I wasn’t going to bother even to turn around. What was the use of turning around and seeing no one there? But when the voice said, “I’ll bet he’s out for a week, the dirty Invak calot,” I did turn around, for I knew no Invak had made a remark like that.
Chained to a tree near me, I saw another red man (it is strange that I should always think of myself as a red man here on Barsoom; and yet, perhaps, not so strange after all. Except for my color, I am a red man—a red man in thought and feeling to the marrow of my bones. I no longer ever think of myself as a Virginian, so ingrained has become my love for this world of my adoption.) “Well, where did you come from?” I demanded. “Are you one of the invisibles?”
“I am not,” replied the man. “I have been here all along. When you were first brought I must have been asleep behind my tree, but the people stopping to comment on you awoke me. I heard you tell the girl that your name is Dotar Sojat. That is a strange name for a red man. Mine is Ptor Fak; I am from Zodanga.”
Ptor Fak! I recalled him now; he was one of the three Ptor brothers who had befriended me that time that I had wished to enter Zodanga in search of Dejah Thoris. At first I hesitated to tell him who I really was; but then, knowing him to be an honorable man, I was about to when he suddenly exclaimed, “By the mother of the nearer moon! Those eyes, that skin!”
“S-h-h!” I cautioned. “I don’t know the nature of these people yet, and so I thought it wiser to be Dotar Sojat.”
“If you’re not Dotar Sojat, who are you?” demanded a voice at my elbow. That’s the trouble with this invisibility business—a man can sneak up on you and eavesdrop, and you haven’t the slightest idea that there is anyone near you.
“I am the Sultan of Swat,” I said, that being the first name that popped into my head.
“What’s a sultan?” demanded the voice.
“A jeddak of jeddaks,” I replied.
“In what country?”
“I never heard of Swat,” said the voice.
“Well, now that it’s out, you had better tell your jeddak that he’s got a sultan chained up here in his back yard.”
The voice must have gone away, for I heard it no more. Ptor Fak was laughing. “I can see that things are going to brighten up a bit now that you are here,” he said. “My deepest reverence for whichever one of your ancestors gave you a sense of humor. This is the first laugh I have had since they got me.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Several months. I was trying out a new motor that we have developed in Zodanga and was trying to establish a record for a circumnavigation of Barsoom at the Equator, and of course this place had to be on the Equator and right under me when my motor quit. How did you get here?”
“I had just escaped from Pankor with Llana, daughter of Gahan of Gathol, and we were on our way to Helium to bring back a fleet to teach Hin Abtol a lesson. We had neither food nor water on our flier; so I landed beside this forest to get some. While I was in the forest, one of these Invaks, invisible of course to Llana, climbed aboard the flier and took off with her; and twenty more of them jumped on me and took me prisoner.”
“A girl was with you! That is too bad. They may kill us, but they’ll keep her.”
“Pnoxus said that he had taken a fancy to her,” I said, bitterly.
“Pnoxus is a calot and the son of a calot and the grandson of a calot,” said Ptor Fak, illuminatingly. Nothing could have evaluated Pnoxus more concisely.
“What will they do with us?” I asked. “Will we have any opportunity to escape that might also give me an opportunity to take Llana away?”
“Well, as long as they keep you chained to a tree, you can’t escape; and that’s what they’ve done with me ever since I’ve been here. I think they intend to use us in some sort of Games, but just what they are I don’t know. Look!” he exclaimed, pointing and laughing.
I looked in the direction he indicated and saw two men carrying the limp form of a third down one of the streets.
“That must be Motus,” said Ptor Fak. “I am afraid that may get you into trouble,” he added, suddenly sobered.
“Whatever trouble it gets me into, it was worth it,” I said. “Think of kicking a blind man, and that’s what it amounted to. The girl was as mad about it as I; she must be a good sort. Rojas—that’s rather a pretty name.”
“The name of a noblewoman,” said Ptor Fak.
“You know her?” I asked.
“No, but you can tell by the endings of their names whether or not they are noble and by the beginnings and endings of their names if they’re royal. The names of the noblemen end in us and the names of noblewomen in as. The names of royalty end the same way but always begin with two consonants, like Pnoxus and Ptantus.”
“Then Motus is a nobleman,” I said.
“Yes; that is what is going to make it bad for you.”
“Tell me,” I said; “how do they make themselves invisible?”
“They have developed something that gives them invisibility for perhaps a day; it is something they take internally—a large pill. I understand that they take one every morning, so as to be sure that they will be invisible if they have to go outside the city. You see it takes about an hour for the stuff to work, and if the city were attacked by an enemy they’d be in a bad way if they had to go out and fight while visible.”
“What enemies can they have around here?” I asked. “Kandus told me that even the green men are afraid of them.
“There is another city in the forest inhabited by an offshoot of this tribe,” explained Ptor Fak; “it is called Onvak, and its people also possess the secret of invisibility. Occasionally the Onvaks come and attack Invak, or lie in wait for the Invak hunting parties when they go out into the forest.”
“I should think it might be rather difficult to fight a battle in which one could see neither foe nor friend,” I suggested.
“Yes; I understand that there’s never very much damage done, though occasionally they capture a prisoner. The last battle they had the Invaks took two prisoners, and when they got them into the city they discovered that they were both their own men. The never know how many of their own people they kill; they just go slashing about them with their swords, and Issus help whoever gets in the way.”
Just as Ptor Fak finished speaking I felt hands doing something to the shackles about my ankles and presently they were unlocked and removed.
“Come, slave,” said the voice. Then someone took me by the arm and led me toward the entrance to one of the streets.
The moment we entered I could see a warrior at my side and there were others in front and behind me. They conducted me along this street through two other courtyards in which, of course, they immediately became invisible and I seemed to be walking alone with only the pressure of a hand upon my arm to indicate that I was not. They took me to a large room in which a number of people were standing about in front of and on either side of a desk at which there sat a scowling, fierce visaged man.
I was led up to the desk and halted there and the man behind it surveyed me in silence for several seconds. His harness was extremely elaborate, the leather being beautifully carved and studded with precious stones. The hilt of his sword which I could just see above the desk was apparently of gold and it too was studded with those rare and beautiful gems of Barsoom which defy description in words of earthly origin. Encircling his brow was a diadem of carved leather upon the front of which the Barsoomian hieroglyphs which spelled jeddak were emblazoned in precious stones. So this was Ptantus, jeddak of Invak. I felt that Llana and I could not have fallen into much worse hands.