatch's strap.
"The hatch of the Jhama," I exclaimed. "I saw it open and close."
"But it cannot be possible," Tan Hadron muttered. "We have been here looking—" then he stopped, a stunned enlightenment slowly dawning on his vacuous face. He turned from the window to stare at me, his voice barely above a whisper. "The cloak of invisibility."
At my nod he leaped to the window and fruitlessly sought to find the now absent deck of the invisible ship, his actions and his visage so strongly reminded me of Tul Axtar's vain search for the Jhama when I released it from the Jaharian cruiser not two days ago that I had to smile. My misplaced mirth at the sight must have shown on my face for as he turned back into the room, Tan Hadrons eyes darkened and he stormed to my side.
"Accursed woman!" he yelled. "Your selfishness, vanity and treachery has jeopardized the safety of one whose footprints you are not fit to touch." He paused, his breast heaving with deep emotions as he opened the floodgates of his anger and allowed the images to pour forth to wash over me in a torrent of rage and despair. Visions of his hands about my throat. Of Tavia in the hands of Tul Axtar, of the indignities she must now be suffering, of me taking the cloak of invisibility from his pouch and giving it to Tul Axtar, of the Jeddak and myself exchanging kisses and caresses, of me rejoicing in Tavia's humiliation and reveling in my new position as the Jeddara of Jahar.
The blinds fell from my eyes then. Tan Hadron of Hastor had never loved me, for had he loved me, he would never have believed me to be capable of such perfidy.
I believe Tan Hadron would have carried through with his thoughts of murder, had not the mob of Jaharians in revolution not chosen that moment to renew their assault upon the palace. The sounds of sword on sword and the reports of exploding radium bullets brought him back to his senses and his hands dropped from my throat. For a moment he stared at me with dull eyes then he crossed to the door, curtly commanding: "Follow me."
Tan Hadron led us across the corridor outside the Jeddak's rooms and up a spiral ramp to a storeroom. In my own dazed state I quietly followed, preoccupied with the new knowledge of his desire for me, a desire, I now knew, that had led him to contemplate the exact action taken by Tul Axtar, to whit, the abduction of the daughter of Tor Hatan without the benefit of marriage. Tan Hadron had only wanted to possess me because I was beautiful and rich, the heir to my father's fortune. He did not desire me, only the trappings of wealth and beauty. To him Sanoma Tora was only the means to an end, the aggrandizement of the House of Tan. I felt like weeping, for I had sold my honor for him and he had turned from me to another.
He locked the door to the storeroom and ascended the ladder in the far wall to a trapdoor in the ceiling. Pushing with a shoulder, he opened the hinged panel and stepped out onto the roof of the tower. Phao pushed me to the ladder. In a confused daze I numbly climbed after Tan Hadron. When I reached the roof, followed by Phao, Tan Hadron had already attracted the attention of a flyer that bore the banners for Helium.
The cruiser drew alongside the tower and took us aboard. The captain noted, as the great ship flew eastward away from the city, "Our mission here is fruitless. Word has just been brought me that the palace has fallen before the onslaught of a mob of infuriated citizens. The nobles have commandeered every craft upon which they could lay hands and fled." He sighed. "There is no one with whom we can negotiate a peace. No one knows what has become of Tul Axtar."
"I know," Tan Hadron intoned and gave the captain a biased report of the occurrences in the Jeddak's apartments. He called them the Jeddara's apartments even though not one shred of evidence existed to give rise to that claim. I even noted that Phao supported him in this assertion, although she must have known they were not the Jeddara's apartments. I was so lost in despair that I did not correct this misinformation.
"We must pursue him," the commanding officer of the cruiser said, speaking of Tul Axtar. "We must overtake him and carry him back to the Warlord."
"Where shall we look?" Tan Hadron raged. "The Jhama may lie within a dozen sofads of us and even so we could not see her. I shall search for him, never fear, and some day I shall find him, bur it is useless now to try to find the Jhama. Let us return to the flagship of the Warlord."
