“You said that you were taking me to Gathol,” said Llana, after we had left Pankor far behind. “Nothing would make me happier than to return to my father, my mother, and my native city; but how may we hope to make a landing there while Gathol is surrounded by the warriors of Hin Abtol?”
“The Panars are a stupid, inefficient lot,” I replied; “most of Hin Abtol’s warriors are unwilling conscripts who have no heart in waging war for their tyrannical master. These poor frozen men only endure it because they know there is no escape and prefer life and consciousness to being returned to Pankor and frozen in again until Hin Abtol needs their swords for a future war.”
“‘Frozen men’!” ejaculated Llana; “what do you mean by that?”
“You heard nothing of them while you were a prisoner in Pankor?” I asked, surprised.
“Nothing,” Llana assured me; “tell me about them.”
“Just outside the walls of the hot-house city there are rows upon rows of racks in the biting cold and bitter wind of the North Polar region. On these racks, like beef in a cold storage warehouse, thousands of warriors hang by their feet, frozen solid and in a state of suspended animation. They are captives whom he had taken on numerous raids during a period of fully a hundred years. I have talked with some who had been frozen in over fifty years.
“I was in the resuscitating room when a number of them were thawed out; after a few minutes they don’t seem to be any worse for their experience, but the whole idea is revolting.”
“Why does he do it?” demanded Llana. “Why thousands of them?”
“Better say thousands upon thousands,” I said; “one slave told me that there were at least a million. Hin Abtol dreams of conquering all of Barsoom with them.”
“How grotesque!” exclaimed Llana.
“Were it not for the navy of Helium, he might go far along the road toward the goal of his grandiose ambition; and you may thank your revered ancestors, Llana, that there is a navy of Helium. After I return you to Gathol, I shall fly to Helium and organize an expedition to write finis to Hin Abtol’s dreams.”
“I wish that before you do that we might try to find out what has become of Pan Dan Chee and Jad-han,” said Llana; “the Panars separated us shortly after we were captured.”
“They may have been taken to Pankor and frozen in”, I suggested.
“Oh, no!” exclaimed Llana; “that would be too terrible.”
“You are very fond of Pan Dan Chee, aren’t you?” I asked.
“He has been a very good friend,” she replied, a little stiffly. The stubborn minx wouldn’t admit that she was in love with him—and possibly she wasn’t; you never can tell anything about a woman. She had treated him abominably when they were together; but when they were separated and he was in danger, she had evinced the greatest, concern for his safety.
“I don’t know how we can learn anything about his fate,” I said, “unless we can inquire directly of the Panars; and that might prove rather dangerous. I should like to know what has become of them and Tan Hadron of Hastor as well.”
“Tan Hadron of Hastor? Where is he?”
“The last I saw of him, he was on board the Dusar, the Panar ship I stole from their line outside Gathol; and he was the prisoner of the mutinous crew that took it from me. There were a lot of assassins among them, and these were determined to kill Tan Hadron as soon as he had taken the ship to whatever destination they had decided upon; you see, none of the crew knew anything about navigation.”
“Tan Hadron of Hastor,” said Llana again; “his mother was a royal princess of Gathol and Tan Hadron himself one of the greatest fighting men of Barsoom.”
“A splendid officer,” I added.
“Steps must be taken to save him, too.”
“If it is not too late,” I said; “and the only chance of saving any of them lies in my reaching Helium in time to bring a fleet to Gathol before Hin Abtol succeeds in reducing it, and then on to Pankor, if we do not find these three among Hin Abtol’s prisoners at Gathol.”
“Perhaps we had better fly direct to Helium,” suggested Llana. “A fleet from Helium could accomplish something, while we two, alone, might accomplish no more than getting ourselves captured again by the Panars—and it would go hard with you, John Carter, if Hin Abtol ever got his hands on you again, after what you did in Pankor today.” She laughed. “I shall never forget what you did to Rab-zov, ‘the strongest man in Pankor.’”
“Neither will Rab-zov,” I said.
“Nor Hin Abtol. And the hole you made in the glass dome covering the city, when you drove the flier right through it! I’ll wager they all had chills before they got that patched up. No, Hin Abtol will never forget you.”
“But he never knew who I really was,” I reminded Llana; “with my disguise removed, I was no longer a red man; and he might never guess that he had once had John Carter in his power.”
“The results would be the same as far as you are concerned,” said Llana; “I think it would be death in either event.”
Before we had come far from Pankor I decided that our wisest course would be to proceed directly to Helium and enlist the aid of Tardos Mors, the jeddak. While I hold the titles of Jeddak of Jeddaks and Warlord of Barsoom, conferred upon me by the jeddaks of five nations, I have always considered them largely honorary, and have never presumed to exercise the authority implicit in them, except in times of war when even the great Jeddak of Helium has graciously served under me.
Having reached the decision to fly to Helium rather than Gathol, I turned toward the southeast. Before us lay a journey half the distance around the planet, and we were absolutely without water or provisions. Soon the towers and stately ruins of Horz were visible, reminding us both of the circumstances under which we had met Pan Dan Chee, and I thought that Llana looked down a little sadly on that long dead city from which her lost lover had been self-exiled because of us. It was here that she had escaped from Hin Abtol, and it was here that Hin Abtol had stolen this very flier of mine that I had found and recovered in his Polar capital. Yes, Horz held many memories for both of us; and I was glad when it lay behind us, this dead monument to a dead past.
Far ahead lay Dusar where water and provisions might be obtained, but the friendliness of Dusar was open to question. It had not been so many years since Carthoris, the Prince of Helium, had almost been done to death there by Astok, son of Nutus, the jeddak of Dusar; and there had been no intercourse between Helium and Dusar since that time. Beyond Dusar was no friendly city all the way to Helium.
I decided to give Dusar a wide berth, and in doing so we flew over country. with which I was entirely unfamiliar. It was a hilly country; and in the long, deep valley I saw one of those rarest of all sights on Mars, a splendid forest. Now, to me a forest means fruits and nuts and, perhaps, game animals; and we were hungry. There would doubtless be mantilia plants too, the sap of which would quench our thirst; and so I decided to land. My best judgment told me that it was a risky thing to do, and subsequent events proved that my judgment was wholly correct.