Warlord of Mars



Download 1.15 Mb.
Page10/11
Date conversion21.02.2016
Size1.15 Mb.
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11
Part of the way was black as sin, but for the most it was fairly

well lighted. The stretch where I must hug the left wall to avoid

the pits was darkest of them all, and I was nearly over the edge of

the abyss before I knew that I was near the danger spot. A narrow

ledge, scarce a foot wide, was all that had been left to carry

the initiated past that frightful cavity into which the unknowing

must surely have toppled at the first step. But at last I had won

safely beyond it, and then a feeble light made the balance of the

way plain, until, at the end of the last corridor, I came suddenly

out into the glare of day upon a field of snow and ice.


Clad for the warm atmosphere of the hothouse city of Kadabra, the

sudden change to arctic frigidity was anything but pleasant; but

the worst of it was that I knew I could not endure the bitter cold,

almost naked as I was, and that I would perish before ever I could

overtake Thurid and Dejah Thoris.
To be thus blocked by nature, who had had all the arts and wiles

of cunning man pitted against him, seemed a cruel fate, and as I

staggered back into the warmth of the tunnel's end I was as near

hopelessness as I ever have been.


I had by no means given up my intention of continuing the pursuit,

for if needs be I would go ahead though I perished ere ever I

reached my goal, but if there were a safer way it were well worth

the delay to attempt to discover it, that I might come again to

the side of Dejah Thoris in fit condition to do battle for her.
Scarce had I returned to the tunnel than I stumbled over a portion

of a fur garment that seemed fastened to the floor of the corridor

close to the wall. In the darkness I could not see what held it,

but by groping with my hands I discovered that it was wedged beneath

the bottom of a closed door.
Pushing the portal aside, I found myself upon the threshold of a

small chamber, the walls of which were lined with hooks from which

depended suits of the complete outdoor apparel of the yellow men.
Situated as it was at the mouth of a tunnel leading from the palace,

it was quite evident that this was the dressing-room used by the

nobles leaving and entering the hothouse city, and that Thurid,

having knowledge of it, had stopped here to outfit himself and

Dejah Thoris before venturing into the bitter cold of the arctic

world beyond.


In his haste he had dropped several garments upon the floor, and

the telltale fur that had fallen partly within the corridor had

proved the means of guiding me to the very spot he would least have

wished me to have knowledge of.


It required but the matter of a few seconds to don the necessary

orluk-skin clothing, with the heavy, fur-lined boots that are so

essential a part of the garmenture of one who would successfully

contend with the frozen trails and the icy winds of the bleak

northland.
Once more I stepped beyond the tunnel's mouth to find the fresh

tracks of Thurid and Dejah Thoris in the new-fallen snow. Now, at

last, was my task an easy one, for though the going was rough in

the extreme, I was no longer vexed by doubts as to the direction

I should follow, or harassed by darkness or hidden dangers.
Through a snow-covered canyon the way led up toward the summit of

low hills. Beyond these it dipped again into another canon, only

to rise a quarter-mile farther on toward a pass which skirted the

flank of a rocky hill.


I could see by the signs of those who had gone before that when Dejah

Thoris had walked she had been continually holding back, and that

the black man had been compelled to drag her. For other stretches

only his foot-prints were visible, deep and close together in

the heavy snow, and I knew from these signs that then he had been

forced to carry her, and I could well imagine that she had fought

him fiercely every step of the way.
As I came round the jutting promontory of the hill's shoulder I saw

that which quickened my pulses and set my heart to beating high,

for within a tiny basin between the crest of this hill and the next

stood four people before the mouth of a great cave, and beside them

upon the gleaming snow rested a flier which had evidently but just

been dragged from its hiding place.


The four were Dejah Thoris, Phaidor, Thurid, and Matai Shang. The

two men were engaged in a heated argument--the Father of Therns

threatening, while the black scoffed at him as he went about the

work at which he was engaged.


As I crept toward them cautiously that I might come as near as

possible before being discovered, I saw that finally the men appeared

to have reached some sort of a compromise, for with Phaidor's

assistance they both set about dragging the resisting Dejah Thoris

to the flier's deck.
Here they made her fast, and then both again descended to the ground

to complete the preparations for departure. Phaidor entered the

small cabin upon the vessel's deck.
I had come to within a quarter of a mile of them when Matai Shang

espied me. I saw him seize Thurid by the shoulder, wheeling him

around in my direction as he pointed to where I was now plainly

visible, for the moment that I knew I had been perceived I cast

aside every attempt at stealth and broke into a mad race for the

flier.
The two redoubled their efforts at the propeller at which they were

working, and which very evidently was being replaced after having

been removed for some purpose of repair.


