“These were the men of Hin Abtol,” said Llana of Gathol.
We counted seventeen corpses before we reached the entrance to the courtyard.
When I looked in, I stopped, appalled—my flier was not there; but five more dead Panars lay near where it had stood.
“It is gone,” I said.
“Hin Abtol,” said Llana of Gathol. “The coward abandoned his men and fled in your flier. Only two of his warriors succeeded in accompanying him.”
“Perhaps he would have been a fool to remain,” I said. “He would only have met the same death that they met.”
“In like circumstances, John Carter would have been a fool, then,” she shot back.
Perhaps I would, for the truth of the matter is that I like to fight. I suppose it is all wrong, but I cannot help it. Fighting has been my profession during all the life that I can recall. I fought all during the Civil War in the Confederate Army. I fought in other wars before that. I will not bore you with my autobiography. Suffice it to say that I have always been fighting. I do not know how old I am. I recall no childhood. I have always appeared to be about thirty years old. I still do. I do not know from whence I came, nor if I were born of woman as are other men. I have, so far as I know, simply always been.
Perhaps I am the materialization of some long dead warrior of another age. Who knows? That might explain my ability to cross the cold, dark void of space which separates Earth from Mars. I do not know.
Pan Dan Chee broke the spell of my reverie. “What now?” he asked.
“A long walk,” I said. “It is fully four thousand haads from here to Gathol, the nearest friendly city.” That would be the equivalent of fifteen hundred miles—a very long walk.
“And only this desert from which to look for subsistence?” asked Pan Dan Chee.
“There will be hills,” I told him. “There will be deep little ravines where moisture lingers and things grow which we can eat; but there may be green men, and there will certainly be banths and other beasts of prey. Are you afraid, Pan Dan Chee?”
“Yes,” he said, “but only for Llana of Gathol. She is a woman—it is no adventure for a woman. Perhaps she could not survive it.”
Llana of Gathol laughed. “You do not know the women of Helium,” she said, “and still less one in whose veins flows the blood of Dejah Thoris and John Carter. Perhaps you will learn before we have reached Gathol.” She stooped and stripped the harness and weapons of a dead Panar from his corpse and buckled them upon herself. The act was more eloquent than words.
“Now we are three good sword arms,” said Pan Dan Chee with a laugh, but we knew that he was not laughing at Llana of Gathol but from admiration of her.
And so we set out, the three of us, on that long trek toward far Gathol—Llana of Gathol and I, of one blood and two worlds, and Pan Dan Chee of still another blood and of an extinct world. We might have seemed ill assorted, but no three people could have been more in harmony with each other—at least at first.
For five days we saw no living thing. We subsisted entirely upon the milk of the mantalia plant, which grows apparently without water, distilling its plentiful supply of milk from the products of the soil, the slight moisture in the air, and the rays of the sun. A single plant of this species will give eight or ten quarts of milk a day. They are scattered across the dead sea bottoms as though by a beneficent Providence, giving both food and drink to man and beast.
My companions might still have died of thirst or starvation had I not been with them, for neither knew that the quite ordinary looking plants which we occasionally passed carried in their stems and branches this life-giving fluid.
We rested in the middle of the day and slept during the middle portion of the nights, taking turns standing guard—a duty which Llana of Gathol insisted on sharing with us.
When we lay down to rest on the sixth night, Llana had the first watch; and as I had the second, I prepared to sleep at once. Pan Dan Chee sat up and talked with Llana.
As I dozed off, I heard him say, “May I call you my princess?”
That, on Barsoom, is the equivalent of a proposal of marriage on Earth. I tried to shut my ears and go to sleep, but I could not but hear her reply.
“You have not fought for me yet,” she said, “and no man may presume to claim a woman of Helium until he has proved his metal.”
“I have had no opportunity to fight for you,” he said.
“Then wait until you have,” she said, shortly; “and now good-night.”
I thought she was a little too short with him. Pan Dan Chee is a nice fellow, and I was sure that he would give a good account of himself when the opportunity arose. She didn’t have to treat him as though he were scum. But then, women have their own ways. As a rule they are unpleasant ways, but they seem the proper ways to win men; so I suppose they must be all right.
Pan Dan Chee walked off a few paces and lay down on the other side of Llana of Gathol. We always managed to keep her between us at all times for her greater protection.
I was awakened later on by a shout and a hideous roar. I leaped to my feet to see Llana of Gathol down on the ground with a huge banth on top of her, and at that instant Pan Dan Chee leaped full upon the back of the mighty carnivore.
It all happened so quickly that I can scarcely visualize it all. I saw Pan Dan Chee dragging at the great beast in an effort to pull it from Llana’s body, and at the same he was plunging his dagger into its side. The banth was roaring hideously as it tried to fight off Pan Dan Chee and at the same time retain its hold upon Llana.
I sprang close in with my short-sword, but it was difficult to find an opening which did not endanger either Llana or Pan Dan Chee. It must have been a very amusing sight; as the four of us were threshing around on the ground, all mixed up, and the banth was roaring and Pan Dan Chee was cursing like a trooper when he wasn’t trying to tell Llana of Gathol how much he loved her.
But at last I got an opening, and drove my short-sword into the heart of the banth. With a final scream and a convulsive shudder, the beast rolled over and lay still.
When I tried to lift Llana from the ground, she leaped to her feet. “Pan Dan Chee!” she cried. “Is he all right? Was he hurt?”
“Of course I’m all right,” said Pan Dan Chee; “but you? How badly are you hurt?”
“I am not hurt at all. You kept the brute so busy it didn’t have a chance to maul me.”
“Thanks be to my ancestors!” exclaimed Pan Dan Chee fervently. Suddenly he turned on her. “Now,” he said, “I have fought for you. What is your answer?”
Llana of Gathol shrugged her pretty shoulders. “You have not fought a man,” she said, “—just a little banth.”
Well, I never did understand women.