Swords of Mars

Chapter VIII

Suspicion

Edgar Rice Burroughs


CLUROS, the farther moon, rode high in the heavens, lighting dimly the streets of Zodanga like a dusty bulb in a huge loft; but I needed no better light to see the shadowy form of the man awaiting my coming.

I knew precisely what was in the man’s mind, and I must have smiled. He thought that I was coming along in total ignorance of his presence or the fact that anyone was planning upon murdering me that night. He was saying to himself that after I had passed he would spring out and run his sword through my back; it would be a very simple matter, and then he would go back and report to Ur Jan.

As I approached the doorway, I paused and cast a hasty glance behind me. I wanted to make sure, if I could, that Rapas had not followed me. If I killed this man, I did not want Rapas to know that it was I.

Now I resumed my way, keeping a few paces from the building so that I would not be too close to the assassin when I came opposite his hiding place.

When I did come opposite it, I turned suddenly and faced it. “Come out of there, you fool,” I said in a low voice.

For a moment the man did not move. He seemed utterly stunned by his discovery and by my words.

“You and Rapas thought that you could fool me, didn’t you?” I inquired. “You and Rapas and Ur Jan! Well, I will tell you a secret—something that Rapas and Ur Jan do not dream. Because you are trying to kill the wrong man, you are not using the right method. You think that you are attempting to kill Vandor, but you are not. There is no such person as Vandor. The man who faces you is John Carter, Warlord of Mars.” I whipped out my sword. “And now if you are quite ready, you may come out and be killed.”

At that, he came forth slowly, his long sword in his hand. I thought that his eyes showed a trace of astonishment and his voice certainly did, as he whispered, “John Carter!”

He did not show any fear, and I was glad of that, for I dislike fighting with a man who is really terrified of me, as he starts his fight with a terrible handicap that he can never overcome.

“So you are John Carter!” he said, as he stepped out into the open, and then he commenced to laugh. “You think you can frighten me, do you? You are a first-class liar, Vandor; but if you were all the first-class liars on Barsoom rolled into one, you could not frighten Povak.”

Evidently he did not believe me, and I was rather glad of it, for the encounter would now afford me far richer sport as there was gradually revealed to my antagonist the fact that he was pitted against a master swordsman.

As he engaged me, I saw that, while in no respect a mean swordsman, he was not as proficient as had been Uldak. I should have been glad to have played with him for a while, but I could not risk the consequences of being discovered.

So vicious was my attack that I soon pressed him back against the wall of the building. He had had no opportunity to do more than defend himself, and now he was absolutely at my mercy.

I could have run him through on the instant, but instead I reached out quickly with my point and made a short cut upon his breast and then I made another across it.

I stepped back then and lowered my point. “Look at your breast, Povak,” I said.

“What do you see there?”

He glanced down at his breast, and I saw him shudder. “The mark of the Warlord,” he gasped, and then, “Have mercy upon me; I did not know that it was you.”

“I told you,” I said, “but you wouldn’t believe me; and if you had believed me, you would have been all the more anxious to kill me. Ur Jan would have rewarded you handsomely.”

“Let me go,” he begged. “Spare my life, and I will be your slave forever.”

I saw then that he was a craven coward, and I felt no pity for him but only contempt.

“Raise your point,” I snapped, “and defend yourself, or I shall run you through in your tracks.”

Suddenly, with death staring him in the face, he seemed to go mad. He rushed at me with the fury of a maniac, and the impetuosity of his attack sent me back a few steps, and then I parried a terrific thrust and ran him through the heart.

At a little distance from me, I saw some people coming, attracted by the clash of steel.

A few steps took me to the entrance of a dark alleyway into which I darted; and by a circuitous route, I continued on my way to the house of Fal Sivas.

Hamas admitted me. He was very cordial. In fact, far too cordial. I felt like laughing in his face because of what I knew that he did not know that I knew, but I returned his greeting civilly and passed on to my quarters.

Zanda was waiting up for me. I drew my sword and handed it to her.

