“Yes,” replied Rojas, “and she must be invisible by this time.” She pressed my hand. “You fought magnificently,” she whispered. “Everyone knew that you could have killed Motus whenever you wished; but only I guessed why you did not kill him sooner. Ptantus is furious; he has ordered that you be destroyed immediately.”
“Rojas,” I said, “don’t you think that you should reconsider your decision to come with me? All of your friends and relatives are here in Invak, and you might be lonesome and unhappy among my people.”
“Wherever you are, I shall be happy,” she said. “If you do not take me with you I shall kill myself.”
So that was that. I had involved myself in a triangle which bid fair to prove exceedingly embarrassing and perhaps tragic. I felt sorry for Rojas, and I was annoyed and humiliated by the part that I was forced to play. However, there had been no other way; it had been a question of Rojas’ happiness or of Llana’s life, and the lives of Ptor Fak and myself. I knew that I had chosen wisely, but I was still most unhappy.
Motivated by the habits of a lifetime, I strained my eyes in search of Llana of Gathol, who perhaps was down there somewhere in the courtyard; and then, realizing the futility of looking for her, I whistled. There was an immediate response from below and I sprang down from the roof. It did not take us long to locate one another; and as we were not challenged, I assumed that we were fortunate enough to be alone.
Llana touched my hand. “I thought that you would never come,” she said. “Rojas told me about the duel that you were to fight; and while I had no doubts about your swordsmanship, I realized that there is always the danger of an accident or trickery. But at last you are here; how strange it is not to be able to see you. I was really quite frightened when I stepped out here into the courtyard and discovered that I could not even see myself.”
“It is the miracle of invisibility that will save us,” I said, “And only a miracle could have saved us. Now I must get you to the roof.”
There was no overhanging tree in this courtyard, and the roof was fifteen feet above the ground. “You are about to have an experience, Llana,” I said.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“I am going to toss you up onto the roof,” I told her, “and I hope you land on your feet.”
“I am ready,” she said.
I could see the roof all right, but I couldn’t see Llana; all I could do was pray that my aim would be true. “Keep your whole body perfectly rigid,” I said, “until I release you; then draw your feet up beneath you and relax. You may get a bad fall, but I don’t think that it can hurt you much; the roof is heavily padded with vines.”
“Let’s get it over,” said Llana.
I grasped one of her legs at the knee with my right hand and cradled her body on my left forearm; then I swung her back and forth a couple of times, and tossed her high into the air.
Llana of Gathol may have been invisible, but she was also definitely corporeal.
I heard her land on the roof with anything but an invisible thud, and I breathed a sigh of relief. To spring lightly after her was nothing for my earthly muscles, and soon a low whistle brought the three of us together. I cautioned the girls to silence, and we walked hand in hand in the direction of the flier.
This was the moment that aroused my greatest apprehension, as I realized that the flier might be surrounded by invisible warriors; and, as far as I knew, the only sword among us was the one I had taken from the warrior I had killed in the courtyard; but perhaps Rojas had one.
“Have you a sword, Rojas?” I whispered.
“Yes,” she said; “I brought one.”
“Can you use it?” I asked.
“I never have used one,” she replied.
“Then give it to Llana of Gathol; she can use if it necessary, and very effectively too.”
We approached to within about a hundred feet of the flier and stopped. This was the crucial moment; I was almost afraid to whistle, but I did. There was an immediate answer from the vicinity of the flier. I listened a moment for voices that might betray the presence of the enemy, but there were none.
We advanced quickly then, and I helped the girls over the rail. “Where are you, Ptor Fak?” I asked. “Are you alone?”
“On deck,” he said, “and I don’t think there is anyone around.”
“All the warriors of Invak could be here now,” I said, as I reached the controls and started the motor.
A moment later the little ship rose gracefully into the air, and almost immediately from below us, we heard shouts and imprecations. The Invaks had seen the ship, but too late to prevent our escape. We were safe. We had accomplished what a few hours before would have seemed impossible, for then Ptor Fak and I were chained to trees and Llana of Gathol was a captive in another part of the city.
“We owe Rojas a great debt of gratitude,” I said.
“A debt,” she replied, “which it will be very easy, and I hope pleasant, for you to repay.”
I winced at that; I saw a bad time ahead for me. I would rather face a dozen men with my sword than one infuriated or heartbroken woman. Before we reached Helium, I would have to tell her; but I decided to wait until we had regained visibility.
Perhaps it would have been easier to tell her while we were both invisible, but it seemed a cowardly way to me.
“You are going on to Helium, John Carter?” asked Llana.
“Yes,” I said.
“What will they think of a flier coming in by itself with no one on board?” she asked.
“We will have to wait until we become visible before we approach the city,” I replied. “We must not take any more of the invisibility spheres.”
“Who is John Carter?” asked Rojas. “Is there another here of whom I did not know?”
“I am John Carter,” I replied. “Dotar Sojat is merely a name that I assumed temporarily.”
“Then you are not the Sultan of Swat?” demanded Rojas.
“No,” I replied, “I am not.”
“You have deceived me.”
“I am sorry, Rojas,” I said; “I was not trying to deceive you—about my name; as a matter of fact I never told you I was the Sultan of Swat; I told some warrior who questioned me.” If she were angry about my deceiving her concerning my name and status, how was she going to take the fact that I did not love her, and that I already had a mate! I was as unhappy as a live eel in a frying pan; then of a sudden I decided to take the bull by the horns and get the whole thing over with. “Rojas,” I began, “though I did not deceive you about my name, I did deceive you in a much more important matter.”
“What is that?” she asked.
“I used your—ah—friendship to gain freedom for Llana of Gathol. I pretended to love you when I did not; I already have a mate.”
I waited for the explosion, but no explosion came; instead there was a faint, tinkling, little laugh. I continued to wait; no one spoke; the silence became oppressive. Momentarily I expected a dagger to be slipped into me; or that Rojas would leap overboard; but neither of these things occurred, and I sat there at the controls wondering about that laugh. Perhaps the shock of my avowal had unbalanced Rojas’ mind. I wished that I could see her, and at the same time I was glad that I could not—and I was certainly glad that no one could see me, for I felt like a fool.
I couldn’t think of anything to say, and I thought the silence was going to last forever, but finally Llana of Gathol broke it. “How long will we remain invisible?” she asked.
“A little more than ten zodes from the time you took the sphere,” said Rojas. “I shall become visible first, and then probably either John Carter or Ptor Fak, as I imagine that they took the spheres about the same time; you will be the last to regain visibility.” Her voice was perfectly normal; there was no trace of nervousness nor bitterness in it. I couldn’t make the girl out.
Perhaps she was the type that would bide its time until it could wreak some terrible revenge. I’ll tell you that I had plenty to think about on that trip to Helium.