Swords of Mars

Chapter XX

We Attempt Escape

Edgar Rice Burroughs


OZARA may have overestimated my intelligence, but she underestimated my caution.

I could not admit that I understood the inference that I was supposed to draw from what she had said to me. As a matter of fact, the implication was so preposterous that at first I was inclined to believe that it was a ruse intended to trap me into some sort of an admission of ulterior designs upon her people, after she had wholly won my confidence; and so I sought to ignore the possible confession in her final statement by appearing to be dumbfounded by her first statement, which really was a surprise to me.

“You, a prisoner?” I demanded. “I thought that you were the Jeddara of the Tarids.”

“I am,” she said, “but I am no less a prisoner.”

“But are not these your people?” I asked.

“No,” she replied; “I am a Domnian. My country, Domnia, lies far away across the mountains that lie beyond the forest that surrounds the castle of Ul Vas.”

“And your people married you to Ul Vas, Jeddak of the Tarids?” I asked.

“No,” she replied; “he stole me from them. My people do not know what has become of me. They would never willingly have sent me to the court of Ul Vas, nor would I remain here, could I escape. Ul Vas is a beast. He changes his jeddaras often. His agents are constantly searching other countries for beautiful young women.

“When they find one more beautiful than I, I shall go the way of my predecessors; but I think that he has found one to his liking already, and that my days are numbered.”

“You think that his agents have found another more beautiful than you?” I asked; “it seems incredible.”

“Thank you for the compliment,” she said “but his agents have not found another more beautiful than I. Ul Vas has found her himself. In the audience chamber, did you not see him looking at your beautiful compatriot? He could scarcely keep his eyes from her, and you will recall that her life was spared.”

“So was the life of the girl, Zanda,” I reminded her. “Is he going to take her also to be his jeddara?”

“No, he may only have one at a time,” replied Ozara. “The girl whom you call Zanda is for the High Priest. It is thus that Ul Vas propitiates the gods.”

“If he takes this other woman,” I said, “she will kill him.”

“But that will not help me,” said Ozara.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because while one jeddara lives, he cannot take another,” she explained.

“You will be destroyed?” I asked.

“I shall disappear,” she replied. “Strange things happen in the castle of Ul Vas, strange and terrible things.”

“I commence to understand why you sent for me,” I said; “you would like to escape; and you think if you can help us to escape, we will take you with us.”

“You are commencing to understand at least a part of my reasons,” she said. “The rest,” she added, “I shall see that you learn in time.”

“You think there is a chance for us to escape?” I asked.

“Just a bare chance,” she said; “but inasmuch as we are to die anyway, there is no chance that we may not take.”

“Have you any plans?”

“We might escape in the ship, the one that is still in the courtyard.”

Now I was interested. “One of the ships is still in the courtyard?” I demanded.

“Only one? They have not destroyed it?”

“They would have destroyed it, but they are afraid of it; they are afraid to go near it. When you were captured, two of Ul Vas’s warriors entered one of the ships, whereupon it immediately flew away with them. It did not fly away before the first one who had entered it had called back to his companion that it was deserted. Now they think that these ships are under a magic spell, and they will not go near the one that lies in the courtyard.”

“Do you know what became of the other ship?” I asked. “Do you know where it went?”

“It lies in the sky, far above the castle. It just floats there, as though it were waiting—waiting for something, we know not what. Ul Vas is afraid of it.

“That is one reason why you have not been destroyed before. He was waiting to see what the ship would do; and he was also waiting to screw up his courage to a point where he might order your destruction, for Ul Vas is a great coward.”

“Then you think that there is a chance of our reaching the ship?” I asked.

“There is a chance,” she said. “I can hide you here in my apartment until nightfall, and the castle sleeps. Then if we can pass the guard at the outer doorway and reach the courtyard, we should succeed. It is worth trying, but you may have to fight your way past the guard. Are you skilled with the sword?”

“I think that I can give a good account of myself,” I replied, “but how are we to get the rest of my party into the courtyard?”

“Only you and I are going,” she said.

I shook my head. “I cannot go unless all my people go with me.”

She eyed me with sudden suspicion. “Why not?” she demanded. “You are in love with one of those women; you will not go without her.” Her tone was tinged with resentment; it was the speech of a jealous woman.

If I were to effect the escape of the others, and especially of Dejah Thoris, I must not let her know the truth; so I thought quickly, and two good reasons occurred to me why she and I could not depart alone.

“It is a point of honor in the country from which I come,” I told her, “that a man never deserts his comrades. For that reason, I could not, in honor, leave without them; but there is another even more potent reason.”

“What is that?” she asked.

