At the gates are a full utan of a hundred men; and within, at the grand entrance to the palace itself, is another utan. No wonder that it has been difficult to assassinate Hin Abtol, self-styled Jeddak of Jeddaks of the North.
At one side of the palace, on an open scarlet sward, I saw something which made me start with astonishment—it was my own flier! It was the flier that Hin Abtol had stolen from me in the deserted city of Horz; and now, as I learned later, he had it on exhibition here as proof of his great courage and ability.
He bragged that he had taken it single handed from The Warlord of Barsoom after defeating him in a duel. The fact that there could be no doubt but that it was my personal flier lent color to the story; my insigne was there for everyone to read, plain upon the bow. They must have towed it through one of the gates; and then flown it to its present resting place; as, of course, no airship could land inside Pankor’s great dome.
I was left in the guardroom just inside the entrance to the palace, where some of the warriors of the guard were loafing; two of them were playing Jetan, the Martian chess game, while others played Yano. They had all risen when the officer entered the room with me; and when he left I sat down on a bench at one side, as the others seated themselves and resumed their games.
One of them looked over at me, and scowled. “Stand up, slave!” he ordered.
“Don’t you know better than to sit in the presence of Panar warriors?”
“If you can prove that you are a better man than I,” I said, “I’ll stand.” I was in no mood to take anything like that meekly; as a matter of fact, I was pretty well fed up an being a slave.
The warrior leaped to his feet. “Oh, insolent, too!” he said; “well, I’ll teach you a lesson.”
“You’d better go slow there, Ul-to,” warned one of his companions; “I think this fellow was sent for by the jeddak. If you muss him up, Hin Abtol may not like it.”
“Well, he’s got to be taught a lesson,” snarled Ul-to; “if there’s one thing I can’t stand, its an impudent slave,” and he came toward me. I did not rise, and he grabbed me by the harness and attempted to drag me to my feet; at the same time, he struck at me.
I parried his blow, and seized hold of his harness; then I stood up and lifted him above my head. I held him there for a moment, and then I tossed him across the room. “That will teach you,” I called to him, “to be more respectful to your betters.”
Some of the other guardsmen were scowling at me angrily; but many were laughing at Ul-to, who now scrambled to his feet, whipped out his long-sword, and came for me. They had not yet disarmed me; and I drew mine; but before we could engage, a couple of Ul-to’s companions seized him and held him. He was cursing and struggling to free himself and get at me, when the officer of the guard, evidently attracted by the disturbance, entered the room.
When he heard what had happened, he turned angrily on me. “You ought to be flogged,” he said, “for insulting and attacking a Panar warrior.”
“Perhaps you would like to try to flog me,” I said.
At that, he turned purple and almost jumped up and down, he was so furious.
“Seize him!” he shouted to the warriors, “and give him a good beating.”
They all started toward me, and I drew my sword. I was standing with my back to a wall, and there would have been several dead Panars scattered about that room in a few minutes if the officer who had brought me there had not come in just then.
“What’s the meaning of this?” he demanded.
The guard officer explained, making me appear wholly in the wrong.
“He lies,” I said to the officer; “I was attacked without provocation.”
He turned to the guard officer. “I don’t know who started this,” he said, “but it’s a good thing for your neck that nothing happened to this man;” then he disarmed me and told me to follow him.
He led me out of the palace again and to the side of the building where my flier stood. I noticed that it was not moored, there being no danger of winds beneath that great dome; and I wished that it were out in the open so that I could fly it away if I were able to find Llana of Gathol; it would have been a Heaven sent opportunity for escape had it not been for that enclosing dome.
He took me out to the center of an expanse of well kept lawn, facing a number of people who had gathered beside the building. There were both men and women, and more were coming from the palace. At last there was a fanfare of trumpets; and the Jeddak came, accompanied by courtiers and women.
In the meantime, a large man had come out on the lawn beside me; he was a warrior wearing metal that denoted him a member of Hin Abtol’s bodyguard.
“The Jeddak has heard tales of your great strength,” said the officer who had brought me there, “and he wishes to see a demonstration of it. Rab-zov, here, is supposed to be the strongest man in Pankor—”
“I am the strongest man in Pankor, sir,” interrupted Rab-zov; “I am the strongest man on Barsoom.”
“He must be pretty strong,” I said. “What is he going to do to me?”
“You are going to wrestle to amuse the Jeddak and his court. Rab-zov will demonstrate how easily he can throw you to the ground and hold you there. Are you ready, Rab-zov?”
Rab-zov said he was ready, and the officer signed us to start. Rab-zov swaggered toward me, taking occasional quick glances at the audience to see if all were looking at him. They were; looking at him and admiring his great bulk.
“Come on, fellow!” said Rab-zov; “put up the best fight you can; I want to make it interesting for the Jeddak,”
“I shall hope to make it interesting for you, Rab-zov,” I said.
He laughed loudly at that. “You won’t feel so much like joking when I’m through with you,” he said.
“Come on, wind bag!” I cried; “you talk too much.”
He was leaning forward, reaching for a hold, when I seized one of his wrists, turned quickly and threw him over my shoulder. I purposely let him fall hard, and he was still a little groggy when he came to his feet. I was waiting, very close; and I seized him by the harness and lifted him over my head; then I commenced to whirl with him. He was absolutely helpless; and when I thought he was befuddled enough, I carried him over and threw him down heavily in front of Hin Abtol. Rab-zov was down—and out.