Once on board of the flagship of the Heliumetic Navy Phao was escorted to a cabin below decks, but I insisted on being led to my father on the bridge. My first sight of my father sent thrills of welcoming through me, but, as I ran to embrace my father, before my arms could surround him, he stopped me with an upraised hand, putting a barrier between us that was more than just bone and sinew. Socked at the rage on his face, I listened in stunned silence as he berated me for causing him so much trouble.
"But, what have I done?" I asked.
"You have caused me much embarrassment and cost me no little money."
"But, how?" I cried. "Tul Axtar kidnaped me."
"He did not," my father replied. "He sent a ship to escort you, privately, to Jahar."
"You knew about that?"
"Of course. Your elopement suited both our purposes. Mine, to save the costs of a royal wedding and his to delay the announcement of your marriage."
"But he did not want to marry me. He wanted to cause war between Helium and Jahar."
"So, that was, indeed his plan. I thought it might be."
"I surmised, after his men had attacked the patrol ship." he stated. "That is why I had to have the messenger that interfering fool Tan Hadron sent to warn the Warlord killed."
"You had a man murdered who could have saved me?"
"Do not act the fool, Sanoma Tora." My father's hand cut the air with a dismissive gesture. "I could not have it known that I knew who had taken you and who had attacked the patrol ship. My reputation would have been ruined." He turned and paced away from me, crossing the room to examine one of the instruments on his console. "I would have discovered later, at the proper time, that the messenger had not delivered his message and roused the Warlord to the danger. I would have been a hero. My entrance to the upper ranks of royalty would have been assured."
"But, I would have been dishonored."
He waved a negligent hand. "That is of no matter."
"No matter?" I cried. "My honor is of no matter? How can you say that?"
"Your honor is already gone." He spun away from the bridge console, his voice harsh as he continued, "The only way to have redeemed it would be if you had married Tul Axtar or if that Tan Hadron fellow were to marry you."
The crackle of my marriage certificate as I gripped my pouch reminded me that I was the Jeddara of Jahar. My hand had all but brought the paper to light when my father continued, "Had Tul Axtar married you, then we could have abandoned Helium and ruled Jahar, after the Jeddak suffered an untimely accident."
I thrust the paper back into my pouch. The monster who had sired me did not deserve to have his dreams fulfilled. He had already said my honor was as nothing to him. I was only a commodity to be traded for advantage. Again I felt the familiar, impotent rage at his disregard for me, a rage that reminded me of how little I was worth in this bizarre world called Barsoom. No matter what I did I was ruined, without value to anyone, most of all my father. No matter what happened to me, I would not support his mad schemes any further. Stunned at my father's callous words, his dismissal of my loss of honor as of no importance, I was left aghast and silent.
"Sanoma Tora," the preemptory tone in my father's voice brought me round. "If you would save your honor, leave and do not come back unless you have Tan Hadron's oath to marry you. Otherwise, you will be thrown out of society and labeled a whore. I will not suffer that to happen. If you fail in this, you are dead to me. Do you understand me? Dead."
I nodded. He was right. No one knew I was the Jeddara of Jahar, except a few witnesses in that doomed city, nor could they prove it because I had the only copy of the wedding record. I could redeem my honor by forgetting my honor, forgetting I was already married and seek out Tan Hadron and confess my love for him, for love him I still did.
I left the bridge and wandered the decks until I met two panthans in the hallway. At their salutes I told one I wished to speak with Tan Hadron.
"Then I have two messages to deliver to him," the warrior said. "Your companion, Phao, also wishes to speak with him."
Fearing that Tan Hadron might refuse to see me, I said, "I will wait with Phao, then, and we shall meet him together."
The one padwar saluted and left while the other led me to Phao's room.