“The ship that remains in the courtyard belongs to my enemies, the two men who abducted the princess from my country. My ship is the one that floats above the castle. I know nothing at all about the mechanism of their ship. Even if we succeeded in reaching it I could not operate it.”

She studied this problem for a while, and then she looked up at me. “I wonder if you are telling me the truth,” she said.

“Your life depends upon your believing me,” I replied, “and so does mine, and so do the lives of all my companions.”

She considered this in silence for a moment, and then with a gesture of impatience she said, “I do not know how we can get your friends out into the courtyard and to the ship.”

“I think I know how we may escape,” I said, “if you will help us.”

“How is that?” she demanded.

“If you can get me tools with which we can cut the bars to the windows of their prison cells, and also describe exactly the location of the room in which the girls are imprisoned, I am sure that I can be successful.”

“If I did these things, then you could escape without me,” she said suspiciously.

“I give you my word, Ozara, that if you do as I ask, I shall not leave without you.”

“What else do you want me to do?” she asked.

“Can you gain entrance to the room where the princess and Zanda are imprisoned?”

“Yes, I think that I can do that,” she replied, “unless Ul Vas should realize that I suspected his intention and might think that I intended to kill the women; but I am not so sure that I can get the tools with which you may cut the bars to the windows of your prison. I can get them,” she corrected herself, “but I do not know how I can get them to you.”

“If you could send some food to me, you might conceal a file or saw in the jar with the food,” I suggested.

“Just the thing!” she exclaimed; “I can send Ulah to you with a jar of food.”

“And how about the bars on the windows of the girls’ prison?” I asked.

“They are in the Diamond Tower,” she replied, “very high. There are no bars on their windows because no one could escape from the Diamond Tower in that way. There are always guards at its base, for it is the tower in which are the Jeddak’s quarters; so if you are planning on your women escaping through a window, you might as well abandon the idea at once.”

“I think not,” I replied. “If my plan works, they can escape with even greater ease from the Diamond Tower than from the courtyard.”

“But how about you and the other men of your party? Even if you are able to lower yourselves from the window of your cell, you will never be able to reach the Diamond Tower to insure our escape.”

“Leave that to me,” I said; “have confidence in me, and I think that if you do your part, we shall all be able to escape.”

“Tonight?” she asked.

“No, I think not,” I said; “we had better wait until tomorrow night, for we do not know how long it will take to sever the bars of our window. Perhaps you had better send me back now and smuggle the tools to me as soon thereafter as possible.”

She nodded. “You are right.”

“Just a moment,” I said. “How am I to know the Tower of Diamonds? How am I to find it?”

She appeared puzzled. “It is the central and loftiest tower of the castle,” she explained, “but I do not know how you will reach it without a guide and many fighting men.”

“Leave that to me, but you must help guide me to the room where the two women are imprisoned.”

“How can I do that?” she demanded.

“When you reach their room, hang a colored scarf from a window there—a red scarf.”

“How can you see that from inside the castle?” she demanded.

“Never mind; if my plan works, I shall find it. And now, please send me away.”

She struck a gong hanging near her and the slave girl, Ulah, entered the apartment. “Take the prisoner back to Zamak,” she instructed, “and have him returned to his cell.”

Ulah took me by the hand and led me from the presence of the Jeddara, through the adjoining apartment and into the corridor beyond, where Zamak and the guards were waiting. There she turned me over to the warriors who conducted me back to the room in the Turquoise Tower, where my companions were imprisoned.

Jat Or voiced an exclamation of relief when he saw me enter the room. “When they took you away, my prince, I thought that I should never see you again; but now fate is growing kinder to me. She has just given me two proofs of her returning favor—I have you back again, and when the door opened I saw the Tarids who returned with you.”

“You could see them?” I exclaimed.

“I could see them and hear them,” he replied.

“And I, too,” said Gar Nal.

“How about you, Ur Jan?” I asked, for the more of us who could see them, the better chance we would have in the event that there was any fighting during our attempt to rescue the women and escape.

Ur Jan shook his head gloomily. “I could see nothing or hear nothing,” he said.

“Don’t give up,” I urged; “you must see them. Persevere, and you shall see them.”

“Now,” I said, turning to Gar Nal, “I have some good news. Our ships are safe; yours still lies in the courtyard. They are afraid to approach it.”

“And yours?” he asked.

“It floats in the sky, high above the castle.”

“You brought others with you from Barsoom?” he asked.

“No,” I replied.

“But there must be somebody aboard the ship, or it could not get up there and remain under control.”

“There is someone aboard it,” I replied.

He looked puzzled. “But you just said that you brought no one with you,” he challenged.

