Swords of Mars

Chapter XVIII

Condemned To Death

Edgar Rice Burroughs

YOUTH adapts itself easily to new conditions and learns quickly; and, though only my Creator knows how old I am, I still retain the characteristics of youth.

Aided by this fact, as well as by a sincere desire to avail myself of every means of self-preservation, I learned the language of my companion quickly and easily.

The monotony of the days that followed my capture was thus broken, and time did not hang so heavily upon my hands as it would otherwise.

I shall never forget the elation that I felt when I realized that my cell-mate and myself were at last able to communicate our thoughts to one another, but even before that time arrived we had learned one another’s name. His was Umka.

The very first day that I discovered that I could express myself well enough for him to understand me, I asked him who it was that held us prisoners.

“The Tarids,” he replied.

“What are they?” I asked. “What do they look like? Why do we never see them?”

“I do see them,” he replied. “Don’t you?”

“No; what do they look like?”

“They look very much like you,” he replied; “at least they are the same sort of creature. They have two eyes and a nose and only one mouth, and their ears are big things stuck on the sides of their heads like yours. They are not beautiful like we Masenas.”

“But why do I not see them?” I demanded.

“You don’t know how,” he replied. “If you knew how, you could see them as plainly as I do.”

“I should like very much to see them,” I told him. “Can you tell me how I may do so?”

“I can tell you,” he said, “but that does not mean that you will be able to see them. Whether you do or not will depend upon your own mental ability. The reason you do not see them is because by the power of their own minds they have willed that you shall not see them. If you can free your mind of this inhibition, you can see them as plainly as you see me.”

“But I don’t know just how to go about it.”

“You must direct your mind upon theirs in an effort to overcome their wish by a wish of your own. They wish that you should not see them. You must wish that you should see them. They were easily successful with you, because, not expecting such a thing, your mind had set up no defense mechanism against it. Now you have the advantage upon your side, because they have willed an unnatural condition, whereas you will have nature’s forces behind you, against which, if your mind is sufficiently powerful, they can erect no adequate mental barrier.”

Well, it sounded simple enough; but I am no hypnotist, and naturally I had considerable doubt as to my ability along these lines.

When I explained this to Umka, he growled impatiently.

“You can never succeed,” he said, “if you harbor such doubts. Put them aside. Believe that you will succeed, and you will have a very much greater chance for success.”

“But how can I hope to accomplish anything when I cannot see them?” I asked.

“And even if I could see them, aside from a brief moment that the door is open when food is brought us, I have no opportunity to see them.”

“That is not necessary,” he replied. “You think of your friends, do you not, although you cannot see them now?”

“Yes, of course, I think of them; but what has that to do with it?”

“It merely shows that your thoughts can travel anywhere. Direct your thoughts, therefore, upon these Tarids. You know that the castle is full of them, because I have told you so. Just direct your mind upon the minds of all the inhabitants of the castle, and your thoughts will reach them all even though they may not be cognizant of it.”

“Well, here goes,” I said; “wish me luck.”

“It may take some time,” he explained. “It was a long time after I learned the secret before I could pierce their invisibility.”

I set my mind at once upon the task before me, and kept it there when it was not otherwise occupied; but Umka was a loquacious creature; and having long been denied an opportunity for speech, he was now making up for lost time.

He asked me many questions about myself and the land from which I came, and seemed surprised to think that there were living creatures upon the great world that he saw floating in the night sky.

He told me that his people, the Masenas, lived in the forest in houses built high among the trees. They were not a numerous people, and so they sought districts far from the other inhabitants of Thuria.

The Tarids, he said, had once, been a powerful people; but they had been overcome in war by another nation and almost exterminated.

Their enemies still hunted them down, and there would long since have been none of them left had not one of their wisest men developed among them the hypnotic power which made it possible for them to seemingly render themselves invisible to their enemies.

“All that remain of the Tarids,” said Umka, “live here in this castle. There are about a thousand of them altogether, men, women, and children.

“Hiding here, in this remote part of the world, in an effort to escape their enemies, they feel that all other creatures are their foes. Whoever comes to the castle of the Tarids is an enemy to be destroyed.”

“They will destroy us, you think?” I asked.

“Certainly,” he replied.

“But when, and how?” I demanded.

“They are governed by some strange belief,” explained Umka; “I do not understand it, but every important act in their lives is regulated by it. They say that they are guided by the sun and the moon and the stars.

“It is all very foolish, but they will not kill us until the sun tells them to, and then they will not kill us for their own pleasure but because they believe that it will make the sun happy.”

