“What do you make of these skeletons and bodies?” asked Pan Dan Chee.
“I am puzzled,” I replied; “there must be a great many more who died on the trail than those whose remains we have seen here. You will note that these all lie on ledges where the bodies could have lodged when they fell. Many more must have pitched to the foot of the cliff.”
“But how do you suppose they met their death?” asked Llana.
“There might have been an epidemic of disease in the valley,” suggested Pan Dan Chee, “and these poor devils died while trying to escape.”
“I am sure I haven’t the slightest idea of what the explanation can be,” I replied. “You see the remains of harness on most of them, but no weapons. I am inclined to think that Pan Dan Chee is right in assuming that they were trying to escape, but whether from an epidemic of sickness or something else we may never know.”
From our dizzy footing on that precarious trail we had an excellent view of the valley below. It was level and well watered and the monotony of the scarlet grass which grows on Mars where there is water, was broken by forests, the whole making an amazing sight for one familiar with this dying planet.
There are crops and trees and other vegetation along the canals; there are lawns and gardens in the cities where irrigation is available; but never have I seen a sight like this except in the Valley Dor at the South Pole, where lies the Lost Sea of Korus. For here there was not only a vast expanse of fertile valley but there were rivers and at least one lake which I could see in the distance; and then Llana called our attention to a city, gleaming white, with lofty towers.
“What a beautiful city,” she said. “I wonder what sort of people live there?”
“Probably somebody who would love nothing better than to slit our throats,” I said.
“We Orovars are not like that,” said Pan Dan Chee, “we hate to kill people. Why do all the other races on Mars hate each other so?”
“I don’t think that it is hate that makes them want to kill each other,” I said.
“It is that is has become a custom. Since the drying up of the seas ages ago, survival has become more and more difficult; and in all those ages they have become so accustomed to battling for existence that now it has become second nature to kill all aliens.”
“I’d still like to see the inside of that city,” said Llana of Gathol.
“Your curiosity will probably never be satisfied,” I said.
We stood for some time on a ledge looking down upon that beautiful valley, probably one of the most beautiful sights on all of Mars. We saw several herds of the small thoats used by the red Martians as riding animals and for food.
There is a little difference in the saddle and butchering species, but at this distance we could not tell which these were. We saw game animals down there, too, and we who had been so long without good meat were tempted.
“Let’s go down,” said Llana; “we haven’t seen any human beings and we don’t need to go near the city; it is a long way off. I should like so much to see the beauties of that valley closer.”
“And I would like to get some good red meat,” I said.
“And I, too,” said Pan Dan Chee.
“My better judgment tells me it would be a foolish thing to do,” I said, “but if I had followed my better judgment always, my life would have been a very dull one.”
“Anyway,” said Llana, “we don’t know that it is any more dangerous down on the floor of the valley than it was up on the edge of the rim. We certainly barely missed a lot of trouble up there, and it may still be hanging around.”
I didn’t think so; although I have known green Martians to hunt a couple of red men for days at a time. Anyway, the outcome of our discussion was that we continued on down to the floor of the valley.
Around the foot of the cliff, where the trail ended, there was a jumble of human bones and a couple of badly mangled bodies—poor devils who had either died on the trail above or fallen to their death here at the bottom. I wondered how and why.
Fortunately for us, the city was at such a distance that I was sure that no one could have seen us from there; and, knowing Martian customs, we had no intention of approaching it; nor would we have particularly cared to had it been safe, for the floor of the valley was so entrancingly beautiful in its natural state that the sights and sounds of a city would have proved a discordant note.
A short distance from us was a little river; and, beyond it, a forest came down to its edge. We crossed to the river on the scarlet sward, close-cropped by grazing herds and starred by many flowers of unearthly beauty.
A short distance down the river a herd of thoats was grazing. They were the beef variety, which is exceptionally good eating; and Pan Dan Chee suggested that we cross the river so that he could take advantage of the concealment of the forest to approach close enough to make a kill.
The river was simply alive with fish, and as we waded across I speared several with my long sword.
“At least we shall have fish for dinner,” I said, “and if Pan Dan Chee is lucky, we shall have a steak.”
“And in the forest I see fruits and nuts,” said Llana. “What a banquet we shall have!”
“Wish me luck,” said Pan Dan Chee, as he entered the forest to work his way down toward the thoats.
Llana and I were watching, but we did not see the young Orovaran again until he leaped from the forest and hurled something at the nearest thoat, a young bull.
The beast screamed, ran a few feet, staggered and fell, while the rest of the herd galloped off.
“How did he do that?” asked Llana.
“I don’t know,” I said, “he did it so quickly that I couldn’t see what it was he threw. It was certainly not a spear because he hasn’t one, and if it had been his sword we could have seen it.”
“It looked like a little stick,” said Llana.
We saw Pan Dan Chee cutting steaks from his kill; and presently he was back with us, carrying enough meat for a dozen men.
“How did you kill that thoat?” demanded Llana.
“With my dagger,” replied Pan Dan Chee.
“It was marvellous,” I said, “but where did you learn it?”
“Dagger throwing is a form of sport in Horz. We are all good at it, but I happen to have won the Jeddak’s trophy for the last three years; so I was pretty sure of my ground when I offered to get you a thoat, although I had never before used it to kill game. Very, very rarely is there a duel in Horz; and when there is, the contestants usually choose daggers, unless one of them is far more proficient than the other.”
While Pan Dan Chee and I were making fire and cooking the fish and steaks, Llana gathered fruits and nuts; so that we had a delicious meal, and when night came we lay down on the soft sward and slept.