“There are two Tarid warriors aboard it.”

“But how can they handle it? What can they know about the intricate mechanism of Fal Sivas’s craft?”

“They know nothing about it and cannot handle it.”

“Then how in the name of Issus did it get up there?” he demanded.

“That is something that you need not know, Gar Nal,” I told him. “The fact is, that it is there.”

“But what good will it do us, hanging up there in the sky?”

“I think that I can get it, when the time comes,” I said, although, as a matter of fact, I was not positive that I could control the ship through the mechanical brain at so great a distance. “I am not so much worried about my ship, Gar Nal, as I am about yours. We should recover it, for after we escape from this castle, our truce is off; and it would not be well for us to travel on the same ship.”

He acquiesced with a nod, but I saw his eyes narrow craftily. I wondered if that expression reflected some treacherous thought; but I passed the idea off with a mental shrug, as really it did not make much difference what Gar Nal was thinking as long as I could keep my eyes on him until I had Dejah Thoris safely aboard my own craft.

Ur Jan was sitting on a bench, glaring into space; and I knew that he was concentrating his stupid brain in an effort to cast off the hypnotic spell under which the Tarids had placed him. Umka lay curled up on a rug, purring contentedly. Jat Or stood looking out of one of the windows.

The door opened, and we all turned toward it. I saw Ulah, the Jeddara’s slave, bearing a large earthen jar of food. She set it down upon the floor inside the door, and stepping back into the corridor, closed and fastened the door after her.

I walked quickly to the jar and picked it up; and as I turned back toward the others, I saw Ur Jan standing wide-eyed staring at the door.

“What’s the matter, Ur Jan?” I asked. “You look as though you had seen a ghost.”

“I saw her!” he exclaimed. “I saw her. Ghost or no ghost, I saw her.”

“Good!” ejaculated Jat Or; “now we are all free from that damnable spell.”

“Give me a good sword,” growled Ur Jan; “and well soon be free of the castle, too.”

“We’ve got to get out of this room first,” Gar Nal reminded him.

“I think we have the means of escape here, in this jar,” I told them. “Come, we might as well eat the food, as long as we have it, and see what we find in the bottom of the jar.”

The others gathered around me, and we started to empty the jar in the most pleasurable fashion; nor had we gone deep into it before I discovered three files, and with these we immediately set to work upon the bars of one of our windows.

“Don’t cut them all the way through,” I cautioned; “just weaken three of them so that we can pull them aside when the time arrives.”

The metal of which the bars were constructed was either some element unknown upon Earth or Barsoom. or an equally mysterious alloy. It was very hard. In fact, it seemed at first that it was almost as hard as our files; but at last they commenced to bite into it, yet I saw that it was going to be a long, hard job.

We worked upon those bars all that night and all of the following day.

When slaves brought our food, two of us stood looking out of the window, our hands grasping the bars so as to cover up the evidence of our labors; and thus we succeeded in finishing the undertaking without being apprehended.

Night fell. The time was approaching when I might put to trial the one phase of my plan that was the keystone upon which the success of the entire adventure must rest. If it failed, all our work upon the bars would be set for naught, our hopes of escape practically blasted. I had not let the others know what I purposed attempting, and I did not now acquaint them with the doubts and fears that assailed me.

Ur Jan was at the window looking out. “We can pull these bars away whenever we wish,” he said, “but I do not see what good that is going to do us. If we fastened all our harnesses together, they would not reach to the castle roof below us. It looks to me as though we had had all our work for nothing.”

“Go over there and sit down,” I told him, “and keep still. All of you keep still; do not speak or move until I tell you to.”

Of them all, only Jat Or could have guessed what I purposed attempting, yet they all did as I had bid them.

Going to the window, I searched the sky; but I could see nothing of our craft.

Nevertheless, I sought to concentrate my thoughts upon the metallic brain wherever it might be. I directed it to drop down and approach the window of the tower where I stood. Never before in my life, I think, had I so concentrated my mind upon a single idea. There seemed to be a reaction that I could feel almost as definitely as when I tensed a muscle. Beads of cold sweat stood our upon my forehead.

Behind me the room was as silent as the grave; and through the open window where I stood, no sound came from the sleeping castle below me.

The slow seconds passed, dragging into a seeming eternity of time. Could it be that the brain had passed beyond the sphere of my control? Was the ship lost to me forever? These thoughts assailed me as my power of concentration weakened. My mind was swept into a mad riot of conflicting hopes and doubts, fears and sudden swift assurances of success that faded into despond as rapidly as they had grown out of nothing.

And then, across the sky I saw a great black hulk moving slowly toward me out of the night.