“Have you no strong men in Pankor?” I asked him, and then I saw Llana of Gathol standing beside the Jeddak. Almost with the suddenness of a revelation a mad scheme came to me.
“Perhaps I had better send two men against you,” said Hin Abtol, rather good-naturedly; he had evidently enjoyed the spectacle.
“Why not a swordsman?” I asked. “I am quite good with a sword,” and I wanted a sword very much right then—I needed a sword to carry out my plan.
“Do you want to be killed, slave?” demanded Hin Abtol; “I have the best swordsmen in the world in my guard.”
“Bring out your best, then,” I said; “I may surprise him—and somebody else,” and I looked straight at Llana of Gathol, and winked. Then, for the first time, she recognized me through my disguise.
“Who were you winking at?” demanded Hin Abtol, looking around.
“Something got in my eye,” I said.
Hin Abtol spoke to an officer standing near him. “Who is the best swordsman in the guard?” he asked.
“There is none better than Ul-to,” replied the officer.
So! I was to cross swords with my old friend, Ul-to. That would please him—for a few moments.
They brought Ul-to; and when he found that he was to fight me, he beamed all over. “Now, slave,” he said, “I will teach you that lesson that I promised you.”
“Again?” I asked.
“It will be different this time,” he said.
We crossed swords.
“To the death!” I said.
“To the death, slave!” replied Ul-to.
I fought on the defensive mostly at first, seeking to work my man around in the position in which I wanted him; and when I had him there, I pressed him; and he fell back. I kept backing him toward the audience, and to make him more amenable to my directions, I started carving him—just a little. I wanted him to acquire respect for my point and my ability. Soon he was covered with blood, and I was forcing him to go wherever I wished him.
I backed him into the crowd, which fell back; and then I caught Llana’s eye, and motioned her with my head to step to one side; then I pressed close to her. “At the kill,” I whispered, “run for the flier and start the engine.”
I backed Ul-to away from the crowd then, and I saw Llana following, as though she was so much interested in the duel that she did not realize what she was doing.
“Now! Llana!” I whispered, and I saw her walking slowly backward toward the flier.
In order to attract the crowd’s attention from Llana, I pressed Ul-to to one side with such an exhibition of swordplay as I knew would hold every eye; then I turned him around and had him almost running backward, carrying me nearer my ship.
Suddenly I heard Hin Abtol cry, “The girl! Get her! She’s gone aboard that flier!”
As they started forward, I ran Ul-to through the heart and turned and ran for my ship. At my heels came a dozen warriors with drawn swords. The one who started first, and who was faster than the others, overtook me just as I had to pause a moment at the side of the flier to make assurance doubly sure that she was not moored in any way. I wheeled and parried a vicious cut; my blade moved once more with the swiftness of light, and the warrior’s head rolled from his shoulders.
“Let her go!” I cried to Llana, as I leaped to the deck.
As the ship rose, I hastened to the controls, and took over.
“Where are we going, John Carter?” asked Llana.
“To Gathol,” I replied.
She looked up at the dome above us. “How—?” she started, but she saw that I had turned the nose of the flier upward at an angle of forty-five degrees and opened the throttle—that was her answer.
The little ship, as sweet and fast a flier as I have ever flown, was streaking through the warm air of Pankor at tremendous speed. We both huddled close to the deck of the little cockpit—and hoped.
The flier shuddered to the terrific impact; broken glass showered in every direction—and then we were out in the cold, clear air of the Arctic.
I levelled off then, and headed for Gathol at full speed; there was danger of our freezing to death if we didn’t get into a warmer climate soon, for we had no furs.
“What became of Pan Dan Chee and Jad-han?” I asked.
“I haven’t seen them since we were all captured in Gathol,” replied Llana. “Poor Pan Dan Chee; he fought for me, and he was badly wounded; I am afraid that I shall never see him again,” and there were tears in her voice.
I greatly deplored the probable fate of Pan Dan Chee and Jad-han, but at least Llana of Gathol was at last safe. Or was this a masterpiece of overstatement?
She was at least safe from Hin Abtol, but what lay in the future? Immediately she was in danger of freezing to death should any mishap delay our flight before we reached a warmer latitude, and there were innumerable other hazards in the crossing of the wastelands of this dying planet.
But, being an incorrigible optimist, I still felt that Llana was safe; and so did she. Perhaps because no conceivable danger could have been greater than that which had threatened her while she lay in the power of Hin Abtol.
Presently I noticed that she was laughing, and I asked her what amused her.
“More than any other man on Barsoom, Hin Abtol feared you,” she said, “and he had you in his power and did not know it. And he pitted against you, the greatest swordsman of two worlds, a clumsy oaf, when he might have loosed upon you a full utan and destroyed you. Though he would doubtless have lost half his utan. I only pray that some day he may know the opportunity he missed when he permitted John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom to escape him.”
“Yes,” I said, “it is amusing. So is that hole we left in the roof of his hothouse city; but I am afraid that Hin Abtol’s sense of humor will not be equal to the task of appreciating it.”
We sped swiftly toward the south and warmer climes, happy in our miraculous escape from the tyrant of Panar; and, fortunately, unaware of what lay in our future.
Llana of Gathol was safe—but for how long? When would we see Gathol again, or Helium?