“You think, then, that my friends, who are also prisoners here, are still alive and safe?”

“I don’t know, but I think so,” he replied. “The fact that you are alive indicates that they have not sacrificed the others, for I know it is usually their custom to save their captives and destroy them all in a single ceremony.”

“Will they destroy you at the same time?”

“I think they will.”

“And you are resigned to your fate, or would you escape if you could?”

“I should certainly escape, if I had the chance,” he replied; “but I shall not have the chance; neither will you.”

“If I could only see these people and talk to them,” I said, “I might find the way whereby we could escape. I might even convince them that I and my friends are not their enemies, and persuade them to treat us as friends. But what can I do? I cannot see them; and even if I could see them, I could not hear them. The obstacles seem insuperable.”

“If you can succeed in overcoming the suggestion of their invisibility which they have implanted in your mind,” said Umka, “you can also overcome the other suggestion which renders them inaudible to you. Have you been making any efforts along these lines?”

“Yes; I am almost constantly endeavoring to throw off the hypnotic spell.”

Each day, near noon, our single meal was served to us. It was always the same.

We each received a large jar of water, I a bowl of food, and Umka a cage containing one of the strange bird-like animals which apparently formed his sole diet.

After Umka had explained how I might overcome the hypnotic spell that had been placed upon me and thus be able to see and hear my captors, I had daily placed myself in a position where, when the door was opened to permit our food to be placed within the room, I could see out and discover if the Tarid who brought our food to us was visible to me.

It was always with a disheartening sense of frustration that I saw the receptacles containing the food and water placed upon the floor just inside the door by invisible hands.

Hopeless as my efforts seemed, I still persisted in them, hoping stubbornly against hope.

I was sitting one day thinking of the hopelessness of Dejah Thoris’s situation, when I heard the sound of footsteps in the corridor beyond our door and the scraping of metal against metal, such as the metal of a warrior makes when it scrapes against the buckles of his harness and against his other weapons.

These were the first sounds that I had heard, other than those made by Umka and myself—the first signs of life within the great castle of the Tarids since I had been made a captive there. The inferences to be drawn from these sounds were so momentous that I scarcely breathed as I waited for the door to open.

I was standing where I could look directly out into the corridor when the door was opened.

I heard the lock click. Slowly the door swung in upon its hinges; and there, distinctly visible, were two men of flesh and blood. In conformation they were quite human. Their skins were very fair and white, and in strange contrast were their blue hair and blue eyebrows. They wore short close-fitting skirts of heavy gold mesh and breastplates similarly fabricated of gold. For weapons, each wore a long sword and a dagger. Their features were strong, their expressions stern and somewhat forbidding.

I noted all these things in the few moments that the door remained open. I saw both men glance at me and at Umka, and I was quite sure that neither of them was aware of the fact that they were quite visible to me. Had they known it, I am sure that their facial expressions would have betrayed the fact.

I was tremendously delighted to find that I had been able to throw off the strange spell that had been cast upon me; and after they had gone, I told Umka that I had been able to both see and hear them.

He asked me to describe them; and when I had done so, he agreed that I had told the truth.

“Sometimes people imagine things,” he said, in explanation of his seeming doubt as to my veracity.

The next day, in the middle of the forenoon, I heard a considerable commotion in the corridor and on the stairway leading to our prison. Presently the door was opened and fully twenty-five men filed into the room.

As I saw them, a plan occurred to me that I thought might possibly give me an advantage over these people if an opportunity to escape presented itself later on; and therefore I pretended that I did not see them. When looking in their direction, I focused my eyes beyond them; but to lessen the difficulty of this playacting I sought to concentrate my attention on Umka, whom they knew to be visible to me.

I regretted that I had not thought of this plan before, in time to have explained it to Umka, for it was very possible that he might inadvertently betray the fact that the Tarids were no longer invisible to me.

Twelve of the men came close to me, just out of reach. One man stood near the door and issued commands; the others approached Umka, ordering him to place his hands behind his back.

Umka backed away and looked questioningly at me. I could see that he was wondering if we might not make a break for liberty.

I tried to look as though I were unaware of the presence of the warriors. I did not wish them to know that I could see them. Looking blankly past them, I turned indifferently around until my back was toward them and I faced Umka; then I winked at him.

I prayed to God that if he didn’t know what a wink was some miracle would enlighten him in this instance. As an added precaution, I placed a finger against my lips, enjoining silence.

