Warlord of Mars

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As we advanced up the river which winds beneath the Golden Cliffs

out of the bowels of the Mountains of Otz to mingle its dark waters

with the grim and mysterious Iss the faint glow which had appeared

before us grew gradually into an all-enveloping radiance.

The river widened until it presented the aspect of a large lake

whose vaulted dome, lighted by glowing phosphorescent rock, was

splashed with the vivid rays of the diamond, the sapphire, the ruby,

and the countless, nameless jewels of Barsoom which lay incrusted

in the virgin gold which forms the major portion of these magnificent

Beyond the lighted chamber of the lake was darkness--what lay behind

the darkness I could not even guess.
To have followed the thern boat across the gleaming water would

have been to invite instant detection, and so, though I was loath

to permit Thurid to pass even for an instant beyond my sight, I

was forced to wait in the shadows until the other boat had passed

from my sight at the far extremity of the lake.
Then I paddled out upon the brilliant surface in the direction they

had taken.

When, after what seemed an eternity, I reached the shadows at the

upper end of the lake I found that the river issued from a low

aperture, to pass beneath which it was necessary that I compel

Woola to lie flat in the boat, and I, myself, must need bend double

before the low roof cleared my head.
Immediately the roof rose again upon the other side, but no longer was

the way brilliantly lighted. Instead only a feeble glow emanated

from small and scattered patches of phosphorescent rock in wall

and roof.

Directly before me the river ran into this smaller chamber through

three separate arched openings.

Thurid and the therns were nowhere to be seen--into which of the

dark holes had they disappeared? There was no means by which I

might know, and so I chose the center opening as being as likely

to lead me in the right direction as another.

Here the way was through utter darkness. The stream was narrow--so

narrow that in the blackness I was constantly bumping first one

rock wall and then another as the river wound hither and thither

along its flinty bed.

Far ahead I presently heard a deep and sullen roar which increased

in volume as I advanced, and then broke upon my ears with all the

intensity of its mad fury as I swung round a sharp curve into a

dimly lighted stretch of water.

Directly before me the river thundered down from above in a mighty

waterfall that filled the narrow gorge from side to side, rising

far above me several hundred feet--as magnificent a spectacle as

I ever had seen.

But the roar--the awful, deafening roar of those tumbling waters

penned in the rocky, subterranean vault! Had the fall not entirely

blocked my further passage and shown me that I had followed the

wrong course I believe that I should have fled anyway before the

maddening tumult.
Thurid and the therns could not have come this way. By stumbling

upon the wrong course I had lost the trail, and they had gained so

much ahead of me that now I might not be able to find them before

it was too late, if, in fact, I could find them at all.

It had taken several hours to force my way up to the falls against

the strong current, and other hours would be required for the

descent, although the pace would be much swifter.
With a sigh I turned the prow of my craft down stream, and with

mighty strokes hastened with reckless speed through the dark and

tortuous channel until once again I came to the chamber into which

flowed the three branches of the river.

Two unexplored channels still remained from which to choose; nor

was there any means by which I could judge which was the more likely

to lead me to the plotters.
Never in my life, that I can recall, have I suffered such an agony

of indecision. So much depended upon a correct choice; so much

depended upon haste.
The hours that I had already lost might seal the fate of the

incomparable Dejah Thoris were she not already dead--to sacrifice

other hours, and maybe days in a fruitless exploration of another

blind lead would unquestionably prove fatal.

Several times I essayed the right-hand entrance only to turn back

as though warned by some strange intuitive sense that this was not

the way. At last, convinced by the oft-recurring phenomenon, I

cast my all upon the left-hand archway; yet it was with a lingering

doubt that I turned a parting look at the sullen waters which

rolled, dark and forbidding, from beneath the grim, low archway on

the right.
And as I looked there came bobbing out upon the current from the

Stygian darkness of the interior the shell of one of the great,

succulent fruits of the sorapus tree.
I could scarce restrain a shout of elation as this silent, insensate

messenger floated past me, on toward the Iss and Korus, for it told

me that journeying Martians were above me on that very stream.
They had eaten of this marvelous fruit which nature concentrates

within the hard shell of the sorapus nut, and having eaten had

cast the husk overboard. It could have come from no others than

the party I sought.

Quickly I abandoned all thought of the left-hand passage, and a

moment later had turned into the right. The stream soon widened,

and recurring areas of phosphorescent rock lighted my way.
I made good time, but was convinced that I was nearly a day behind

those I was tracking. Neither Woola nor I had eaten since the

previous day, but in so far as he was concerned it mattered but

little, since practically all the animals of the dead sea bottoms

of Mars are able to go for incredible periods without nourishment.
Nor did I suffer. The water of the river was sweet and cold, for

it was unpolluted by decaying bodies--like the Iss--and as for

food, why the mere thought that I was nearing my beloved princess

raised me above every material want.