They had the thing completed before I had covered half the distance

that lay between me and them, and then both made a rush for the

boarding-ladder.
Thurid was the first to reach it, and with the agility of a monkey

clambered swiftly to the boat's deck, where a touch of the button

controlling the buoyancy tanks sent the craft slowly upward, though

not with the speed that marks the well-conditioned flier.


I was still some hundred yards away as I saw them rising from my

grasp.
Back by the city of Kadabra lay a great fleet of mighty fliers--the

ships of Helium and Ptarth that I had saved from destruction earlier

in the day; but before ever I could reach them Thurid could easily

make good his escape.
As I ran I saw Matai Shang clambering up the swaying, swinging

ladder toward the deck, while above him leaned the evil face of the

First Born. A trailing rope from the vessel's stern put new hope

in me, for if I could but reach it before it whipped too high above

my head there was yet a chance to gain the deck by its slender aid.
That there was something radically wrong with the flier was evident

from its lack of buoyancy, and the further fact that though Thurid

had turned twice to the starting lever the boat still hung motionless

in the air, except for a slight drifting with a low breeze from

the north.
Now Matai Shang was close to the gunwale. A long, claw-like hand

was reaching up to grasp the metal rail.


Thurid leaned farther down toward his co-conspirator.
Suddenly a raised dagger gleamed in the upflung hand of the black.

Down it drove toward the white face of the Father of Therns. With

a loud shriek of fear the Holy Hekkador grasped frantically at that

menacing arm.


I was almost to the trailing rope by now. The craft was still

rising slowly, the while it drifted from me. Then I stumbled on

the icy way, striking my head upon a rock as I fell sprawling but

an arm's length from the rope, the end of which was now just leaving

the ground.
With the blow upon my head came unconsciousness.
It could not have been more than a few seconds that I lay senseless

there upon the northern ice, while all that was dearest to me

drifted farther from my reach in the clutches of that black fiend,

for when I opened my eyes Thurid and Matai Shang yet battled at the

ladder's top, and the flier drifted but a hundred yards farther to

the south--but the end of the trailing rope was now a good thirty

feet above the ground.
Goaded to madness by the cruel misfortune that had tripped me when

success was almost within my grasp, I tore frantically across the

intervening space, and just beneath the rope's dangling end I put

my earthly muscles to the supreme test.


With a mighty, catlike bound I sprang upward toward that slender

strand--the only avenue which yet remained that could carry me to

my vanishing love.
A foot above its lowest end my fingers closed. Tightly as I clung

I felt the rope slipping, slipping through my grasp. I tried to

raise my free hand to take a second hold above my first, but the

change of position that resulted caused me to slip more rapidly

toward the end of the rope.
Slowly I felt the tantalizing thing escaping me. In a moment all

that I had gained would be lost--then my fingers reached a knot at

the very end of the rope and slipped no more.
With a prayer of gratitude upon my lips I scrambled upward toward

the boat's deck. I could not see Thurid and Matai Shang now,

but I heard the sounds of conflict and thus knew that they still

fought--the thern for his life and the black for the increased

buoyancy that relief from the weight of even a single body would

give the craft.


Should Matai Shang die before I reached the deck my chances of ever

reaching it would be slender indeed, for the black dator need but

cut the rope above me to be freed from me forever, for the vessel

had drifted across the brink of a chasm into whose yawning depths

my body would drop to be crushed to a shapeless pulp should Thurid

reach the rope now.


At last my hand closed upon the ship's rail and that very instant

a horrid shriek rang out below me that sent my blood cold and turned

my horrified eyes downward to a shrieking, hurtling, twisting thing

that shot downward into the awful chasm beneath me.


It was Matai Shang, Holy Hekkador, Father of Therns, gone to his

last accounting.


Then my head came above the deck and I saw Thurid, dagger in hand,

leaping toward me. He was opposite the forward end of the cabin,

while I was attempting to clamber aboard near the vessel's stern.

But a few paces lay between us. No power on earth could raise me

to that deck before the infuriated black would be upon me.
My end had come. I knew it; but had there been a doubt in my mind

the nasty leer of triumph upon that wicked face would have convinced

me. Beyond Thurid I could see my Dejah Thoris, wide-eyed and

horrified, struggling at her bonds. That she should be forced to

witness my awful death made my bitter fate seem doubly cruel.
I ceased my efforts to climb across the gunwale. Instead I took

a firm grasp upon the rail with my left hand and drew my dagger.


I should at least die as I had lived--fighting.
As Thurid came opposite the cabin's doorway a new element projected

itself into the grim tragedy of the air that was being enacted upon

the deck of Matai Shang's disabled flier.
It was Phaidor.
With flushed face and disheveled hair, and eyes that betrayed the

recent presence of mortal tears--above which this proud goddess had

always held herself--she leaped to the deck directly before me.
In her hand was a long, slim dagger. I cast a last look upon

my beloved princess, smiling, as men should who are about to die.

