Warlord of Mars



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5. ON THE KAOLIAN ROAD

If there be a fate that is sometimes cruel to me, there surely is

a kind and merciful Providence which watches over me.
As I toppled from the tower into the horrid abyss below I counted

myself already dead; and Thurid must have done likewise, for he

evidently did not even trouble himself to look after me, but must

have turned and mounted the waiting flier at once.


Ten feet only I fell, and then a loop of my tough, leathern harness

caught upon one of the cylindrical stone projections in the tower's

surface--and held. Even when I had ceased to fall I could not

believe the miracle that had preserved me from instant death, and

for a moment I hung there, cold sweat exuding from every pore of

my body.
But when at last I had worked myself back to a firm position

I hesitated to ascend, since I could not know that Thurid was not

still awaiting me above.


Presently, however, there came to my ears the whirring of the

propellers of a flier, and as each moment the sound grew fainter

I realized that the party had proceeded toward the south without

assuring themselves as to my fate.


Cautiously I retraced my way to the roof, and I must admit that

it was with no pleasant sensation that I raised my eyes once more

above its edge; but, to my relief, there was no one in sight, and

a moment later I stood safely upon its broad surface.


To reach the hangar and drag forth the only other flier which it

contained was the work of but an instant; and just as the two thern

warriors whom Matai Shang had left to prevent this very contingency

emerged upon the roof from the tower's interior, I rose above them

with a taunting laugh.
Then I dived rapidly to the inner court where I had last seen Woola,

and to my immense relief found the faithful beast still there.


The twelve great banths lay in the doorways of their lairs, eyeing

him and growling ominously, but they had not disobeyed Thuvia's

injunction; and I thanked the fate that had made her their keeper

within the Golden Cliffs, and endowed her with the kind and

sympathetic nature that had won the loyalty and affection of these

fierce beasts for her.


Woola leaped in frantic joy when he discovered me; and as the flier

touched the pavement of the court for a brief instant he bounded

to the deck beside me, and in the bearlike manifestation of his

exuberant happiness all but caused me to wreck the vessel against

the courtyard's rocky wall.
Amid the angry shouting of thern guardsmen we rose high above the

last fortress of the Holy Therns, and then raced straight toward

the northeast and Kaol, the destination which I had heard from the

lips of Matai Shang.


Far ahead, a tiny speck in the distance, I made out another flier

late in the afternoon. It could be none other than that which bore

my lost love and my enemies.
I had gained considerably on the craft by night; and then, knowing

that they must have sighted me and would show no lights after

dark, I set my destination compass upon her--that wonderful little

Martian mechanism which, once attuned to the object of destination,

points away toward it, irrespective of every change in its location.
All that night we raced through the Barsoomian void, passing over

low hills and dead sea bottoms; above long-deserted cities and

populous centers of red Martian habitation upon the ribbon-like

lines of cultivated land which border the globe-encircling waterways,

which Earth men call the canals of Mars.
Dawn showed that I had gained appreciably upon the flier ahead of

me. It was a larger craft than mine, and not so swift; but even

so, it had covered an immense distance since the flight began.
The change in vegetation below showed me that we were rapidly

nearing the equator. I was now near enough to my quarry to have

used my bow gun; but, though I could see that Dejah Thoris was not

on deck, I feared to fire upon the craft which bore her.


Thurid was deterred by no such scruples; and though it must have

been difficult for him to believe that it was really I who followed

them, he could not very well doubt the witness of his own eyes;

and so he trained their stern gun upon me with his own hands, and

an instant later an explosive radium projectile whizzed perilously

close above my deck.


The black's next shot was more accurate, striking my flier full

upon the prow and exploding with the instant of contact, ripping

wide open the bow buoyancy tanks and disabling the engine.
So quickly did my bow drop after the shot that I scarce had time

to lash Woola to the deck and buckle my own harness to a gunwale

ring before the craft was hanging stern up and making her last long

drop to ground.