For just an instant the reaction left me weak; but I soon regained control of myself and pulled aside the three bars that we had cut.

The others, who had evidently been watching the window from where they either sat or stood, now pressed forward. I could hear smothered exclamations of surprise, relief, elation. Turning quickly, I cautioned them to silence.

I directed the brain to bring the ship close to the window; then I turned again to my companions.

“There are two Tarid warriors aboard her,” I said. “If they found the water and food which she carried, they are still alive; and there is no reason to believe that starving men would not find it. We must therefore prepare ourselves for a fight. Each of these men, no doubt, is armed with a long sword and a dagger. We are unarmed. We shall have to overcome them with our bare hands.”

I turned to Ur Jan. “When the door is opened, two of us must leap into the cabin simultaneously on the chance that we may take them by surprise. Will you go first with me, Ur Jan?”

He nodded and a crooked smile twisted his lips. “Yes,” he said, “and it will be a strange sight to see Ur Jan and John Carter fighting side by side.”

“At least we should put up a good fight,” I said.

“It is too bad,” he sighed, “that those two Tarids will never have the honor of knowing who killed them.”

“Jat Or, you and Gar Nal follow immediately behind Ur Jan and me.” And then, in his own language, I told Umka to board the ship immediately after Jat Or and Gar Nal. “And if the fighting is not all over,” I told him, “you will know what to do when you see the two Tarid warriors.” His upper mouth stretched in one of his strange grins, and he purred contentedly.

I stepped to the sill of the window, and Ur Jan clambered to my side. The hull of the craft was almost scraping the side of the building; the doorway was only a foot from the sill on which we stood.

“Ready, Ur Jan,” I whispered, and then I directed the brain to draw the doors aside as rapidly as possible.

Almost instantly, they sprang apart; and in the same instant Ur Jan and I sprang into the cabin. Behind us, came our three companions. In the gloom of the interior, I saw two men facing us; and without waiting to give either of them a chance to draw, I hurled myself at the legs of the nearer.

He crashed to the floor, and before he could draw his dagger I seized both his wrists and pinioned him on his back.

I did not see how Ur Jan handled his man; but a moment later, with the assistance of Jat Or and Umka, we had disarmed them both.

Ur Jan and Gar Nal wanted to kill them offhand, but that I would not listen to.

I can kill a man in a fair fight without a single qualm of conscience; but I cannot kill a defenseless man in cold blood, even though he be my enemy.

As a precautionary measure, we bound and gagged them.

“What now?” demanded Gar Nal. “How are you going to get the women?”

“First, I am going to try and get your ship,” I replied, “for even if we extend our truce, we shall stand a better chance of returning to Barsoom if we have both ships in our possession, as something might happen to one of them.”

“You are right,” he said; “and, too, I should hate to lose my ship. It is the fruit of a lifetime of thought and study and labor.”

I now caused the ship to rise and cruise away until I thought that it was out of sight of the castle. I adopted this course merely as a strategy to throw the Tarids off our track in the event that any of the guards had seen the ship maneuvering among the towers; but when we had gone some little distance, I dropped low and approached the castle again from the side where Gar Nal’s ship lay in the courtyard.

I kept very low above the trees of the forest and moved very slowly without lights. Just beyond the castle wall, I brought the ship to a stop and surveyed the courtyard just ahead and below us.

Plainly I saw the outlines of Gar Nal’s ship, but nowhere upon that side of the castle was there any sign of a guard.

This seemed almost too good to be true, and in a whisper I asked Umka if it could be possible that the castle was unguarded at night.

“There are guards within the castle all night,” he said, “and upon the outside of the Tower of Diamonds, but these are to guard Ul Vas against assassination by his own people. They do not fear that any enemy will come from beyond the walls at night, for none has ever attacked except by day. The forests of Ladan are full of wild beasts; and if a body of men were to enter them at night, the beasts would set up such a din of howling and roaring that the Tarids would be warned in ample time to defend themselves; so you see, the beasts of the forest are all the guards they need.”

Thus assured that there was no one in the courtyard, I took the ship across the wall and dropped it to the ground beside Gar Nal’s.

Quickly I gave my instructions for what was to follow. “Gar Nal,” I said, “you will go aboard your ship and pilot it, following me. We are going to the window of the room where the girls are confined. As I draw in and stop at their window, both the doors in the sides of my ship will be open. Open the door on the port side of your ship and place it alongside mine, so that if it is necessary you can cross through my ship and enter the room where the women are confined. We may need all the help that we have, if the women are well guarded.”


Swords of Mars - Contents    |     Chapter XXI - In the Tower of Diamonds


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