As I proceeded, the river became narrower and the current swift

and turbulent--so swift in fact that it was with difficulty that

I forced my craft upward at all. I could not have been making to

exceed a hundred yards an hour when, at a bend, I was confronted

by a series of rapids through which the river foamed and boiled at

a terrific rate.

My heart sank within me. The sorapus nutshell had proved a false

prophet, and, after all, my intuition had been correct--it was the

left-hand channel that I should have followed.
Had I been a woman I should have wept. At my right was a great,

slow-moving eddy that circled far beneath the cliff's overhanging

side, and to rest my tired muscles before turning back I let my

boat drift into its embrace.

I was almost prostrated by disappointment. It would mean another

half-day's loss of time to retrace my way and take the only passage

that yet remained unexplored. What hellish fate had led me to

select from three possible avenues the two that were wrong?

As the lazy current of the eddy carried me slowly about the periphery

of the watery circle my boat twice touched the rocky side of the

river in the dark recess beneath the cliff. A third time it struck,

gently as it had before, but the contact resulted in a different

sound--the sound of wood scraping upon wood.
In an instant I was on the alert, for there could be no wood

within that buried river that had not been man brought. Almost

coincidentally with my first apprehension of the noise, my hand shot

out across the boat's side, and a second later I felt my fingers

gripping the gunwale of another craft.
As though turned to stone I sat in tense and rigid silence, straining

my eyes into the utter darkness before me in an effort to discover

if the boat were occupied.
It was entirely possible that there might be men on board it

who were still ignorant of my presence, for the boat was scraping

gently against the rocks upon one side, so that the gentle touch

of my boat upon the other easily could have gone unnoticed.

Peer as I would I could not penetrate the darkness, and then I

listened intently for the sound of breathing near me; but except

for the noise of the rapids, the soft scraping of the boats, and the

lapping of the water at their sides I could distinguish no sound.

As usual, I thought rapidly.
A rope lay coiled in the bottom of my own craft. Very softly I

gathered it up, and making one end fast to the bronze ring in the

prow I stepped gingerly into the boat beside me. In one hand I

grasped the rope, in the other my keen long-sword.

For a full minute, perhaps, I stood motionless after entering the

strange craft. It had rocked a trifle beneath my weight, but it

had been the scraping of its side against the side of my own boat

that had seemed most likely to alarm its occupants, if there were

But there was no answering sound, and a moment later I had felt

from stem to stern and found the boat deserted.

Groping with my hands along the face of the rocks to which the

craft was moored, I discovered a narrow ledge which I knew must be

the avenue taken by those who had come before me. That they could

be none other than Thurid and his party I was convinced by the size

and build of the boat I had found.
Calling to Woola to follow me I stepped out upon the ledge. The

great, savage brute, agile as a cat, crept after me.

As he passed through the boat that had been occupied by Thurid and

the therns he emitted a single low growl, and when he came beside

me upon the ledge and my hand rested upon his neck I felt his short

mane bristling with anger. I think he sensed telepathically the

recent presence of an enemy, for I had made no effort to impart to

him the nature of our quest or the status of those we tracked.

This omission I now made haste to correct, and, after the manner

of green Martians with their beasts, I let him know partially by

the weird and uncanny telepathy of Barsoom and partly by word of

mouth that we were upon the trail of those who had recently occupied

the boat through which we had just passed.
A soft purr, like that of a great cat, indicated that Woola

understood, and then, with a word to him to follow, I turned to

the right along the ledge, but scarcely had I done so than I felt

his mighty fangs tugging at my leathern harness.

As I turned to discover the cause of his act he continued to pull

me steadily in the opposite direction, nor would he desist until

I had turned about and indicated that I would follow him voluntarily.
Never had I known him to be in error in a matter of tracking, so

it was with a feeling of entire security that I moved cautiously in

the huge beast's wake. Through Cimmerian darkness he moved along

the narrow ledge beside the boiling rapids.

As we advanced, the way led from beneath the overhanging cliffs

out into a dim light, and then it was that I saw that the trail

had been cut from the living rock, and that it ran up along the

river's side beyond the rapids.

For hours we followed the dark and gloomy river farther and farther

into the bowels of Mars. From the direction and distance I knew

that we must be well beneath the Valley Dor, and possibly beneath

the Sea of Omean as well--it could not be much farther now to the

Temple of the Sun.
Even as my mind framed the thought, Woola halted suddenly before a

narrow, arched doorway in the cliff by the trail's side. Quickly

he crouched back away from the entrance, at the same time turning

his eyes toward me.