Her stern buoyancy tanks prevented her dropping with great rapidity;

but Thurid was firing rapidly now in an attempt to burst these

also, that I might be dashed to death in the swift fall that would

instantly follow a successful shot.


Shot after shot tore past or into us, but by a miracle neither

Woola nor I was hit, nor were the after tanks punctured. This

good fortune could not last indefinitely, and, assured that Thurid

would not again leave me alive, I awaited the bursting of the next

shell that hit; and then, throwing my hands above my head, I let go

my hold and crumpled, limp and inert, dangling in my harness like

a corpse.
The ruse worked, and Thurid fired no more at us. Presently I heard

the diminishing sound of whirring propellers and realized that

again I was safe.
Slowly the stricken flier sank to the ground, and when I had freed

myself and Woola from the entangling wreckage I found that we were

upon the verge of a natural forest--so rare a thing upon the bosom

of dying Mars that, outside of the forest in the Valley Dor beside

the Lost Sea of Korus, I never before had seen its like upon the

planet.
From books and travelers I had learned something of the little-known

land of Kaol, which lies along the equator almost halfway round

the planet to the east of Helium.


It comprises a sunken area of extreme tropical heat, and is inhabited

by a nation of red men varying but little in manners, customs, and

appearance from the balance of the red men of Barsoom.
I knew that they were among those of the outer world who still

clung tenaciously to the discredited religion of the Holy Therns,

and that Matai Shang would find a ready welcome and safe refuge

among them; while John Carter could look for nothing better than

an ignoble death at their hands.
The isolation of the Kaolians is rendered almost complete by the

fact that no waterway connects their land with that of any other

nation, nor have they any need of a waterway since the low, swampy

land which comprises the entire area of their domain self-waters

their abundant tropical crops.
For great distances in all directions rugged hills and arid

stretches of dead sea bottom discourage intercourse with them, and

since there is practically no such thing as foreign commerce upon

warlike Barsoom, where each nation is sufficient to itself, really

little has been known relative to the court of the Jeddak of Kaol

and the numerous strange, but interesting, people over whom he

rules.
Occasional hunting parties have traveled to this out-of-the-way

corner of the globe, but the hostility of the natives has usually

brought disaster upon them, so that even the sport of hunting the

strange and savage creatures which haunt the jungle fastnesses of

Kaol has of later years proved insufficient lure even to the most

intrepid warriors.


It was upon the verge of the land of the Kaols that I now knew

myself to be, but in what direction to search for Dejah Thoris, or

how far into the heart of the great forest I might have to penetrate

I had not the faintest idea.


But not so Woola.
Scarcely had I disentangled him than he raised his head high in air

and commenced circling about at the edge of the forest. Presently

he halted, and, turning to see if I were following, set off straight

into the maze of trees in the direction we had been going before

Thurid's shot had put an end to our flier.
As best I could, I stumbled after him down a steep declivity

beginning at the forest's edge.


Immense trees reared their mighty heads far above us, their broad

fronds completely shutting off the slightest glimpse of the sky.

It was easy to see why the Kaolians needed no navy; their cities,

hidden in the midst of this towering forest, must be entirely

invisible from above, nor could a landing be made by any but the

smallest fliers, and then only with the greatest risk of accident.


How Thurid and Matai Shang were to land I could not imagine, though

later I was to learn that to the level of the forest top there rises

in each city of Kaol a slender watchtower which guards the Kaolians

by day and by night against the secret approach of a hostile fleet.

To one of these the hekkador of the Holy Therns had no difficulty

in approaching, and by its means the party was safely lowered to

the ground.
As Woola and I approached the bottom of the declivity the ground

became soft and mushy, so that it was with the greatest difficulty

that we made any headway whatever.
Slender purple grasses topped with red and yellow fern-like fronds

grew rankly all about us to the height of several feet above my

head.
Myriad creepers hung festooned in graceful loops from tree to tree,

and among them were several varieties of the Martian "man-flower,"

whose blooms have eyes and hands with which to see and seize the

insects which form their diet.


