Doxus was furious; for the First Born hold their honor as fighting men very high, and the thing that had been done was a blot upon the escutcheons of them all.
“Is this the man who entered your room last night?” he asked me.
“It was dark; and I only saw his back; there was something familiar about the fellow, but I couldn’t identify him positively.”
“Did you lay any wagers on this contest?” he asked Ban-tor.
“A few little ones, Jeddak,” replied the man.
Doxus turned to one of his officers, “Summon all those with whom Ban-tor wagered on this contest.”
A slave was sent around the arena, shouting out the summons; and soon there were fifty warriors gathered before Doxus’ loge. Ban-tor appeared most unhappy; as, from each of the fifty, Doxus gleaned the information that Ban-tor had wagered large sums with each, in some instances giving extremely big odds.
“You thought that you were betting on a sure thing, didn’t you?” demanded Doxus.
“I thought that Nolat would win,” replied Ban-tor; “there is no better swordsman in Kamtol.”
“And you were sure that he would win against an antagonist with a shorter sword. You are a disgrace; you have dishonored the First Born. For punishment you will fight now with Dotar Sojat;” then he turned to me. “You may kill him; and before you engage him, I, myself, will see that your sword is as long as his; although it would be only fair were he to be compelled to fight with the shorter sword he gave to you.”
“I shall not kill him,” I replied, “but I shall put a mark upon him that he will carry through life to remind all men that he is a knave.”
As we started to take our places before the loge of the jeddak, I heard bets being offered with odds as high as a hundred to one that I would win, and later I learned that even a thousand to one was offered without any takers; then, as we faced one another, I heard Nastor shout, “I will lay no wager, but I’ll give Ban-tor fifty thousand tanpi if he kills the slave.” It appeared that the noble dator was wroth at me.
Ban-tor was no mean antagonist; for he was not only a good swordsman, but he was fighting for his life and fifty thousand tanpi. He didn’t try any rushing tactics this time; but fought carefully, mostly on the defensive, waiting for me to make one little false move that would give him an opening; but I do not make false moves. It was he who made the false move; he thrust, following a feint, thinking to find me off balance.
I am never off balance. My blade moved twice with the swiftness of light, leaving an X cut deep in the center of Ban-tor’s forehead; then I disarmed him.
Without even glancing at him again, I walked to Doxus’ loge. “I am satisfied,” I said. “To bear the scar of that cross through life is punishment enough. To me, it would be worse than death.”
Doxus nodded assent; and then caused the trumpets to be blown to announce that the Games were over, after which he again turned to me.
“What country are you from?” he asked.
“I have no country; I am a panthan,” I replied; “my sword is for sale to the highest bidder.”
“I shall buy you, and thereby acquire your sword also,” said the jeddak. “What did you pay for this slave, Xaxak?”
“One hundred tanpi,” replied my owner.
“You got him too cheap,” said Doxus; “I shall give you fifty tanpi for him.”
There is nothing like being a jeddak!
“It is my pleasure to present him to you,” said Xaxak, magnanimously; I had already netted him a hundred thousand tanpi, and he must have realized that it would be impossible ever to get another wager placed against me.
I welcomed this change of masters; because it would take me into the palace of the jeddak, and I had been harboring a hare-brained scheme to pave the way for our eventual escape, that could only be successful if I were to have entry to the palace—that is, if my deductions were correct.
So John Carter, Prince of Helium, Warlord of Barsoom, came into the palace of Doxus, Jeddak of the First Born, as a slave; but a slave with a reputation. The warriors of the jeddak’s guard treated me with respect; I was given a decent room; and one of Doxus’ trusted under-officers was made responsible for me, just as Ptang had been in the palace of Xaxak.
I was at something of a loss to know why Doxus had purchased me. He must have known that he couldn’t arrange a money duel for me, for who would be fool enough to place a man or a wager against one who had made several of the best swordsmen of Kamtol look like novices?
The next day I found out. Doxus sent for me. He was alone in a small room when I was escorted in, and he immediately dismissed the warrior who had accompanied me.
“When you entered the valley,” he commenced, “you saw many skeletons, did you not?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Those men died trying to escape,” he said. “It would be impossible for you to succeed any better than they. I am telling you this so that you won’t make the attempt. You might think that by killing me you might escape in the confusion which would ensue; but you could not; you can never escape from the Valley of the First Born. However, you may live on here in comfort, if you wish. All that you have to do is teach me the tricks of swordsmanship with which you bested the finest swordsman of all the First Born. I wish you to make me that, but I wish the instruction given in secret and no word of it ever to pass your lips on pain of instant death—and a most unpleasant death, I can assure you. What do you say?”
“I can promise the utmost discretion,” I said, “but I cannot promise to make you the greatest swordsman among the First Born; the achievement of that will depend somewhat upon your own native ability. I will instruct you, however.”
“You do not talk much like a poor panthan,” he said. “You speak to me much as would a man who had been accustomed to speaking with jeddaks—and as an equal.”
“You may have much to learn about being a swordsman,” I said, “but I have even more to learn about being a slave.”
He grunted at that, and then arose and told me to follow him. We passed through a little door behind the desk at which he had been sitting, and down a ramp which led to the pits below the palace. At the foot of the ramp we entered a large, well lighted room in which were filing cases, a couch, several benches, and a table strewn with writing materials and drawing instruments.
“This is a secret apartment,” said Doxus. “Only one person other than myself has access to it. We shall not be disturbed here. This other man of whom I spoke is my most trusted servant. He may come in occasionally, but he will not divulge our little secret. Let us get to work. I can scarcely wait until the day that I shall cross swords with some of those egotistical nobles who think that they are really great swordsmen. Won’t they be surprised!”