“Of course,” he said, “it is nothing to me; but Ur Jan is furious. He has offered an immense reward for the positive identification of the man who killed Uldak and Povak. Tonight he meets with his principal lieutenants to perfect the details of a plan which, they believe, will definitely and for all time end the activities of John Carter against the guild of assassins. They—”
He stopped suddenly, and his eyes registered a combination of suspicion and terror. It was as though for a moment his stupid mind had forgotten the suspicion that it had held that I might be John Carter and then, after exposing some of the secrets of his master, he had recalled the fact and was terrified.
“You seem to know a great deal about Ur Jan,” I remarked, casually. “One would think that you are a full-fledged member of his guild.”
For a moment he was confused. He cleared his throat several times as though about to speak, but evidently he could not think of anything to say, nor could his eyes hold steadily to mine. I enjoyed his discomfiture greatly.
“No,” he disclaimed, presently; “it is nothing like that. These are merely things that I have heard upon the street. They are merely gossip. It is not strange that I should repeat them to a friend.”
Friend! The idea was most amusing. I knew that Rapas was now a creature of Ur Jan’s and that, with his fellows, he had been commissioned to kill me; and I had been commissioned by Fal Sivas to kill Rapas; yet here we were, dining and gossiping together. It was a most amusing situation.
As our meal drew to an end, two villainous-looking fellows entered and seated themselves at a table. No sign passed between them and Rapas, but I recognized them both and knew why they were there. I had seen them both at the meeting of the assassins, and I seldom forget a face. Their presence was a compliment to me and an admission that Ur Jan realized that it would take more than one swordsman to account for me.
I should have been glad to put my mark upon their breasts, but I knew that if I killed them, the suspicion that Ur Jan harbored that I might be John Carter would be definitely confirmed. The killing of Uldak and Povak and the marking of their breasts with the sign of the Warlord might have been a coincidence; but if two more men, sent to destroy me, met a similar fate, no doubt could remain even in a stupid mind but that all four had come to their end at the hands of John Carter himself.
The men had but scarcely seated themselves when I arose. “I must be getting along, Rapas,” I said; “I have some important work to do tonight. I hope you will forgive me for running off like this, but perhaps I shall see you again tomorrow night.”
He tried to detain me. “Don’t hurry away,” he exclaimed; “wait just a few moments. There are a number of things I should like to talk to you about.”
“They will have to wait until tomorrow,” I told him. “May you sleep well, Rapas,” and with that I turned and left the building.
I went only a short distance along the avenue in the opposite direction to that which led toward the house of Fal Sivas. I concealed myself in the shadows of a doorway then and waited, nor had I long to wait before the two assassins emerged and hurried off in the direction in which they supposed I had gone. A moment or two later Rapas came out of the building. He hesitated momentarily and then he started walking slowly in the direction taken by the assassins.
When all three were out of sight, I came from my hiding-place and went at once to the building on the top of which my flier was stored.
The proprietor was puttering around one of the hangars when I came onto the roof. I could have wished him elsewhere, as I did not particularly care to have my comings and goings known.
“I don’t see much of you,” he said.
“No,” I replied; “I have been very busy.” I continued in the direction of the hangar where my ship was stored.
“Going to take your flier out tonight?” he asked.
“Watch out for the patrol boats,” he said, “if you are on any business you wouldn’t want the authorities to know about. They have been awfully busy the last couple of nights.”
I didn’t know whether he was just giving me a friendly tip, or if he were trying to get some information from me. There are many organizations, including the government, that employ secret agents. For aught I knew, the fellow might be a member of the assassins’ guild.
“Well,” I said, “I hope the police don’t follow me tonight.” He pricked up his ears. “I don’t need any help; and, incidentally, she is extremely good-looking.”
I winked at him and nudged him with my elbow as I passed, in a fashion that I thought his low mentality would grasp. And it did.
He laughed and slapped me on the back. “I guess you’re worried more about her father than you are the police,” he said.
“Say,” he called after me, as I was climbing to the deck of my flier, “ain’t she got a sister?”
As I slipped silently out over the city, I heard the hangar man laughing at his own witticism; and I knew that if he had had any suspicions I had lulled them.
It was quite dark, neither moon being in the heavens; but this very fact would make me all the more noticeable to patrol boats above me when I was passing over the more brilliantly lighted portions of the city, and so I quickly sought dark avenues and flew low among the dense shadows of the buildings.
It was a matter of only a few minutes before I reached my destination and dropped my flier gently to the roof of the building that housed the headquarters of the assassins’ guild of Zodanga.
Rapas’ statement that Ur Jan and his lieutenants were perfecting a plan aimed at my activities against them was the magnet that had lured me here this night.
I had decided that I would not again attempt to use the anteroom off their meeting-place, as not only was the way to it fraught with too much danger but even were I to safely reach the shadowed niche behind the cupboard, I still would be unable to hear anything of their proceedings through the closed door.
I had another plan, and this I put into immediate execution.
I brought my flier to rest at the edge of the roof directly above the room in which the assassins met; then I made a rope fast to one of the rings in her gunwale.
Lying on my belly, I looked over the edge of the roof to make sure of my position and found that I had gauged it to a nicety. Directly below me was the edge of a balcony before a lighted window. My rope hung slightly to one side of the window where it was not visible to those within the room.
Carefully I set the controls of my ship and then tied the end of a light cord to the starting lever. These matters attended to, I grasped the rope and slipped over the eaves of the roof, carrying the light cord in one hand.