The repulsive calot tree was, too, much in evidence. It is a

carnivorous plant of about the bigness of a large sage-brush such

as dots our western plains. Each branch ends in a set of strong

jaws, which have been known to drag down and devour large and

formidable beasts of prey.
Both Woola and I had several narrow escapes from these greedy,

arboreous monsters.


Occasional areas of firm sod gave us intervals of rest from the

arduous labor of traversing this gorgeous, twilight swamp, and it

was upon one of these that I finally decided to make camp for the

night which my chronometer warned me would soon be upon us.


Many varieties of fruit grew in abundance about us; and as Martian

calots are omnivorous, Woola had no difficulty in making a square

meal after I had brought down the viands for him. Then, having

eaten, too, I lay down with my back to that of my faithful hound,

and dropped into a deep and dreamless sleep.
The forest was shrouded in impenetrable darkness when a low growl

from Woola awakened me. All about us I could hear the stealthy

movement of great, padded feet, and now and then the wicked gleam

of green eyes upon us. Arising, I drew my long-sword and waited.


Suddenly a deep-toned, horrid roar burst from some savage throat

almost at my side. What a fool I had been not to have found safer

lodgings for myself and Woola among the branches of one of the

countless trees that surrounded us!


By daylight it would have been comparatively easy to have hoisted

Woola aloft in one manner or another, but now it was too late. There

was nothing for it but to stand our ground and take our medicine,

though, from the hideous racket which now assailed our ears, and

for which that first roar had seemed to be the signal, I judged

that we must be in the midst of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of

the fierce, man-eating denizens of the Kaolian jungle.
All the balance of the night they kept up their infernal din, but

why they did not attack us I could not guess, nor am I sure to this

day, unless it is that none of them ever venture upon the patches

of scarlet sward which dot the swamp.


When morning broke they were still there, walking about as in

a circle, but always just beyond the edge of the sward. A more

terrifying aggregation of fierce and blood-thirsty monsters it

would be difficult to imagine.


Singly and in pairs they commenced wandering off into the jungle

shortly after sunrise, and when the last of them had departed Woola

and I resumed our journey.
Occasionally we caught glimpses of horrid beasts all during the

day; but, fortunately, we were never far from a sward island, and

when they saw us their pursuit always ended at the verge of the

solid sod.


Toward noon we stumbled upon a well-constructed road running

in the general direction we had been pursuing. Everything about

this highway marked it as the work of skilled engineers, and I was

confident, from the indications of antiquity which it bore, as well

as from the very evident signs of its being still in everyday use,

that it must lead to one of the principal cities of Kaol.


Just as we entered it from one side a huge monster emerged from

the jungle upon the other, and at sight of us charged madly in our

direction.
Imagine, if you can, a bald-faced hornet of your earthly experience

grown to the size of a prize Hereford bull, and you will have some

faint conception of the ferocious appearance and awesome formidability

of the winged monster that bore down upon me.


Frightful jaws in front and mighty, poisoned sting behind made my

relatively puny long-sword seem a pitiful weapon of defense indeed.

Nor could I hope to escape the lightning-like movements or hide

from those myriad facet eyes which covered three-fourths of the

hideous head, permitting the creature to see in all directions at

one and the same time.


Even my powerful and ferocious Woola was as helpless as a kitten

before that frightful thing. But to flee were useless, even had

it ever been to my liking to turn my back upon a danger; so I stood

my ground, Woola snarling at my side, my only hope to die as I had

always lived--fighting.
The creature was upon us now, and at the instant there seemed to

me a single slight chance for victory. If I could but remove the

terrible menace of certain death hidden in the poison sacs that

fed the sting the struggle would be less unequal.


At the thought I called to Woola to leap upon the creature's head

and hang there, and as his mighty jaws closed upon that fiendish

face, and glistening fangs buried themselves in the bone and

cartilage and lower part of one of the huge eyes, I dived beneath

the great body as the creature rose, dragging Woola from the ground,

that it might bring its sting beneath and pierce the body of the

thing hanging to its head.
To put myself in the path of that poison-laden lance was to court

instant death, but it was the only way; and as the thing shot

lightning-like toward me I swung my long-sword in a terrific cut

that severed the deadly member close to the gorgeously marked body.