No sooner had I entered her cabin than Tan Hadron appeared at the doorway. His face clearly showed his displeasure at my presence. Throwing myself upon my knees before him, I cried, "Have pity on me, Tan Hadron of Hastor." His face darkened with anger. I knew he had never loved me as I loved him but I had to speak what was in my heart, to say the words that would convince him of my love and my desire to be his. I was willing to debase myself if only he would agree to marry me. "I have been wicked, but it was my vanity and not my heart that sinned. Do not go away. Come back to Helium and I will devote my life to your happiness."
His implacable stare showed he was cured of his infatuation with me but would he succumb to the lure of wealth? "Tor Hatan, my father, is rich. The mate of his only child may live forever in luxury." His barely acknowledged craving for wealth did not even stir in his thoughts, which held my father's treasures as nothing. He thought me unchanged, shallow and petty, when it was he who had changed. But could he still love me?
"Forgive me, Tan Hadron," I begged. "Come back to me, for I love you. Now I know that I love you."
His reply, a near physical derision, inflamed my ears. "Your love has come too late, Sanoma Tora." Beneath his calm fašade, he wanted to hurt and humiliate me.
"You love another?" I asked with a carefully controlled breath.
"Yes," he hissed."
But whom did he love? No image of the woman came to mind. "The jeddara of some of the strange countries you have been through?" I asked.
His brows contracted in thought. "A slave girl," he said.
But even as he spoke, and the image of Tavia flashed through his mind, I saw that still he refused to acknowledge that it was she he loved, insisting to himself that she desired only friendship from him. My eyes widened in astonishment. He loved her, yet he did not know it.
"Impossible!" I cried. No one could be that dense so as to mistake her love for friendship, and yet he did.
"It is true, though," he insisted. "A little slave girl is more desirable to Tan Hadron of Hastor than is Sanoma Tora, the daughter of Tor Hatan."
Without waiting to see the effect of his words, he turned from me and spoke to Phao, "Goodbye, dear friend. Doubtless we will never meet again, but I shall see to it that you have a good home in Hastor. I shall speak to the Warlord before I leave and have him send you directly to my mother."
I knelt on the floor, stunned at the revelations that had poured from Tan Hadron's mind into mine. My body refused to listen to my frantic mind; my limbs refused to function. I could do nothing but watch in despair as the two faced each other.
Phao turned pleading eyes up to him and placed a trembling hand upon his shoulder. "Let me go with you, Tan Hadron, for perhaps while you are searching for Tavia you will pass near Jhama."
Phao's love for Nur An spoke volumes to Tan Hadron and he replied, "You shall come with me, Phao, and my first duty shall be to return to Jhama and rescue Nur An from poor, old Phor Tak."
Without another word or even a glance in my direction Tan Hadron led Phao out of the cabin. At the edge of the portal Phao glanced back and her lips curved into a self-satisfied smile before she swept out of the chamber. She had her revenge.
The arrival of night found me still kneeling on the cold floor, wrapped in desolation. I was ruined.
CHAPTER 7 — MY TORTURE ENDS
The slow passage of the Heliumetic fleet back to the city of my hatching stretched into weeks of unbearable boredom and acute embarrassment. On my infrequent excursions to the deck of the flagship, the covert stares and abrupt cessations of conversations as I approached, combined with the crewmen's sudden, assiduous attention to their shipboard duties sent me fleeing to the haven of my rooms. My father shunned me, citing the pressures of command as his excuse to avoid tending his daughter's needs. It did not matter to him or any other that I did not appear at the service of meals for fear of becoming the recipient of either pitying or accusatory glances from my fellow diners. Truly, as my father had said, my honor was gone. Never before had a pariah been so shunned as was I.
The towers of Helium were still a distant dream when a battle cruiser from the border guards docked with the flagship. The docking elicited no interest from me until the door to my cabin resounded with the sound of knuckles on its sorapus panels. At my dispirited command to enter, a splendid example of Barsoomian manhood crossed the threshold only to stop short and stare at me. Shamed, I ducked my head, lowering my eyes to the floor afraid to look up and see the hatred or pity on my visitor's visage.