Then I turned my face up toward Phaidor--waiting for the blow.
Never have I seen that beautiful face more beautiful than it was

at that moment. It seemed incredible that one so lovely could

yet harbor within her fair bosom a heart so cruel and relentless,

and today there was a new expression in her wondrous eyes that I

never before had seen there--an unfamiliar softness, and a look of

suffering.


Thurid was beside her now--pushing past to reach me first, and

then what happened happened so quickly that it was all over before

I could realize the truth of it.
Phaidor's slim hand shot out to close upon the black's dagger wrist.

Her right hand went high with its gleaming blade.


"That for Matai Shang!" she cried, and she buried her blade deep

in the dator's breast. "That for the wrong you would have done

Dejah Thoris!" and again the sharp steel sank into the bloody flesh.
"And that, and that, and that!" she shrieked, "for John Carter,

Prince of Helium," and with each word her sharp point pierced the

vile heart of the great villain. Then, with a vindictive shove she

cast the carcass of the First Born from the deck to fall in awful

silence after the body of his victim.
I had been so paralyzed by surprise that I had made no move to reach

the deck during the awe-inspiring scene which I had just witnessed,

and now I was to be still further amazed by her next act, for

Phaidor extended her hand to me and assisted me to the deck, where

I stood gazing at her in unconcealed and stupefied wonderment.
A wan smile touched her lips--it was not the cruel and haughty

smile of the goddess with which I was familiar. "You wonder, John

Carter," she said, "what strange thing has wrought this change in

me? I will tell you. It is love--love of you," and when I darkened

my brows in disapproval of her words she raised an appealing hand.
"Wait," she said. "It is a different love from mine--it is the

love of your princess, Dejah Thoris, for you that has taught me

what true love may be--what it should be, and how far from real

love was my selfish and jealous passion for you.


"Now I am different. Now could I love as Dejah Thoris loves, and

so my only happiness can be to know that you and she are once more

united, for in her alone can you find true happiness.
"But I am unhappy because of the wickedness that I have wrought. I

have many sins to expiate, and though I be deathless, life is all

too short for the atonement.
"But there is another way, and if Phaidor, daughter of the Holy

Hekkador of the Holy Therns, has sinned she has this day already

made partial reparation, and lest you doubt the sincerity of her

protestations and her avowal of a new love that embraces Dejah

Thoris also, she will prove her sincerity in the only way that

lies open--having saved you for another, Phaidor leaves you to her

embraces."
With her last word she turned and leaped from the vessel's deck

into the abyss below.


With a cry of horror I sprang forward in a vain attempt to save the

life that for two years I would so gladly have seen extinguished.

I was too late.
With tear-dimmed eyes I turned away that I might not see the awful

sight beneath.


A moment later I had struck the bonds from Dejah Thoris, and as her

dear arms went about my neck and her perfect lips pressed to mine

I forgot the horrors that I had witnessed and the suffering that

I had endured in the rapture of my reward.




16. THE NEW RULER
The flier upon whose deck Dejah Thoris and I found ourselves after

twelve long years of separation proved entirely useless. Her

buoyancy tanks leaked badly. Her engine would not start. We were

helpless there in mid air above the arctic ice.


The craft had drifted across the chasm which held the corpses of

Matai Shang, Thurid, and Phaidor, and now hung above a low hill.

Opening the buoyancy escape valves I permitted her to come slowly

to the ground, and as she touched, Dejah Thoris and I stepped from

her deck and, hand in hand, turned back across the frozen waste

toward the city of Kadabra.


Through the tunnel that had led me in pursuit of them we passed,

walking slowly, for we had much to say to each other.


She told me of that last terrible moment months before when the

door of her prison cell within the Temple of the Sun was slowly

closing between us. Of how Phaidor had sprung upon her with

uplifted dagger, and of Thuvia's shriek as she had realized the

foul intention of the thern goddess.
It had been that cry that had rung in my ears all the long, weary

months that I had been left in cruel doubt as to my princess' fate;

for I had not known that Thuvia had wrested the blade from the

daughter of Matai Shang before it had touched either Dejah Thoris

or herself.
She told me, too, of the awful eternity of her imprisonment. Of

the cruel hatred of Phaidor, and the tender love of Thuvia, and

of how even when despair was the darkest those two red girls had

clung to the same hope and belief--that John Carter would find a

way to release them.
Presently we came to the chamber of Solan. I had been proceeding

without thought of caution, for I was sure that the city and the

palace were both in the hands of my friends by this time.
And so it was that I bolted into the chamber full into the midst

of a dozen nobles of the court of Salensus Oll. They were passing

through on their way to the outside world along the corridors we

had just traversed.