Words could not have more plainly told me that danger of some sort

lay near by, and so I pressed quietly forward to his side, and

passing him looked into the aperture at our right.
Before me was a fair-sized chamber that, from its appointments, I

knew must have at one time been a guardroom. There were racks for

weapons, and slightly raised platforms for the sleeping silks and

furs of the warriors, but now its only occupants were two of the

therns who had been of the party with Thurid and Matai Shang.
The men were in earnest conversation, and from their tones it was

apparent that they were entirely unaware that they had listeners.

"I tell you," one of them was saying, "I do not trust the black

one. There was no necessity for leaving us here to guard the way.

Against what, pray, should we guard this long-forgotten, abysmal

path? It was but a ruse to divide our numbers.

"He will have Matai Shang leave others elsewhere on some pretext or

other, and then at last he will fall upon us with his confederates

and slay us all."
"I believe you, Lakor," replied the other, "there can never be

aught else than deadly hatred between thern and First Born. And

what think you of the ridiculous matter of the light? `Let the

light shine with the intensity of three radium units for fifty

tals, and for one xat let it shine with the intensity of one radium

unit, and then for twenty-five tals with nine units.' Those were

his very words, and to think that wise old Matai Shang should listen

to such foolishness."

"Indeed, it is silly," replied Lakor. "It will open nothing other

than the way to a quick death for us all. He had to make some

answer when Matai Shang asked him flatly what he should do when he

came to the Temple of the Sun, and so he made his answer quickly

from his imagination--I would wager a hekkador's diadem that he

could not now repeat it himself."

"Let us not remain here longer, Lakor," spoke the other thern.

"Perchance if we hasten after them we may come in time to rescue

Matai Shang, and wreak our own vengeance upon the black dator.

What say you?"

"Never in a long life," answered Lakor, "have I disobeyed a single

command of the Father of Therns. I shall stay here until I rot if

he does not return to bid me elsewhere."
Lakor's companion shook his head.
"You are my superior," he said; "I cannot do other than you sanction,

though I still believe that we are foolish to remain."

I, too, thought that they were foolish to remain, for I saw from

Woola's actions that the trail led through the room where the two

therns held guard. I had no reason to harbor any considerable love

for this race of self-deified demons, yet I would have passed them

by were it possible without molesting them.
It was worth trying anyway, for a fight might delay us considerably,

or even put an end entirely to my search--better men than I have

gone down before fighters of meaner ability than that possessed by

the fierce thern warriors.

Signaling Woola to heel I stepped suddenly into the room before the

two men. At sight of me their long-swords flashed from the harness

at their sides, but I raised my hand in a gesture of restraint.
"I seek Thurid, the black dator," I said. "My quarrel is with him,

not with you. Let me pass then in peace, for if I mistake not he

is as much your enemy as mine, and you can have no cause to protect

They lowered their swords and Lakor spoke.

"I know not whom you may be, with the white skin of a thern and

the black hair of a red man; but were it only Thurid whose safety

were at stake you might pass, and welcome, in so far as we be


"Tell us who you be, and what mission calls you to this unknown

world beneath the Valley Dor, then maybe we can see our way to let

you pass upon the errand which we should like to undertake would

our orders permit."

I was surprised that neither of them had recognized me, for I

thought that I was quite sufficiently well known either by personal

experience or reputation to every thern upon Barsoom as to make my

identity immediately apparent in any part of the planet. In fact,

I was the only white man upon Mars whose hair was black and whose

eyes were gray, with the exception of my son, Carthoris.

To reveal my identity might be to precipitate an attack, for every

thern upon Barsoom knew that to me they owed the fall of their

age-old spiritual supremacy. On the other hand my reputation as

a fighting man might be sufficient to pass me by these two were

their livers not of the right complexion to welcome a battle to

the death.

To be quite candid I did not attempt to delude myself with any such

sophistry, since I knew well that upon war-like Mars there are few

cowards, and that every man, whether prince, priest, or peasant,

glories in deadly strife. And so I gripped my long-sword the

tighter as I replied to Lakor.
"I believe that you will see the wisdom of permitting me to pass

unmolested," I said, "for it would avail you nothing to die uselessly

in the rocky bowels of Barsoom merely to protect a hereditary enemy,

such as Thurid, Dator of the First Born.

"That you shall die should you elect to oppose me is evidenced by

the moldering corpses of all the many great Barsoomian warriors

who have gone down beneath this blade--I am John Carter, Prince of

For a moment that name seemed to paralyze the two men; but only

for a moment, and then the younger of them, with a vile name upon

his lips, rushed toward me with ready sword.