His silence confused me because I could feel neither hatred nor pity. When I could stand the silence no further, I asked, "What want you of me?"
"Do you not, Sanoma Tora, know me?"
The voice, the sound of which I had never thought to hear again in this lifetime, drew my gaze up his muscular legs, past the harness bedecked with the metal of a Dwar of Helium, to the face of my friend, Kal Tavan.
"I could not believe it," he said, crossing to stand before me. "When the report of your rescue came to my ears I came as quickly as possible."
"Kal Tavan!" I cried. "You are not dead! I saw the sword strike your head and you fell from the ship. I was certain you had been gathered to the bosom of your ancestors."
"Nay, Sanoma Tora," he laughed. "It will take more than a minor cut to stop me. I am glad to see you well."
"No more than I to see you, alive and well, and a Dwar. You have come up in the world." A wooden smile was affixed to my lips as I traded inane pleasantries with him.
"Yes," he said. "Thanks to Tan Hadron I have my freedom and, now that you are found, I am free to search out my daughter, if she still lives."
"I did not know you had a daughter," I confessed, ashamed at my lack of knowledge. "I actually know so little of your history."
"I was once from Tjanath. My wife died, leaving me with a child just hatched. For fifteen years I lived with my daughter, raising her in much the way I taught you. She knows well how to fight with sword. She was a slender, boyish thing when last I saw her. Now that I am free, I will travel home to Tjanath and, if she still lives, rescue her from whatever fate was hers when I fled from my cousin's enmity to Kobol to become a body guard to the Jed. I intended to return in a few years, but the war with Helium ended that thought, for I was captured by your father and became his slave."
A chilling thought swept over me. "Your daughter, what was her name?"
"She was named after her mother. 'Tavia.'" His face softened with pleasant memories.
My knees buckled and I collapsed down onto the floor. Instantly, Kal Tavan was by my side, his hands supporting my arms, steadying me. "Art hurt, Sanoma Tora?" he asked.
"No, Kal Tavan. I still have not recovered completely from my ordeal." I pushed his hands from my arms and rose, putting some distance between us. I was about to confess my despair, when a trumpet blared throughout the ship, heralding the coming of another ship. Kal Tavan opened the door to the corridor down which the warriors were rushing.
One of the padwars stopped short, a grin splitting his face. "Tan Hadron has returned with the slave girl he went to rescue." The warrior who delivered the message, suddenly saw me and grew even redder in the face. He, too, remembered how intent Tan Hadron once had pursued another woman. He stammered that he had other duties to attend and fled.
"So, Sanoma Tora," Kal Tavan said, "Tan Hadron has returned. Soon you will be reunited with your beloved."
"Nay, Kal," I replied. "Tan Hadron no longer desires the daughter of Tor Hatan. He loves a slave girl."
"I find that unbelievable." Kal Tavan said. "He was so intent in his pursuit of you."
I lowered my eyes. "Once you see her, I believe you will understand. Even you will love her."
Kal's eyebrows drew together in puzzlement, then he shrugged and led me up to the deck where Tan Hadron was being lionized by all who saw him. I tried to pull back but his hold on my arm made it impossible to free myself without making a scene. I could only hope I could escape once he had seen his daughter.
On the after deck, surrounded by enthusiastic and vocal supporters, the Prince of Hastor was bragging that he had killed Tul Axtar and Jahar needed a new Jeddak. So, I was free of my unwanted marriage, but, even had Tan Hadron still desired me, he could never have married me for he had killed my husband, which tradition forbade; the marriage of the slayer of a woman's husband to her husband's killer was an unbreakable custom.
I pushed Kal Tavan forward. "Go," I said, "and see the woman he loves."
