“It sounded very much like a laugh to me,” replied.
Pan Dan Chee nodded. “Yes,” he agreed, but how can there be a laugh where there is no one to laugh?” Pan Dan Chee was perplexed.
“Perhaps the ulsios of Horz have learned to laugh,” I suggested with a smile.
Pan Dan Chee ignored my flippancy. “We saw a light and we heard a laugh,” he said thoughtfully. “What does that convey to you?”
“The same thing that it conveys to you,” I said: “that there is some one down here in the Pits of Horz beside us.”
“I do not see how that can be possible,” he said.
“Let’s investigate,” I suggested.
With drawn swords we advanced; for we did not know the nature nor the temper of the owner of that laugh, and there was always the chance that an ulsio might leap from one of the dungeons and attack us.
The corridor ran straight for some distance, and then commenced to curve. There were many branches and intersections, but we kept to what we believed to be the main corridor. We saw no more lights, heard no more laughter. There was not a sound in all that vast labyrinth of passageways other than the subdued clanking of our metal, the occasional shuffling of our sandalled feet, and the soft whisperings of our leather harnesses.
“It is useless to search farther,” said Pan Dan Chee at last. “We might as well start back.”
Now I had no intention of going back to my death. I reasoned that the light and the laugh indicated the presence of man in these pits. If the inhabitants of Horz knew nothing of them; then they must enter the pits from outside the citadel, indicating an avenue of escape open to me. Therefore, I did not wish to retrace our steps; so I suggested that we rest for a while and discuss our future plans.
“We can rest,” said Pan Dan Chee, “but there is nothing to discuss. Our plans have all been made for us by Ho Ran Kim.”
We entered a cell which contained no grim reminders of past tragedy; and, after wedging one of our torches in a niche in the wall, we sat down on the hard stone floor.
“Perhaps your plans have been made for you by Ho Ran Kim,” I said, “but I make my own plans.”
“And they are—?” he asked.
“I am not going back to be murdered. I am going to find a way out of these pits.”
Pan Dan Chee shook his head sorrowfully. “I am sorry,” he said, “but you are going back to meet your fate with me.”
“What makes you think that?” I asked.
“Because I shall have to take you back. You well know that I cannot let a stranger escape from Horz.”
“That means that we shall have to fight to the death, Pan Dan Chee,” I said; “and I do not wish to kill one at whose side I have fought and whom I have learned to admire.”
“I feel the same way, John Carter,” said Pan Dan Chee. “I do not wish to kill you; but you must see my position—if you do not come with me willingly, I shall have to kill you.”
I tried to argue him out of his foolish stand, but he was adamant. I was positive that Pan Dan Chee liked me; and I shrank from the idea of killing him, as I knew that I should. He was an excellent swordsman, but what chance would he have against the master swordsman of two worlds? I am sorry if that should sound like boasting; for I abhor boasting—I only spoke what is a fact. I am, unquestionably, the best swordsman that has ever lived.
“Well,” I said, “we don’t have to kill each other at once. Let’s enjoy each other’s company for a while longer.”
Pan Dan Chee smiled. “That will suit me perfectly,” he said.
“How about a game of Jetan?” I asked. “It will help to pass the time pleasantly.”
“How can we play Jetan without a board or the pieces?” he asked.
I opened the leather pocket pouch such as all Martians carry, and took out a tiny, folding Jetan board with all the pieces—a present from Dejah Thoris, my incomparable mate. Pan Dan Chee was intrigued by it, and it is a marvelously beautiful piece of work. The greatest artist of Helium had designed the pieces, which had been carved under his guidance by two of our greatest sculptors.
Each of the pieces, such as Warriors, Padwars, Dwars, Panthans, and Chiefs, were carved in the likeness of well-known Martian fighting men; and one of the Princesses was a beautifully executed miniature carving of Tara of Helium, and the other Princess, Llana of Gathol.
I am inordinately proud of this Jetan set; and because the figures are so tiny, I always carry a small but powerful reading glass, not alone that I may enjoy them but that others may. I offered it now to Pan Dan Chee, who examined the figures minutely.
“Extraordinary,” he said. “I have never seen anything more beautiful.” He had examined one figure much longer than he had the others, and he held it in his hand now as though loath to relinquish it. “What an exquisite imagination the artist must have had who created this figure, for he could have had no model for such gorgeous beauty; since nothing like it exists on Barsoom.”
“Every one of those figures was carved from life,” I told him.
“Perhaps the others,” he said, “but not this one. No such beautiful woman ever lived.”
“Which one is it?” I asked, and he handed it to me. “This,” I said, “is Llana of Gathol, the daughter of Tara of Helium, who is my daughter. She really lives, and this is a most excellent likeness of her. Of course it cannot do her justice since it cannot reflect her animation nor the charm of her personality.”
He took the little figurine back and held it for a long time under the glass; then he replaced it in the box. “Shall we play?” I asked.
He shook his head. “It would be sacrilege,” he said, “to play at a game with the figure of a goddess.”
I packed the pieces back in the tiny box, which was also the playing board, and returned it to my pouch. Pan Dan Chee sat silent. The light of the single torch cast our shadows deep and dark upon the floor.
These torches of Horz were a revelation to me. They are most ingenious.
Cylindrical, they have a central core which glows brightly with a cold light when exposed to the air. By turning back a hinged cap and pushing the central core up with a thumb button, it becomes exposed to the air and glows brightly.
The farther up it is pushed and the more of it that is exposed, the more intense the light. Pan Dan Chee told me that they were invented ages ago, and that the lighting results in so little loss of matter that they are practically eternal.
The art of producing the central core was lost in far antiquity, and no scientist since has been able to analyze its composition.
It was a long time before Pan Dan Chee spoke again; then he arose. He looked tired and sad. “Come,” he said, “let’s have it over with,” and he drew his sword.
“Why should we fight?” I asked. “We are friends. If I go away, I pledge my honor that I will not lead others to Horz. Let me go, then, in peace. I do not wish to kill you. Or, better still, you come away with me. There is much to see in the world outside of Horz and much to adventure.”
“Don’t tempt me,” he begged, “for I want to come. For the first time in my life I want to leave Horz, but I may not. Come! John Carter. On guard! One of us must die, unless you return willingly with me.”
“In which case both of us will die,” I reminded him. “It is very silly, Pan Dan Chee.”
“On guard!” was his only reply.
There was nothing for me to do but draw and defend myself. Never have I drawn with less relish.