Umka looked dumb, and fortunately he remained dumb.

“Half of you get the Masena,” ordered the officer in charge of the detachment; “the rest of you take the black-haired one. As you can see, he does not know that we are in the room; so he may be surprised and struggle when you touch him. Seize him firmly.”

I guess Umka must have thought that I was again under the influence of the hypnotic spell, for he was looking at me blankly when the warriors surrounded and took him in hand.

Then twelve of them leaped upon me. I might have put up a fight, but I saw nothing to be gained by doing so. As a matter of fact, I was anxious to leave this room. I could accomplish nothing while I remained in it; but once out, some whim of Fate might present an opportunity to me; so I did not struggle much, but pretended that I was startled when they seized me.

They then led us from the room and down the long series of stairways up which I had climbed weeks before and finally into the same great throne room through which Zanda, Jat Or, and I had been conducted the morning of our capture. But what a different scene it presented now that I had cast off the hypnotic spell under which I had labored at that time.

No longer was the great room empty, no longer the two throne chairs untenanted; instead the audience chamber was a mass of light and color and humanity.

Men, women, and children lined the wide aisle down which Umka and I were escorted toward the dais upon which stood the two throne chairs. Between solid ranks of warriors, resplendent in gorgeous trappings, our escort marched us to a little open space before the throne.

Congregated there under guard, their hands bound, were Jat Or, Zanda, Ur Jan, another whom I knew must be Gar Nal, and my beloved princess, Dejah Thoris.

“My chieftain!” she exclaimed. “Fate is a little kind in that she has permitted me to see you once again before we die.”

“We still live,” I reminded her, and she smiled as she recognized this, my long-time challenge to whatever malign fate might seem to threaten me.

Ur Jan’s expression revealed his surprise when his eyes fell upon me. “You!” he exclaimed.

“Yes, I, Ur Jan.”

“What are you doing here?”

“One of the pleasures of the trip I am to be robbed of by our captors,” I replied.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“The pleasure of killing you, Ur Jan,” I replied.

He nodded understandingly, with a wry smile.

My attention was now attracted to the man on the throne. He was demanding that we be silent.

He was a very fat man, with an arrogant expression; and I noted in him those signs of age that are so seldom apparent among the red men of Barsoom. I had also noted similar indications of age among other members of the throng that filled the audience chamber, a fact which indicated that these people did not enjoy the almost perpetual youth of the Martians.

Occupying the throne at the man’s side was a young and very beautiful woman. She was gazing at me dreamily through the heavy lashes of her half-closed lids. I could only assume that the woman’s attention was attracted to me because of the fact that my skin differed in color from that of my companions as, after leaving Zodanga, I had removed the disguising pigment.

“Splendid!” she whispered, languidly.

“What is that?” demanded the man. “What is splendid?”

She looked up with a start, as one awakened from a dream. “Oh!” she exclaimed nervously; “I said that it would be splendid if you could make them keep still; but how can you if we are invisible and inaudible to them, unless,” she shrugged, “you silence them with the sword.”

“You know, Ozara,” demurred the man, “that we are saving them for the Fire God—we may not kill them now.”

The woman shrugged. “Why kill them at all?” she asked. “They look like intelligent creatures. It might be interesting to preserve them.”

I turned to my companions. “Can any of you see or hear anything that is going on in this room?” I asked.

“Except for ourselves, I can see no one and hear no one,” said Gar Nal, and the others answered similarly.

“We are all the victims of a form of hypnosis,” I explained, “which makes it impossible for us either to see or hear our captors. By the exercise of the powers of your own minds you can free yourselves from this condition. It is not difficult. I succeeded in doing it. If the rest of you are also successful, our chances of escape will be much better, if an opportunity to escape arises.

“Believing that they are invisible to us, they will never be on their guard against us. As a matter of fact, I could, this moment, snatch a sword from the fellow at my side and kill the Jeddak and his Jeddara upon their thrones before anyone could prevent me.”

“We cannot work together,” said Gar Nal, “while half of us have it in our hearts to kill the other half.”

“Let us call a truce on our own quarrels, then,” I said, “until we have escaped from these people.”

“That is fair,” said Gar Nal.

“Do you agree?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“And you, Ur Jan?” I asked.

“It suits me,” said the assassin of Zodanga.

“And you?” demanded Gar Nal, looking at Jat Or.

“Whatever the—Vandor commands, I shall do,” replied the padwar.

Ur Jan bestowed a quick glance of sudden comprehension upon me. “Ah,” he exclaimed; “so you are also Vandor. Now I understand much that I did not understand before. Did that rat of a Rapas know?”