Kal Tavan stepped forward and was drawn into the circle of officers being introduced to Tan Hadron and Tavia. Kal Tavan's eyes widened as he saw the slim girl. He stood still as stone as he was introduced to her by her lover, Tan Hadron.
"Your name is Tavia?" my old friend and one-time slave repeated.
"Yes," the girl at Tan Hadron's side smiled. "And your name is Tavan. They are similar."
A huge grin split Kal Tavan's face as he said, "I do not need to ask from what country you are from. You are Tavia of Tjanath."
"How do you know?"
"Because you are my daughter. Tavia is the name your mother gave to you. You look like her," he said. "By that alone I should have known my daughter anywhere."
Kal Tavan gently enfolded his daughter in his arms and pressed his lips to her forehead, his eyes misting with unshed tears. He then turned to Tan Hadron, saying, "They told me that the brave Tan Hadron of Hastor had chosen to mate with a slave girl, but that is not true. Your princess is indeed a princess, the granddaughter of a jed. She might have been the daughter of a jed had I remained in Tjanath."
Kal Tavan and Tan Hadron shook hands, alone in their own world away from all others in their joy at the reunion of the family of Kal Tavan and his daughter, Tavia. There was no place for me in their family, no place for a social pariah. I slowly backed away from the crowd, allowing them to close around me until I could no longer see the man I had truly loved, Kal Tavan.
Blinded by tears I turned and fled down the deck, away from their joy and toward my enduring despair. I could not escape the pain of Tan Hadron's rejection of me. I was incredulous of my father's aversion and greed. I was heartbroken by Kal Tavan's future contempt when he was informed of my dishonor. I choked on my own grief and self-pity, for Kal Tavan had that knowledge I could never tell him how much I loved him. My love for Tan Hadron had been nothing more than infatuation, instigated at my father's command and something I had desperately wished to believe.
I had deluded myself in so many ways. I could not count all the mistakes, either of my own creation or at the hands of others, or the cruel workings of unkind Fate. All came crashing down at that moment. I had to get away but I had nowhere to run! There was nowhere to turn and nowhere I could go that my shame would not catch up with me.
The cabin where I had hidden for so long was no longer a haven to me. My knees were weak. I clutched at the polished metal of the ship's rail. I turned tear-filled eyes upon the beauty of the majestic vistas of the dead sea bottoms. There, in the distance, a low range of mountains. Yet, for all the beauty that lay about, all I could see was the hate filled eyes of my father—and of Tan Hadron. The disdainful eyes of Phao and Tavia. And—I sobbed wretchedly—the pity of Kal Tavan when he...
Of them all, only thought of Kal Tavan reduced me to utter and uncontrollable weeping. I could not bear to face anyone anymore, him most of all! I had to find a way to end this agony, to end my shame!
Something drew my gaze to the ocher colored moss covered sands and rocks below as they flowed away behind the ship to be forgotten as though they had never existed. Slowly the realization of the only solution to my troubles penetrated my despair. The only way out was the long leap from the ship. No one would miss me. Tan Hadron had his Tavia. My father had his money. Kal Tavan had his daughter back. And I had nothing, neither honor nor love or any shred of hope for either. I put my foot on the rail and hauled myself over the edge. The distant dead sea bottom beckoned.
How strange are the paths of fate. I had thought to wed a prince and ended up marrying a madman. At the end of Tan Hadron's path he found a princess, though he would have married a commoner. His future shone brightly. I had found only ignominy and disgrace.
I let go of the rail.
— It was at this point that the tape jammed in the receiver and stopped recording. The rest of the tape was mangled and I could not discover if anything further was sent across the void to earth from the dying planet Mars. I wonder what happened next, if there was anything. I have spent many nights looking up to Mars and wondering if Sanoma Tora had any more to tell or if she had ended her life on the desert floor of Mars. I prefer to believe that because the tale was submitted in the first person that Sanoma Tora lives—and that Kal Tavan gripped her wrist at the last moment...but in truth, I may never know.