Finally I backed away and dropped my point. “I am no butcher, Pan Dan Chee,” I said. “Come! put up a fight.”
He shook his head. “I cannot kill you,” he said, quite simply.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I am a fool,” he said. “The same blood flows in your veins and hers. I could not spill that blood. I could not bring unhappiness to her.”
“What do you mean?” I demanded. “What are you talking about?”
“I am talking about Llana of Gathol,” he said, “the most beautiful woman in the world, the woman I shall never see but for whom I gladly offer my life.”
Now, Martian fighting men are proverbially chivalrous to a fault, but this was carrying it much further than I had ever seen it carried before.
“Very well,” I said; “and as I don’t intend killing you there is no use going on with this silly duel.”
I returned my sword to its scabbard, and Pan Dan Chee did likewise.
“What shall we do?” he asked. “I cannot let you escape; but I on the other hand, I cannot prevent it. I am a traitor to my country. I shall, therefore, have to destroy myself.”
I had a plan. I would accompany Pan Dan Chee back almost to the entrance to the pits, and there I would overpower, bind, and gag him; then I would make my escape, or at least I would try to find another exit from the pits. Pan Dan Chee would be discovered, and could face his doom without the stigma of treason being attached to his name.
“You need not kill yourself,” I told him. “I will accompany you to the entrance to the pits; but I warn you that should I discover an opportunity to escape, I shall do so.”
“That is fair enough,” he said. “It is very generous of you. You have made it possible for me to die honorably and content.”
“Do you wish to die?” I asked.
“Certainly not,” he assured me. “I wish to live. If I live, I may some day find my way to Gathol.”
“Why not come with me, then?” I demanded. “Together we may be able to find our way out of the pits. My flier lies but a short distance from the citadel, and it is only about four thousand haads from Horz to Gathol.”
He shook his head. “The temptation is great,” he said, “but until I have exhausted every resource and failed to return to Ho Ran Kim before noon tomorrow I may do nothing else but try.”
“Why by noon tomorrow?” I asked.
“It is a very ancient Orovaran law,” he replied, “which limits the duration of a death sentence to noon of the day one is condemned to die. Ho Ran Kim decreed that we should die tomorrow. If we do not, we are not in honor bound to return to him.”
We set off a little dejectedly for the doorway through which we were expected to pass to our doom. Of course, I had no intention of doing so; but I was dejected because of Pan Dan Chee. I had come to like him immensely. He was a man of high honor and a courageous fighter.
We walked on and on, until I became convinced that if we had followed the right corridor we should long since have arrived at the entrance. I suggested as much to Pan Dan Chee, and he agreed with me; then we retraced our steps and tried another corridor. We kept this up until we were all but exhausted, but we failed to find the right corridor.
“I am afraid we are lost,” said Pan Dan Chee.
“I am quite sure of it,” I agreed, with a smile. If we were sufficiently well lost, we might not find the entrance before the next noon; in which event Pan Dan Chee would be free to go where he pleased, and I had a pretty good idea of where he pleased to go.
Now, I am no matchmaker; nor neither do I believe in standing in the way to prevent the meeting of a man and a maid. I believe in letting nature take her course. If Pan Dan Chee thought he was in love with Llana of Gathol and wished to go to Gathol and try to win her, I would only have discouraged the idea had he been a man of low origin or of a dishonorable nature. He was neither. The race to which he belonged is the oldest of the cultured races of Barsoom, and Pan Dan Chee had proved himself a man of honor.
I had no reason to believe that his suit would meet with any success. Llana of Gathol was still very young, but even so the swords of some of the greatest houses of Barsoom had been lain at her feet. Like nearly all Martian women of high degree she knew her mind. Like so many of them, she might be abducted by some impetuous suitor; and she would either love him or slip a dagger between his ribs, but she would never mate with a man she did not love. I was more fearful for Pan Dan Chee than I was for Llana of Gathol.
We retraced our steps and tried another corridor, yet still no entrance. We lay down and rested; then we tried again. The result was the same.
“It must be nearly morning,” said Pan Dan Chee.
“It is,” I said, consulting my chronometer. “It is almost noon.”
Of course I didn’t use the term noon; but rather the Barsoomian equivalent, 25 xats past the 3rd zode, which is 12 noon Earth time.
“We must hurry!” exclaimed Pan Dan Chee.
A hollow laugh sounded behind us; and, turning quickly, we saw a light in the distance. It disappeared immediately. “Why should we hurry?” I demanded. “We have done the best we could. That we did not find our way back to the citadel and death is no fault of ours.”
Pan Dan Chee nodded. “And no matter how much we may hurry, there is little likelihood that we shall ever find the entrance.”
Of course this was wishful thinking, but it was also quite accurate thinking. We never did find the entrance to the citadel.
“This is the second time we have heard that laugh and seen that light,” said Pan Dan Chee. “I think we should investigate it. Perhaps he who makes the light and voices the laugh may be able to direct us to the entrance.”
“I have no objection to investigating,” I said, “but I doubt that we shall find a friend if we find the author.”
“It is most mystifying,” said Pan Dan Chee. “All my life I have believed, as all other inhabitants of Horz have believed, that the pits of Horz were deserted. A long time ago, perhaps ages, some venturesome men entered the pits to investigate them. These incursions occurred at intervals, and none of those who entered the pits ever returned. It was assumed that they became lost, and starved to death. Perhaps they, too, heard the laughter and saw the lights!”
“Perhaps,” I said.