There had evidently been a fight at the place that I had left them; the vegetation was trampled, and there was blood upon it; but so resilient is this mosslike carpeting of the dead sea bottoms of Mars, that, except for the blood, the last traces of the encounter were fast disappearing; and there was no indication of the direction taken by Llana’s captors.
“How far are their lines from here?” I asked Gan Hor.
“About nine haads,” he replied—that is not quite three Earth miles.
“We might as well return to your camp,” I said; “we haven’t a sufficiently strong force to accomplish anything now. I shall return after dark.”
“We can make a little raid on one of their encampments tonight,” suggested Gan Hor.
“I shall go alone,” I told him; “I have a plan.
“But it won’t be safe,” he objected. “I have a hundred men with whom I am constantly harassing them; we should be glad to ride with you.”
“I am going only for information, Gan Hor; I can get that better alone.”
We returned to camp, and with the help of one of Gan Hor’s warriors I applied to my face and body the red pigment that I always carry with me for use when I find it necessary to disguise myself as a native born red man—a copper colored ointment such as had first been given me by the Ptor brothers of Zodanga many years ago.
After dark I set out on thoatback, accompanied by Gan Hor and a couple of his warriors; as I had accepted his offer of transportation to a point much nearer the Panar lines. Fortunately the heavens were temporarily moonless, and we came quite close to the enemy’s first fires before I dismounted and bid my new friends goodby.
“Good luck!” said Gan Hor; “and you’ll need it.”
Kor-an was one of the warriors who had accompanied us. “I’d like to go with you, Prince,” he said; “thus I might atone for the thing I did.”
“If I could take anyone, I’d take you, Kor-an,” I assured him. “Anyway, you have nothing to atone for; but if you want to do something for me, promise that you will fight always for Tara of Helium and Llana of Gathol.”
“On my sword, I swear it,” he said; and then I left them and made my way cautiously toward the Panar camp.
Once again, as upon so many other occasions, I used the tactics of another race of red warriors—the Apaches of our own Southwest—worming my way upon my belly closer and closer toward the lines of the enemy. I could see the forms of warriors clustered about their fires, and I could hear their voices and their rough laughter; and, as I drew nearer, the oaths and obscenities which seem to issue most naturally from the mouths of fighting men; and when a gust of wind blew from the camp toward me, I could even smell the sweat and the leather mingling with the acrid fumes of the smoke of their fires.
A sentry paced his post between me and the fires; when he came closest to me, I flattened myself upon the ground. I heard him yawn. When he was almost on top of me, I rose up before him; and before he could voice a warning cry, I seized him by the throat. Three times I drove my dagger into his heart. I hate to kill like that; but now there was no other way, and it was not for myself that I killed him—it was for Llana of Gathol, for Tara of Helium, and for Dejah Thoris, my beloved princess.
Just as I lowered his body to the ground, a warrior at a nearby fire arose and looked out toward us. “What was that?” he asked his fellows.
“The sentry,” one of them replied; “there he is now.” I was slowly pacing the post of the departed, hoping none would come to investigate.
“I could have sworn I saw two men scuffling there,” said the first speaker.
“You are always seeing things,” said a third.
I walked the post until they had ceased to discuss the matter and had turned their attention elsewhere; then I knelt beside the dead man and removed his harness and weapons, which I immediately donned. Now I was, to outward appearances anyway, a soldier of Hin Abtol, a Panar from some glazed, hothouse city of the frozen North.
Walking to the far end of my post, I left it and entered the camp at some distance from the group which included the warrior whose suspicions I had aroused. Although I passed close to another group of warriors, no one paid any attention to me. Other individuals were wandering around from fire to fire, and so my movements attracted no notice.
I must have walked fully a haad inside the lines away from my point of entry before I felt that it would be safe to stop and mix with the warriors. Finally I saw a lone warrior sitting beside a fire, and approached him.
“Kaor!” I said, using the universal greeting of Barsoom.
“Kaor!” he replied. “Sit down. I am a stranger here and have no friends in this dar.” A dar is a unit of a thousand men, analogous to our Earthly regiment. “I just came down today with a fresh contingent from Pankor. It is good to move about and see the world again, after having been frozen in for fifty years.”
“You haven’t been away from Pankor for fifty years!” I exclaimed, guessing that Pankor was the name of the Arctic city from which he hailed, and hoping that I was guessing right.
“No,” he said; “and you! How long were you frozen in?”
“I have never been to Pankor,” I said; “I am a panthan who has just joined up with Hin Abtol’s forces since they came south.” I thought this the safest position to take, since I should be sure to arouse suspicion were I to claim familiarity with Pankor, when I had never been there.
“Well,” said my companion, “you must be crazy.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Nobody but a crazy man would put himself in the power of Hin Abtol. Well, you’ve done it; and now you’ll be taken to Pankor after this war is over, unless you’re lucky enough to be killed; and you’ll be frozen in there until Hin Abtol needs you for another campaign. What’s your name?”
“Dotor Sojat,” I replied, falling back on that old time name the green Martian horde of Thark had given me so many years before.
“Mine is Em-tar; I am from Kobol.”
“I thought you said you were from Pankor.”
“I’m a Kobolian by birth,” he explained. “Where are you from?”
“We panthans have no country,” I reminded him.
“But you must have been born somewhere,” he insisted.
“Perhaps the less said about that the better,” I said, attempting a sly wink.
He laughed. “Sorry I asked,” he said.
Sometimes, when a man has committed a political crime, a huge reward is offered for information concerning his whereabouts; so, as well as changing his name, he never divulges the name of his country. I let Em-tar think that I was a fugitive from justice.
“How do you think this campaign is going?” I asked.
“If Hin Abtol can starve them out, he may win,” replied Em-tar; “but from what I have heard he could never take the city by storm. These Gatholians are great fighters, which is more than can be said for those who fight under Hin Abtol—our hearts aren’t in it; we have no feeling of loyalty for Hin Abtol; but these Gatholians now, they’re fighting for their homes and their jed; and they love ’em both. They say that Gahan’s Princess is a daughter of The Warlord of Barsoom. Say, if he hears about this and brings a fleet and an army from Helium, we might just as well start digging our graves.”
“Are we taking many prisoners?” I asked.
“Not many. Three were taken this morning; one of them was the daughter of Gahan, the Jed of Gathol; the other two were men.”
“That’s interesting,” I said; “I wonder what Hin Abtol will do with the daughter of Gahan.”
“That I wouldn’t know,” replied Em-tar, “but they say he’s sent her off to Pankor already. You hear a lot of rumors in an army, though; and most of them are wrong.”
“I suppose Hin Abtol has a big fleet of fliers,” I said.
“He’s got a lot of old junk, and not many men capable of flying what he has got.”
“I’m a flier,” I said.
“You’d better not let ’em know it, or they’ll have you on board some old wreck,” advised Em-tar.
“Where’s their landing field here?”
“Down that way about a haad;” he pointed in the direction I had been going when I stopped to talk with him.
“Well, goodby, Em-tar,” I said, rising.
“Where are you going?”
“To fly for Hin Abtol of Pankor,” I said.