“My Jeddak,” commenced Pan Dan Chee, “while I was beset by six green warriors, this man, who says he is known as John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom, came of his own volition to fight at my side. From whence he came I do not know. I only know that at one moment I was fighting alone, a hopeless fight, and that at the next there fought at my side the greatest swordsman Horz has ever seen. He did not have to come; he could have left at any time, but he remained; and because he remained I am alive and the last of the six green warriors lies dead by the ancient waterfront. He would have escaped had not John Carter leaped to the back of a great thoat and pursued him.
“Then this man could have escaped, but he came back. He fought for a soldier of Horz. He trusted the men of Horz. Are we to repay him with death?”
Pan Dan Chee ceased speaking, and Ho Ran Kim turned his blue eyes upon me. “John Carter,” he said, “what you have done commands the respect and sympathy of every man of Horz. It wins the thanks of their Jeddak, but—” He hesitated. “Perhaps if I tell you something of our history, you will understand why I must condemn you to death.” He paused for a moment, as though in thought.
At the same time I was doing a little thinking on my own account The casual manner in which Ho Ran Kim had sentenced me to death had rather taken my breath away. He seemed so friendly that it didn’t seem possible that he was in earnest, but a glance at the glint in those blue eyes assured me that he was not being facetious.
“I am sure,” I said, “that the history of Horz must be most interesting; but right now I am most interested in learning why I should have to die for befriending a fighting man of Horz.”
“That I shall explain,” he said.
“It is going to take a great deal of explaining, your majesty,” I assured him.
He paid no attention to that, but continued. “The inhabitants of Horz are, as far as we know, the sole remaining remnant of the once dominant race of Barsoom, the Orovars. A million years ago our ships ranged the five great oceans, which we ruled. The city of Horz was not only the capital of a great empire, it was the seat of learning and culture of the most glorious race of human beings a world has ever known. Our empire spread from pole to pole. There were other races on Barsoom, but they were few in numbers and negligible in importance. We looked upon them as inferior creatures. The Orovars owned Barsoom, which was divided among a score of powerful jeddaks. They were a happy, prosperous, contented people, the various nations seldom warring upon one another. Horz had enjoyed a thousand years of peace.
“They had reached the ultimate pinnacle of civilization and perfection when the first shadow of impending fate darkened their horizon—the seas began to recede, the atmosphere to grow more tenuous. What science had long predicted was coming to pass—a world was dying.
“For ages our cities followed the receding waters. Straits and bays, canals and lakes dried up. Prosperous seaports became deserted inland cities. Famine came. Hungry hordes made war upon the more fortunate. The growing hordes of wild green men overran what had once been fertile farm land, preying upon all.
“The atmosphere became so tenuous that it was difficult to breathe. Scientists were working upon an atmosphere plant, but before it was completed and in successful operation all but a few of the inhabitants of Barsoom had died. Only the hardiest survived—the green men, the red men, and a few Orovars; then life became merely a battle for the survival of the fittest.
“The green men hunted us as we had hunted beasts of prey. They gave us no rest, they showed us no mercy. We were few; they were many. Horz became our last city of refuge, and our only hope of survival lay in preventing the outside world from knowing that we existed; therefore, for ages we have slain every stranger who came to Horz and saw an Orovar, that no man might go away and betray our presence to our enemies.
“Now you will understand that no matter how deeply we must regret the necessity, it is obvious that we cannot let you live.”
“I can understand,” I said, “that you might feel it necessary to destroy an enemy; but I see no reason for destroying a friend. However, that is for you to decide.”
“It is already decided, my friend,” said the Jeddak. “You must die.”
“Just a moment, O Jeddak!” exclaimed Pan Dan Chee. “Before you pass final judgment, consider this alternative. If he remains here in Horz, he cannot carry word to our enemies. We owe him a debt of gratitude. Permit him then to live, but always within the walls of the citadel.”
There were nods of approval from the others present, and I saw by his quickly darting eyes that Ho Ran Kim had noticed them. He cleared his throat. “Perhaps that is something that should be given thought,” he said. “I shall reserve judgment until the morrow. I do so largely because of my love for you, Pan Dan Chee; inasmuch as, because it was due to your importunities that this man is here, you must suffer whatever fate is ordained for him.”
Pan Dan Chee was certainly surprised, nor could he hide the fact; but he took the blow like a man. “I shall consider it an honor,” he said, “to share any fate that may be meted to John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom.”
“Well said, Pan Dan Chee!” exclaimed the Jeddak. “My admiration for you increases as does the bitterness of my sorrow when I contemplate the almost inescapable conviction that on the morrow you die.”
Pan Dan Chee bowed. “I thank your majesty for your deep concern,” he said. “The remembrance of it will glorify last my hours.”
The Jeddak turned his eyes upon Lan Sohn Wen, and held them them for what seemed a full minute. I would have laid ten to one that Ho Ran Kim was about to cause himself further untold grief by condemning Lan Sohn Wen to death. I think Lan Sohn Wen thought the same thing. He looked worried.
“Lan Sohn Wen,” said Ho Ran Kim, “you will conduct these two to the pits and leave them there for the night. See that they have good food and every possible comfort, for they are my honored guests.”
“But the pits, your majesty!” exclaimed Lan Sohn Wen. “They have never been used within the memory of man. I do not even know that I can find the entrance to them.”
“That is so,” said Ho Ran Kim, thoughtfully. “Even if you found them they might prove very dirty and uncomfortable. Perhaps it would be kinder to destroy John Carter and Pan Dan Chee at once.”
“Wait, majesty,” said Pan Dan Chee. “I know where lies the entrance to the pits. I have been in them. They can easily be made most comfortable. I would not think of altering your plans or causing you immediately the deep grief of sorrowing over the untimely passing of John Carter and myself. Come, Lan Sohn Wen! I will lead the way to the pits of Horz!”