“Rapas?” she asked. I had told her that Fal Sivas had commanded me to kill The Rat.

“No, not Rapas,” I replied. “Another of Ur Jan’s men.”

“That makes two,” she said.

“Yes,” I replied; “but remember, you must not tell anyone that it was I who killed them.”

“I shall not tell anyone, my master,” she replied. “You may always trust Zanda.”

She cleaned the blood from the blade and then dried and polished it.

I watched her as she worked, noticing her shapely hands and graceful fingers. I had never paid very much attention to her before. Of course, I had known that she was young and well-formed and good-looking; but suddenly I was impressed by the fact that Zanda was very beautiful and that with the harness and jewels and hair-dressing of a great lady, she would have been more than noticeable in any company.

“Zanda,” I remarked at last, “you were not born a slave, were you?”

“No, master.”

“Did Fal Sivas buy you or abduct you?” I asked.

“Phystal and two slaves took me one night when I was on the avenues with an escort. They killed him and brought me here.”

“Your people,” I asked, “are they still living?”

“No,” she replied; “my father was an officer in the old Zodangan Navy. He was of the lesser nobility. He was killed when John Carter led the green hordes of Thark upon the city. In grief, my mother took the last long journey on the bosom of the sacred Iss to the Valley Dor and the Lost Sea of Korus.

“John Carter!” she said, musingly, and her voice was tinged with loathing. “He was the author of all my sorrows, of all my misfortune. Had it not been for John Carter robbing me of my parents I should not be here now, for I should have had their watchful care and protection to shield me from all danger.”

“You feel very bitterly toward John Carter, don’t you?” I asked.

“I hate him,” she replied.

“You would be glad to see him dead, I suppose.”

“Yes.”

“You know, I presume, that Ur Jan has sworn to destroy him?”

“Yes, I know that,” she replied; “and I constantly pray that he will be successful. Were I a man, I should enlist under the banner of Ur Jan. I should be an assassin and search out John Carter myself.”

“They say he is a formidable swordsman,” I suggested.

“I should find a way to kill him, even if I had to descend to the dagger or poison.”

I laughed. “I hope, for John Carter’s sake, that you do not recognize him when you meet him.”

“I shall know him all right,” she said. “His white skin will betray him.”

“Well, let us hope that he escapes you,” I said laughingly, as I bade her good night and went to my sleeping silks and furs.

The next morning, immediately after breakfast, Fal Sivas sent for me. As I entered his study, I saw Hamas and two slaves standing near him.

Fal Sivas looked up at me from beneath lowering brows. He did not greet me pleasantly as was his wont.

“Well,” he snapped, “did you destroy Rapas last night?”

“No,” I replied; “I did not.”

“Did you see him?”

“Yes, I saw him and talked with him. In fact, I ate the evening meal with him.”

I could see that this admission surprised both Fal Sivas and Hamas. It was evident that it rather upset their calculations, for I judged that they had expected me to deny having seen Rapas, which I might have done had it not been for the fortunate circumstance that had permitted me to discover Hamas spying upon me.

“Why didn’t you kill him?” demanded Fal Sivas. “Did I not order you to do so?”

“You employed me to protect you, Fal Sivas,” I replied; “and you must rely upon my judgment to do it in my own way. I am neither a child nor a slave. I believe that Rapas has made connections that will be far more harmful to you than Rapas, himself; and by permitting him to live and keeping in touch with him, I shall be able to learn much that will be to your advantage that I could never learn if I destroyed Rapas. If you are not satisfied with my methods, get someone else to protect you; and if you have decided to destroy me, I suggest that you enlist some warriors. These slaves would be no match for me.”

I could see Hamas trembling with suppressed rage at that, but he did not dare say anything or do anything until Fal Sivas gave him the word. He just stood there fingering the hilt of his sword and watching Fal Sivas questioningly, as though he awaited a signal.

But Fal Sivas gave him no signal. Instead, the old inventor sat there studying me intently for several minutes. At last he sighed and shook his head. “You are a very courageous man, Vandor,” he said; “but perhaps a little overconfident and foolish. No one speaks to Fal Sivas like that. They are all afraid. Do you not realize that I have it within my power to destroy you at any moment?”

