I will admit that I have never been able to fathom the ways of women, but I felt that Rojas would never return. I presume that my conviction was influenced by those lines from The Mourning Bride, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”
However, I did not give up hope entirely—I never do. Instead of repining, I went to work on the lock of my shackle with the bit of wire that Kandus had brought me. Ptor Fak moved over to watch me. I sat facing my tree, close to it, and bending over my work; and Ptor Fak leaned close and bent over it too. We were trying to hide from preying eyes the thing that I was attempting to do; and as it was now late at night we hoped that there would be no one in the courtyard other than ourselves.
At last I found the combination and after that it took me only a few seconds to unlock Ptor Fak’s shackle. Then a voice behind us spoke.
“What are you doing?” it demanded; “why are you not asleep?”
“How can we sleep with people constantly annoying us?” I asked, hiding the wire beneath me.
“Stand up,” said the voice, and as we stood up the shackles fell away from our ankles.
“I thought so,” said the voice. Then I saw the piece of wire rise from the ground and disappear. “You are very clever, but I don’t think Ptantus will appreciate your cleverness when he hears about this. I shall set a guard to watch you two constantly hereafter.”
“Everything is going wrong,” I said to Ptor Fak a moment later, after I saw a warrior enter one of the streets, hoping that it was he who had spoken to us and that there were no others around.
“It seems hopeless, doesn’t it?” said Ptor Fak.
“No,” I snapped, “not while I still live.”
The following afternoon Kandus’ voice came and sat down beside me. “How goes it?” he asked.
“Terrible,” I said.
“How is that?” he asked.
“I can’t tell you,” I said, “because there is probably a guard standing right here listening to everything that I say.”
“There is no one here but us,” said Kandus.
“How do you know?” I asked; “your people are as invisible to you as they are to me.”
“We learn to sense the presence of others,” he explained; “just how, I can’t tell you.”
“How you do it is immaterial,” I said, “as long as you are sure there is no one here listening to us. I will be perfectly frank with you, I succeeded in removing Ptor Fak’s shackle and my own. Someone caught me at it and took the piece of wire away from me.” I did not tell Kandus that I had broken the wire he had given me in two and that I still had the other half of it in my pocket pouch. There is no use in telling even a friend everything that you know.
“How in the world could you have hoped to escape even if you could remove your shackles?” he asked.
“It was only the first step,” I told him. “We really had no plan, but we knew that we certainly could not escape as long as we were shackled.”
Kandus laughed. “There is something in that,” he said, and then he was silent for a moment. “The girl who was captured with you,” he said presently.
“What of her?” I asked.
“Ptanus has given her to Motus,” he replies; “it was all done very suddenly. Why, no one seems to know, because Ptantus hasn’t any particular love for Motus.”
If Kandus didn’t know why, I thought that I did. I saw Rojas’s hand and a green-eyed devil in it—jealousy is a heartless monster. “Will you do something more for me, Kandus?” I asked.
“Gladly, if I can,” he replied.
“It may seem like a very silly request,” I said, “but please don’t ask me to explain. I want you to go to Rojas and tell her that Llana of Gathol, the girl that Ptantus has given to Motus, is the daughter of my daughter.” It may seem strange to you denizens of earth that Rojas could have become infatuated with a grandfather, but you must remember that Mars is not Earth and that I am unlike all other Earth-men. I do not know how old I am. I recall no childhood. It seems to me that have just always been, and I have always been the same. I look now as I did when I fought with the Confederate army during the Civil War—a man of about thirty. And here on Barsoom, where the natural span of life is around a thousand years and people do not commence to show the ravages of old age until just shortly before dissolution, differences in age do not count. You might fall in love with a beautiful girl on Barsoom; and, as far as appearances were concerned, she might be seventeen or she might be seven hundred.
“Of course I don’t understand,” said Kandus, “but I’ll do what you ask.”
“And now another favor,” I said. “Ptantus half promised me that he would let me duel with Motus and he assured me that Motus would kill me. Is there any possible way of arranging for that duel to be fought today?”
“He will kill you,” said Kandus.
“That is not what I asked,” I said.
“I don’t know how it could be done,” said Kandus.
“Now if Ptantus has any sporting blood,” I suggested, “and likes to lay a wager now and then, you bet him that if Motus will fight me while Motus is still visible, that he cannot kill me but that I can kill him whenever I choose.”
“But you can’t do it,” said Kandus. “Motus is the best swordsman on Barsoom. You would be killed and I should lose my money.”
“How can I convince you?” I said. “I know that I can kill Motus in a fight. If I had anything of value, I would give it to you as security for your wager.”
“I have something of value,” said Ptor Fak, “and I would wager it and everything that I could scrape together on Dotar Sojat.” He reached into his pocket pouch and drew froth a gorgeous jewelled medallion. “This,” he said to Kandus, “is worth a jeddak’s ransom—take it as security and place its value on Dotar Sojat.”
A second later the medallion disappeared in thin air, and we knew that Kandus had reached out his hand and taken it.
“I’ll have to go inside and examine it,” said Kandus’ voice, “for of course I cannot see it now that it has become invisible. I’ll not be gone long.”
“That is very decent of you, Ptor Fak,” I said, “that medallion must be almost invaluable.”
“One of my remote ancestors was a jeddak,” explained Ptor Fak; “that medallion belonged to him, and it has been in the family for thousands of years.”
“You must be quite certain of my swordsmanship,” I said.
“I am,” he replied; “but even had I been less certain, I should have done the same.”
“That is friendship,” I said, “and I appreciate it.”
“It is priceless,” said a voice at my side, and I knew that Kandus had returned.
“I will go at once and see what can be done about the duel.”
“Don’t forget what I asked you to tell Rojas,” I reminded him.