I ignored his question. “And now,” I said, “let us raise our hands and swear to abide by this truce until we have all escaped from the Tarids and, further, that each of us will do all in his power to save the others.”

Gar Nal, Ur Jan, Jat Or, and I raised our hands to swear.

“The women, too,” said Ur Jan; and then Dejah Thoris and Zanda raised their hands, and thus we six swore to fight for one another to the death until we should be free from these enemies.

It was a strange situation, for I had been commissioned to kill Gar Nal; and Ur Jan had sworn to kill me, while I was intent upon killing him; and Zanda, who hated them both, was but awaiting the opportunity to destroy me when she should learn my identity.

“Come, come,” exclaimed the fat man on the throne, irritably, “what are they jabbering about in that strange language? We must silence them; we did not bring them here to listen to them.”

“Remove the spell from them,” suggested the girl he had called Ozara. “Let them see and hear us. There are only four men among them; they cannot harm us.”

“They shall see us and they shall hear us when they are led out to die,” replied the man, “and not before.”

“I have an idea that the light-skinned man among them can see us and hear us now,” said the girl.

“What makes you think so?” demanded the man.

“I sense it when his eyes rest upon mine,” she replied dreamily. “Then, too, when you speak, Ul Vas, his eyes travel to your face; and when I speak, they return to mine. He hears us, Ul Vas, and he sees us.”

I was indeed looking at the woman as she spoke, and now I realized that I might have difficulty in carrying on my deception; but this time, when the man she had called Ul Vas replied to her, I focused my eyes beyond the girl and did not look at him.

“It is impossible,” he said. “He can neither see nor hear us.” Then he looked down at the officer in command of the detachment that had brought us from our cells to the audience chamber. “Zamak,” he demanded, “what do you think? Can this creature either see or hear us?”

“I think not, All-highest,” replied the man. “When we went to fetch him, he asked this Masena, who was imprisoned with him, if there were anyone in the room, although twenty-five of us were all about him.”

“I thought you were wrong,” said Ul Vas to his jeddara; “you are always imagining things.”

The girl shrugged her shapely shoulders and turned away with a bored yawn, but presently her eyes came back to me; and though I tried not to meet them squarely thereafter, I was aware during all the rest of the time that I was in the audience chamber that she was watching me.

“Let us proceed,” said Ul Vas.

Thereupon an old man stepped to the front and placed himself directly before the throne. “All-highest,” he intoned in a sing-song voice, “the day is good, the occasion is good, the time has come. We bring before you, most august son of the Fire God, seven enemies of the Tarids. Through you, your father speaks, letting his people know his wishes. You have talked with the Fire God, your father. Tell us, All-highest, if these offerings look good in his eyes; make known to us his wishes, almighty one.”

Ever since we had come into the audience chamber, Ul Vas had been inspecting us carefully; and especially had his attention been centered upon Dejah Thoris and Zanda. Now he cleared his throat.

“My father, the Fire God, wishes to know who these enemies are,” he said.

“One of them,” replied the old man who had spoken before, and whom I took to be a priest, “is a Masena that your warriors captured while he was hunting outside our walls. The other six are strange creatures. We know not from whence they came. They arrived in two unheard-of contraptions that moved through the air like birds, though they had no wings. In each of these were two men and a woman.

“They alighted inside our walls; but from whence they came or why, we do not know, though doubtless it was their intention to do us harm, as is the intention of all men who come to the castle of the Tarids. As you will note, All-highest, five of these six have red skins, while the sixth had a skin only a little darker than our own. He seems to be of a different race, with his white skin, his black hair, and his grey eyes. These things we know and nothing more. We await the wishes of the Fire God from the lips of his son, Ul Vas.”

The man on the throne pursed his lips, as though in thought, while his eyes travelled again along the line of prisoners facing him, lingering long upon Dejah Thoris and Zanda. Presently, he spoke.

“My father, the Fire God, demands that the Masena and the four strange men be destroyed in his honor at this same hour, after he has encircled Ladan seven times.”

There were a few moments of expectant silence after he had ceased speaking—a silence that was finally broken by the old priest.

“And the women, All-highest?” he asked; “what are the wishes of the Fire God, your father, in relation to them?”

“The Fire God, to show his great love,” replied the jeddak, “has presented the two women to his son, Ul Vas to do with as he chooses.”

Swords of Mars - Contents    |     Chapter XIX - Ozara

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