At sight of us they halted in their tracks, and then an ugly smile

overspread the features of their leader.


"The author of all our misfortunes!" he cried, pointing at me. "We

shall have the satisfaction of a partial vengeance at least when we

leave behind us here the dead and mutilated corpses of the Prince

and Princess of Helium.


"When they find them," he went on, jerking his thumb upward toward

the palace above, "they will realize that the vengeance of the

yellow man costs his enemies dear. Prepare to die, John Carter,

but that your end may be the more bitter, know that I may change my

intention as to meting a merciful death to your princess--possibly

she shall be preserved as a plaything for my nobles."


I stood close to the instrument-covered wall--Dejah Thoris at my

side. She looked up at me wonderingly as the warriors advanced

upon us with drawn swords, for mine still hung within its scabbard

at my side, and there was a smile upon my lips.


The yellow nobles, too, looked in surprise, and then as I made no

move to draw they hesitated, fearing a ruse; but their leader urged

them on. When they had come almost within sword's reach of me

I raised my hand and laid it upon the polished surface of a great

lever, and then, still smiling grimly, I looked my enemies full in

the face.


As one they came to a sudden stop, casting affrighted glances at

me and at one another.


"Stop!" shrieked their leader. "You dream not what you do!"
"Right you are," I replied. "John Carter does not dream. He

knows--knows that should one of you take another step toward Dejah

Thoris, Princess of Helium, I pull this lever wide, and she and I

shall die together; but we shall not die alone."


The nobles shrank back, whispering together for a few moments. At

last their leader turned to me.


"Go your way, John Carter," he said, "and we shall go ours."
"Prisoners do not go their own way," I answered, "and you are

prisoners--prisoners of the Prince of Helium."


Before they could make answer a door upon the opposite side of the

apartment opened and a score of yellow men poured into the apartment.

For an instant the nobles looked relieved, and then as their eyes

fell upon the leader of the new party their faces fell, for he was

Talu, rebel Prince of Marentina, and they knew that they could look

for neither aid nor mercy at his hands.


"Well done, John Carter," he cried. "You turn their own mighty

power against them. Fortunate for Okar is it that you were here

to prevent their escape, for these be the greatest villains north

of the ice-barrier, and this one"--pointing to the leader of the

party--"would have made himself Jeddak of Jeddaks in the place

of the dead Salensus Oll. Then indeed would we have had a more

villainous ruler than the hated tyrant who fell before your sword."
The Okarian nobles now submitted to arrest, since nothing but death

faced them should they resist, and, escorted by the warriors of

Talu, we made our way to the great audience chamber that had been

Salensus Oll's. Here was a vast concourse of warriors.


Red men from Helium and Ptarth, yellow men of the north, rubbing

elbows with the blacks of the First Born who had come under my

friend Xodar to help in the search for me and my princess. There

were savage, green warriors from the dead sea bottoms of the south,

and a handful of white-skinned therns who had renounced their

religion and sworn allegiance to Xodar.


There was Tardos Mors and Mors Kajak, and tall and mighty in his

gorgeous warrior trappings, Carthoris, my son. These three fell

upon Dejah Thoris as we entered the apartment, and though the lives

and training of royal Martians tend not toward vulgar demonstration,

I thought that they would suffocate her with their embraces.
And there were Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark, and Kantos Kan,

my old-time friends, and leaping and tearing at my harness in the

exuberance of his great love was dear old Woola--frantic mad with

happiness.


Long and loud was the cheering that burst forth at sight of us;

deafening was the din of ringing metal as the veteran warriors of

every Martian clime clashed their blades together on high in token

of success and victory, but as I passed among the throng of saluting

nobles and warriors, jeds and jeddaks, my heart still was heavy,

for there were two faces missing that I would have given much to

have seen there--Thuvan Dihn and Thuvia of Ptarth were not to be

found in the great chamber.


I made inquiries concerning them among men of every nation, and at

last from one of the yellow prisoners of war I learned that they

had been apprehended by an officer of the palace as they sought to

reach the Pit of Plenty while I lay imprisoned there.


I did not need to ask to know what had sent them thither--the

courageous jeddak and his loyal daughter. My informer said that

they lay now in one of the many buried dungeons of the palace

where they had been placed pending a decision as to their fate by

the tyrant of the north.
A moment later searching parties were scouring the ancient pile in

search of them, and my cup of happiness was full when I saw them

being escorted into the room by a cheering guard of honor.
Thuvia's first act was to rush to the side of Dejah Thoris, and I

needed no better proof of the love these two bore for each other

than the sincerity with which they embraced.
Looking down upon that crowded chamber stood the silent and empty

throne of Okar.

1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11


The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2016
send message

    Main page