“If you were a fool, Fal Sivas, I might expect death this moment; but you are no fool. You know that I can serve you better alive than dead, and perhaps you also suspect what I know—that if I went out I should not go alone. You would go with me.”

Hamas looked horrified and grasped the hilt of his sword firmly, as though about to draw it; but Fal Sivas leaned back in his chair and smiled.

“You are quite right, Vandor,” he said; “and you may rest assured that if I ever decide that you must die, I shall not be within reach of your sword when that sad event occurs. And now tell me what you expect to learn from Rapas and what makes you believe that he has information that will be of value to me?”

“That will be for your ears, alone, Fal Sivas,” I said, glancing at Hamas and the two slaves.

Fal Sivas nodded to them. “You may go,” he said.

“But, master,” objected Hamas, “you will be left alone with this man. He may kill you.”

“I shall be no safer from his sword if you are present, Hamas,” replied the master. “I have seen and you have seen how deftly he wields his blade.”

Hamas’s red skin darkened at that; and without another word he left the room, followed by the two slaves.

“And now,” said Fal Sivas, “tell me what you have learned or what you suspect.”

“I have reason to believe,” I replied, “that Rapas has made connections with Ur Jan. Ur Jan, as you have told me, has been employed by Gar Nal to assassinate you. By keeping in touch with Rapas, it is possible that I may be able to learn some of Ur Jan’s plans. I do not know of course, but it is the only contact we have with the assassins, and it would be poor strategy to destroy it.”

“You are absolutely right, Vandor,” he replied. “Contact Rapas as often as you can, and do not destroy him until he can be of no more value to us. Then-” his face was contorted by a fiendish grimace.

“I thought that you would concur in my judgment,” I replied. “I am particularly anxious to see Rapas again tonight.”

“Very well,” he said, “and now let us go to the shop. The work on the new motor is progressing nicely, but I want you to check over what has been done.”

Together we went to the shop; and after inspecting the work, I told Fal Sivas that I wanted to go to the motor room of the ship to take some measurements.

He accompanied me, and together we entered the hull. When I had completed my investigation I sought an excuse to remain longer in the hangar, as there was half-formed in my mind a plan that would necessitate more intimate knowledge of the room in the event that I found it necessary or feasible to carry out my designs.

In pretended admiration of the ship, I walked all around it, viewing it from every angle; and at the same time viewing the hangar from every angle. My particular attention was riveted upon the great doorway through which the ship was to eventually pass out of the building. I saw how the doors were constructed and how they were secured; and when I had done that, I lost interest in the ship for the time being at least.

I spent the balance of the day in the shop with the mechanics, and that night found me again in the eating-place on the Avenue of Warriors.

Rapas was not there. I ordered my meal and had nearly finished it, though I was eating very slowly; and still he had not come. Still I loitered on, as I was very anxious to see him tonight.

But at last, when I had about given him up, he came.

It was evident that he was very nervous, and he appeared even more sly and furtive than ordinarily.

“Kaor!” I said, as he approached the table; “you are late tonight.”

“Yes,” he said; “I was detained.”

He ordered his meal and fidgeted about, uneasily.

“Did you reach home last night all right?” he said.

“Why, yes, of course.”

“I was a little bit worried about you,” he said. “I heard that a man was killed on the very avenue through which you must have passed.”

“Is that so?” I exclaimed. “It must have happened after I had passed by.”

“It is very strange,” he said; “it was one of Ur Jan’s assassins, and again he had the mark of John Carter upon his breast.”

He was eyeing me very suspiciously, but I could see that he was afraid even to voice what was in his mind. In fact, I think it frightened him even to entertain the thought.

“Ur Jan is certain now that John Carter, himself, is in the city.”

“Well,” I said, “why be so upset about it? I am sure that it does not concern either you or me.”


Swords of Mars - Contents    |     Chapter IX - On the Balcony


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