Then, like a battering-ram, one of the powerful hind legs caught

me full in the chest and hurled me, half stunned and wholly winded,

clear across the broad highway and into the underbrush of the jungle

that fringes it.


Fortunately, I passed between the boles of trees; had I struck one

of them I should have been badly injured, if not killed, so swiftly

had I been catapulted by that enormous hind leg.
Dazed though I was, I stumbled to my feet and staggered back to

Woola's assistance, to find his savage antagonist circling ten feet

above the ground, beating madly at the clinging calot with all six

powerful legs.


Even during my sudden flight through the air I had not once released

my grip upon my long-sword, and now I ran beneath the two battling

monsters, jabbing the winged terror repeatedly with its sharp point.
The thing might easily have risen out of my reach, but evidently it

knew as little concerning retreat in the face of danger as either

Woola or I, for it dropped quickly toward me, and before I could

escape had grasped my shoulder between its powerful jaws.


Time and again the now useless stub of its giant sting struck futilely

against my body, but the blows alone were almost as effective as

the kick of a horse; so that when I say futilely, I refer only to

the natural function of the disabled member--eventually the thing

would have hammered me to a pulp. Nor was it far from accomplishing

this when an interruption occurred that put an end forever to its

hostilities.
From where I hung a few feet above the road I could see along the

highway a few hundred yards to where it turned toward the east,

and just as I had about given up all hope of escaping the perilous

position in which I now was I saw a red warrior come into view from

around the bend.
He was mounted on a splendid thoat, one of the smaller species used

by red men, and in his hand was a wondrous long, light lance.


His mount was walking sedately when I first perceived them, but the

instant that the red man's eyes fell upon us a word to the thoat

brought the animal at full charge down upon us. The long lance

of the warrior dipped toward us, and as thoat and rider hurtled

beneath, the point passed through the body of our antagonist.
With a convulsive shudder the thing stiffened, the jaws relaxed,

dropping me to the ground, and then, careening once in mid air,

the creature plunged headforemost to the road, full upon Woola,

who still clung tenaciously to its gory head.


By the time I had regained my feet the red man had turned and ridden

back to us. Woola, finding his enemy inert and lifeless, released

his hold at my command and wriggled from beneath the body that had

covered him, and together we faced the warrior looking down upon

us.
I started to thank the stranger for his timely assistance, but he

cut me off peremptorily.


"Who are you," he asked, "who dare enter the land of Kaol and hunt

in the royal forest of the jeddak?"


Then, as he noted my white skin through the coating of grime and

blood that covered me, his eyes went wide and in an altered tone

he whispered: "Can it be that you are a Holy Thern?"
I might have deceived the fellow for a time, as I had deceived

others, but I had cast away the yellow wig and the holy diadem in

the presence of Matai Shang, and I knew that it would not be long

ere my new acquaintance discovered that I was no thern at all.


"I am not a thern," I replied, and then, flinging caution to the

winds, I said: "I am John Carter, Prince of Helium, whose name

may not be entirely unknown to you."
If his eyes had gone wide when he thought that I was a Holy Thern,

they fairly popped now that he knew that I was John Carter. I

grasped my long-sword more firmly as I spoke the words which I was

sure would precipitate an attack, but to my surprise they precipitated

nothing of the kind.
"John Carter, Prince of Helium," he repeated slowly, as though he

could not quite grasp the truth of the statement. "John Carter,

the mightiest warrior of Barsoom!"
And then he dismounted and placed his hand upon my shoulder after

the manner of most friendly greeting upon Mars.


"It is my duty, and it should be my pleasure, to kill you, John

Carter," he said, "but always in my heart of hearts have I admired

your prowess and believed in your sincerity the while I have

questioned and disbelieved the therns and their religion.