I descended quietly, as I had left my weapons on my flier lest they clank against one another or scrape against the side of the building as I descended and thus attract attention to me.
Very cautiously I descended; and when I had come opposite the window, I found that I could reach out with one hand and grasp the rail of the balcony. I drew myself slowly to it and into a position where I could stand securely.
Shortly after I had dropped below the edge of the roof, I had heard voices; and now that I was close to the window, I was delighted to discover that it was open and that I could hear quite well nearly all that was going on within the room. I recognized Ur Jan’s voice. He was speaking as I drew myself to the balcony.
“Even if we get him tonight,” he said, “and he is the man I think he is, we can still collect ransom from the girl’s father or grandfather.”
“And it should be a fat ransom,” said another voice.
“All that a great ship will carry,” replied Ur Jan, “and with it a promise of immunity for all the assassins of Zodanga and their promise that they will not persecute us further.”
I could not but wonder whom they were plotting against now—probably some wealthy noble; but what connection there was between my death and the kidnaping of the girl, I could not fathom, unless, perhaps, they were not speaking of me at all but of another.
At this point, I heard a rapping sound and Ur Jan’s voice saying, “Come in.”
I heard a door open and the sound of men entering the room.
“Ah,” exclaimed Ur Jan, clapping his hands together, “you got him tonight! Two of you were too many for him, eh?”
“We did not get him,” replied a surly voice.
“What?” demanded Ur Jan. “Did he not come to the eating-place tonight?”
“He was there all right,” said another voice, which I recognized instantly as that of Rapas. “I had him there, as I promised.”
“Well, why didn’t you get him?” demanded Ur Jan angrily.
“When he left the eating-place,” explained one of the other men, “we followed him immediately; but he had disappeared when we reached the avenue. He was nowhere in sight; and though we walked rapidly all the way to the house of Fal Sivas, we saw nothing of him.”
“Was he suspicious?” asked Ur Jan. “Do you think that he guessed that you had come there for him?”
“No, I am sure he did not. He did not seem to notice us at all. I did not even see him look at us.”
“I cannot understand how he disappeared so quickly,” said Rapas, “but we can get him tomorrow night. He has promised to meet me there then.”
“Listen,” said Ur Jan; “you must not fail me tomorrow. I am sure that this man is John Carter. After all, though, I am glad that we did not kill him. I have just thought of a better plan. I will send four of you tomorrow night to wait near the house of Fal Sivas. I want you to take John Carter alive and bring him to me. With him alive, we can collect two shiploads of treasure for his princess.”
“And then we will have to hide in the pits of Zodanga all the rest of our lives,” demurred one of the assassins.
Ur Jan laughed. “After we collect the ransom, John Carter will never bother us again,” he said.
“I am an assassin, am I not?” demanded Ur Jan. “Do you think that an assassin will let a dangerous enemy live?”
Now I understood the connection between my death and the abduction of the girl they had mentioned. She was none other than my divine princess, Dejah Thoris.
From Mors Kajak, Tardos Mors, and myself, the scoundrels expected to collect two shiploads of ransom; and they well knew, and I knew, that they had not figured amiss. We three would gladly have exchanged many shiploads of treasure for the safety of the incomparable Princess of Helium.
I realized now that I must return immediately to Helium and insure the safety of my princess, but I lingered there on the balcony a moment longer listening to the plans of the conspirators.
“But,” objected one of Ur Jan’s lieutenants, “even if you succeed in getting Dejah Thoris—”
“There is no ‘even’ about it,” snapped Ur Jan. “It is already as good as accomplished. I have been preparing for this for a long time. I have done it very secretly so that there would be no leak; but now that we are ready to strike, it makes no difference. I can tell you that two of my men are guards in the palace of the princess, Dejah Thoris.”
“Well, granted that you can get her,” objected the former speaker skeptically, “where can you hide her? Where, upon all Barsoom, can you hide the Princess of Helium from the great Tardos Mors, even if you are successful in putting John Carter out of the way?”
“I shall not hide her on Barsoom,” replied Ur Jan.
“What, not upon Barsoom? Where, then?”
“Thuria,” replied Ur Jan.
“Thuria!” The speaker laughed. “You will hide her on the nearer moon. That is good, Ur Jan. That would be a splendid hiding-place—if you could get her there.”
“I can get her there all right. I am not acquainted with Gar Nal for nothing.”
“Oh, you mean that fool ship he is working on? The one in which he expects to go visiting around among the planets? You don’t think that thing will work, even after he gets it finished, do you—if he ever does get it finished?”
“It is finished,” replied Ur Jan, “and it will fly to Thuria.”
“Well, even if it will, we do not know how to run it.”
“Gar Nal will run it for us. He needs a vast amount of treasure to complete other boats, and for a share of the ransom he has agreed to pilot the ship for us.”
Now, indeed, I realized all too well how carefully Ur Jan had made his plans and how great was the danger to my princess. Any day now they might succeed in abducting Dejah Thoris, and I knew that it would not be impossible with two traitors in her guard.
I decided that I could not waste another moment. I must leave for Helium at once, and then Fate intervened and nearly made an end of me.
As I started to climb the rope and swung away from the balcony, a part of my harness caught upon one of its iron ornaments; and when I attempted to disengage it, the thing broke loose and fell upon the balcony.
“What was that?” I heard Ur Jan’s voice demand, and then I heard footsteps coming toward the window. They came fast, and an instant later the figure of Ur Jan loomed before me “A spy,” he yelled, and leaped onto the balcony.