He had been standing a little behind his companion, Lakor, during

our parley, and now, ere he could engage me, the older man grasped

his harness and drew him back.
"Hold!" commanded Lakor. "There will be plenty of time to fight if

we find it wise to fight at all. There be good reasons why every

thern upon Barsoom should yearn to spill the blood of the blasphemer,

the sacrilegist; but let us mix wisdom with our righteous hate.

The Prince of Helium is bound upon an errand which we ourselves,

but a moment since, were wishing that we might undertake.

"Let him go then and slay the black. When he returns we shall still

be here to bar his way to the outer world, and thus we shall have

rid ourselves of two enemies, nor have incurred the displeasure of

the Father of Therns."

As he spoke I could not but note the crafty glint in his evil

eyes, and while I saw the apparent logic of his reasoning I felt,

subconsciously perhaps, that his words did but veil some sinister

intent. The other thern turned toward him in evident surprise, but

when Lakor had whispered a few brief words into his ear he, too,

drew back and nodded acquiescence to his superior's suggestion.

"Proceed, John Carter," said Lakor; "but know that if Thurid does

not lay you low there will be those awaiting your return who will

see that you never pass again into the sunlight of the upper world.

During our conversation Woola had been growling and bristling

close to my side. Occasionally he would look up into my face with

a low, pleading whine, as though begging for the word that would

send him headlong at the bare throats before him. He, too, sensed

the villainy behind the smooth words.

Beyond the therns several doorways opened off the guardroom, and

toward the one upon the extreme right Lakor motioned.

"That way leads to Thurid," he said.
But when I would have called Woola to follow me there the beast

whined and held back, and at last ran quickly to the first opening

at the left, where he stood emitting his coughing bark, as though

urging me to follow him upon the right way.

I turned a questioning look upon Lakor.
"The brute is seldom wrong," I said, "and while I do not doubt your

superior knowledge, Thern, I think that I shall do well to listen

to the voice of instinct that is backed by love and loyalty."
As I spoke I smiled grimly that he might know without words that

I distrusted him.

"As you will," the fellow replied with a shrug. "In the end it

shall be all the same."

I turned and followed Woola into the left-hand passage, and though

my back was toward my enemies, my ears were on the alert; yet

I heard no sound of pursuit. The passageway was dimly lighted by

occasional radium bulbs, the universal lighting medium of Barsoom.

These same lamps may have been doing continuous duty in these

subterranean chambers for ages, since they require no attention

and are so compounded that they give off but the minutest of their

substance in the generation of years of luminosity.

We had proceeded for but a short distance when we commenced to pass

the mouths of diverging corridors, but not once did Woola hesitate.

It was at the opening to one of these corridors upon my right that

I presently heard a sound that spoke more plainly to John Carter,

fighting man, than could the words of my mother tongue--it was the

clank of metal--the metal of a warrior's harness--and it came from

a little distance up the corridor upon my right.
Woola heard it, too, and like a flash he had wheeled and stood

facing the threatened danger, his mane all abristle and all his

rows of glistening fangs bared by snarling, backdrawn lips. With

a gesture I silenced him, and together we drew aside into another

corridor a few paces farther on.
Here we waited; nor did we have long to wait, for presently we saw

the shadows of two men fall upon the floor of the main corridor

athwart the doorway of our hiding place. Very cautiously they

were moving now--the accidental clank that had alarmed me was not

Presently they came opposite our station; nor was I surprised to

see that the two were Lakor and his companion of the guardroom.

They walked very softly, and in the right hand of each gleamed a

keen long-sword. They halted quite close to the entrance of our

retreat, whispering to each other.
"Can it be that we have distanced them already?" said Lakor.
"Either that or the beast has led the man upon a wrong trail,"

replied the other, "for the way which we took is by far the shorter

to this point--for him who knows it. John Carter would have found

it a short road to death had he taken it as you suggested to him."

"Yes," said Lakor, "no amount of fighting ability would have saved

him from the pivoted flagstone. He surely would have stepped upon

it, and by now, if the pit beneath it has a bottom, which Thurid

denies, he should have been rapidly approaching it. Curses on that

calot of his that warned him toward the safer avenue!"
"There be other dangers ahead of him, though," spoke Lakor's fellow,

"which he may not so easily escape--should he succeed in escaping

our two good swords. Consider, for example, what chance he will

have, coming unexpectedly into the chamber of--"

I would have given much to have heard the balance of that conversation

that I might have been warned of the perils that lay ahead, but

fate intervened, and just at the very instant of all other instants

that I would not have elected to do it, I sneezed.

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