"It would mean my instant death were my heresy to be suspected in

the court of Kulan Tith, but if I may serve you, Prince, you have

but to command Torkar Bar, Dwar of the Kaolian Road."
Truth and honesty were writ large upon the warrior's noble countenance,

so that I could not but have trusted him, enemy though he should

have been. His title of Captain of the Kaolian Road explained

his timely presence in the heart of the savage forest, for every

highway upon Barsoom is patrolled by doughty warriors of the noble

class, nor is there any service more honorable than this lonely

and dangerous duty in the less frequented sections of the domains

of the red men of Barsoom.


"Torkar Bar has already placed a great debt of gratitude upon my

shoulders," I replied, pointing to the carcass of the creature from

whose heart he was dragging his long spear.
The red man smiled.
"It was fortunate that I came when I did," he said. "Only this

poisoned spear pricking the very heart of a sith can kill it quickly

enough to save its prey. In this section of Kaol we are all armed

with a long sith spear, whose point is smeared with the poison of

the creature it is intended to kill; no other virus acts so quickly

upon the beast as its own.


"Look," he continued, drawing his dagger and making an incision

in the carcass a foot above the root of the sting, from which he

presently drew forth two sacs, each of which held fully a gallon

of the deadly liquid.


"Thus we maintain our supply, though were it not for certain commercial

uses to which the virus is put, it would scarcely be necessary to

add to our present store, since the sith is almost extinct.
"Only occasionally do we now run upon one. Of old, however, Kaol

was overrun with the frightful monsters that often came in herds

of twenty or thirty, darting down from above into our cities and

carrying away women, children, and even warriors."


As he spoke I had been wondering just how much I might safely tell

this man of the mission which brought me to his land, but his next

words anticipated the broaching of the subject on my part, and

rendered me thankful that I had not spoken too soon.


"And now as to yourself, John Carter," he said, "I shall not ask

your business here, nor do I wish to hear it. I have eyes and ears

and ordinary intelligence, and yesterday morning I saw the party

that came to the city of Kaol from the north in a small flier. But

one thing I ask of you, and that is: the word of John Carter that

he contemplates no overt act against either the nation of Kaol or

its jeddak."
"You may have my word as to that, Torkar Bar," I replied.
"My way leads along the Kaolian road, away from the city of Kaol,"

he continued. "I have seen no one--John Carter least of all. Nor

have you seen Torkar Bar, nor ever heard of him. You understand?"
"Perfectly," I replied.
He laid his hand upon my shoulder.
"This road leads directly into the city of Kaol," he said. "I wish

you fortune," and vaulting to the back of his thoat he trotted away

without even a backward glance.
It was after dark when Woola and I spied through the mighty forest

the great wall which surrounds the city of Kaol.


We had traversed the entire way without mishap or adventure, and

though the few we had met had eyed the great calot wonderingly,

none had pierced the red pigment with which I had smoothly smeared

every square inch of my body.


But to traverse the surrounding country, and to enter the guarded

city of Kulan Tith, Jeddak of Kaol, were two very different things.

No man enters a Martian city without giving a very detailed and

satisfactory account of himself, nor did I delude myself with the

belief that I could for a moment impose upon the acumen of the

officers of the guard to whom I should be taken the moment I applied

at any one of the gates.
My only hope seemed to lie in entering the city surreptitiously

under cover of the darkness, and once in, trust to my own wits to

hide myself in some crowded quarter where detection would be less

liable to occur.


With this idea in view I circled the great wall, keeping within the

fringe of the forest, which is cut away for a short distance from

the wall all about the city, that no enemy may utilize the trees

as a means of ingress.


Several times I attempted to scale the barrier at different points,

but not even my earthly muscles could overcome that cleverly

constructed rampart. To a height of thirty feet the face of the

wall slanted outward, and then for almost an equal distance it was

perpendicular, above which it slanted in again for some fifteen

feet to the crest.


And smooth! Polished glass could not be more so. Finally I had

to admit that at last I had discovered a Barsoomian fortification

which I could not negotiate.
Discouraged, I withdrew into the forest beside a broad highway which

entered the city from the east, and with Woola beside me lay down

to sleep.

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