“Slave!” he almost roared at me, “pay attention to me.”
“You haven’t said anything yet,” I reminded him. “When you say anything worth listening to I shall listen, but you don’t have to yell at me.”
He turned angrily to an officer. “Don’t ever dare to bring a prisoner before me again,” he said, “until he has been instructed how to behave in the presence of a jeddak.”
“I know how to behave in the presence of a jeddak,” I told him, “I have been in the presence of some of the greatest jeddaks on Barsoom, and I treat a jeddak just as I treat any other man—as he deserves. If he is a nobleman at heart he has my deference, if he is a boor he does not.”
The inference was clear, and Ptantus colored. “Enough of your insolence,” he said. “I understand that you are a troublesome fellow, that you gave Pnoxus, the prince, a great deal of trouble after your capture and that you struck and badly injured one of my nobles.”
“That man may have a title,” I said, “but he is no noble; he kicked me while he was invisible—it was the same as kicking a blind man.”
“That is right,” said a girlish voice a little way behind me and at one side. I turned and looked. It was Rojas.
“You saw this thing done, Rojas?” demanded Ptantus.
“Yes, Motus insulted me; and this man, Dotar Sojat, berated him for it. Then Motus kicked him.”
“Is this true, Motus?” asked Ptantus, turning his head and looking past me on the other side. I turned and glanced in that direction and saw Motus with his face swathed in bandages; he was a sorry looking sight.
“I gave the slave what he deserves,” he growled; “he is an insolent fellow.”
“I quite agree with you,” said Ptantus, “and he shall die when the time comes. But I did not summon him here to conduct a trial. I, the jeddak, reach my decisions without testimony or advice. I sent for him because an officer said he could leap thirty feet into the air; and if he can do that it may be worth keeping him a while for my amusement.”
I couldn’t help but smile a little at that for it had been my ability to jump that had probably preserved my life upon my advent to Barsoom so many years ago, when I had been captured by the green hordes of Thark, and Tars Tarkas had ordered me to sak for the edification of Lorquas Ptomel, the jed, and now it was going to give me at least a short reprieve from death.
“Why do you smile?” demanded Ptantus. “Do you see anything funny in that? Now jump, and be quick about it.”
I looked up at the ceiling. It was only about fifteen feet from the floor. “That would be only a hop,” I said.
“Well hop then,” said Ptantus.
I turned and looked behind me. For about twenty feet between me and the doorway men and women were crowded thickly together. Thanking my great agility and the lesser gravity of Mars, I easily jumped completely over them. I could have made a bolt for the door then, leaped to the roof of the city and made my escape; and I should have done it had it not been that Llana, of Gathol was still a prisoner here.
Exclamations of surprise filled the room at this, to them, marvelous feat of agility; and when I leaped back again there was almost a ripple of applause.
“What else can you do?” demanded Ptantus.
“I can make a fool out of Motus with a sword,” I said, “as well as with my fists, if he will meet me under the lights where I can see him.”
Ptantus actually laughed. “I think I shall let you do that sometime when I am through with you,” he said, “for Motus will most certainly kill you. There is probably not a better swordsman on all Barsoom than the noble Motus.”
“I shall be delighted to let him try it,” I said, “and I can promise you that I shall still be able to jump after I have killed Motus. But, if you really want to see some jumping,” I continued, “take me and the girl who was captured with me out into the forest, and we will show you something worthwhile.” If I could only get outside the gates with Llana I knew that we should be able to get away, for I could outdistance any of them even if I had to carry her.
“Take him back and lock him up,” said Ptantus; “I have seen and heard enough for today;” so they took me back into the courtyard and chained me to my tree.
“Well,” said Ptor Fak, after he thought the guards had left, “how did you get along?”
I told him all that had transpired in the jeddak’s presence; and he said he hoped that I would get a chance to meet Motus, as Ptor Fak well knew my reputation as a swordsman.
After dark that night, a voice came out and sat down beside me. It was Kandus.
“It’s a good thing you jumped for Ptantus today,” he said, “the old devil thought Pnoxus had been lying to him and after it had been demonstrated that you could not jump Ptantus was going to have you destroyed immediately in a very unpleasant way he has of dealing with those who have aroused his anger or resentment.”
“I hope I can keep on amusing him for a while,” I said.
“The end will be the same eventually,” said Kandus, “but if there is anything I can do to make your captivity easier for you I shall be glad to do it.”
“It would relieve my mind if you could tell me what has become of the girl who was captured at the same time that I was.
“She is confined in the quarters of the female slaves. It’s over on that side of the city beyond the palace,” and he nodded in that direction.
“What do you think is going to happen to her?” I asked.
“Ptantus and Pnoxus are quarreling about her,” he replied; “they are always quarreling about something; they hate each other. Because Pnoxus wants her Ptantus doesn’t want him to have her; and so, for the time being at least, she is safe. I must go now,” he added a moment later, and I could tell from the direction of his voice that he had arisen. “If there is anything I can do for you be sure to let me know.”
“If you could bring me a piece of wire,” I said, “I would appreciate it.”
“What do you want of wire?” he asked.
“Just to pass the time,” I said; “I bend them around in different shapes and make little figures of them to amuse myself. I am not accustomed to being chained to a tree, and time is going to hang very heavy on my hands.”
“Certainly,” he said, “I’ll be glad to bring you a piece of wire; I’ll be back with it in just a moment, and until then good-by.”
“You are fortunate to have made a friend here,” said Ptor Fak; “I’ve been here several months and I haven’t made one.”
“I think it was my jumping,” I said; “it has served me in good stead before and in many ways.”
It was not long before Kandus returned with the wire. I thanked him and he left immediately.
It was night now and both moons were in the sky. Their soft light illuminated the courtyard, while the swift flight of Thuria across the vault of heaven swept the shadows of the trees into constantly changing movement across the scarlet sward, turned purple now in the moonlight.
Ptor Fak’s chain and mine were sufficiently long to just permit us to sit side by side, and I could see that his curiosity was aroused by my request for a piece of wire by the fact that he kept watching it in my hand. Finally he could contain himself no longer. “What are you going to do with that wire?” he asked.
“You’d be surprised,” I said; and then I paused for I felt a presence near me, “at the clever things one may do with a piece of wire.”