Swords of Mars

Chapter XXIV

Back to Barsoom

Edgar Rice Burroughs


DARK, forbidding waters closed over our heads and swirled about us as we rose to the surface; and, equally dark and forbidding, the forest frowned upon us. Even the moaning of the wind in the trees seemed an eerie warning, forbidding, threatening. Behind us, the warriors in the doorway shouted curses upon us.

I struck out for the opposite shore, holding Ozara in one arm and keeping her mouth and nose above water. She lay so limp that I thought she had fainted, nor would I have been surprised, for even a woman of the strongest fibre might weaken after having undergone what she had had to during the last two days.

But when we reached the opposite shore, she clambered out on the bank in full possession of all her faculties.

“I thought that you had swooned,” I said; “you lay so very still.”

“I do not swim,” she replied; “and I knew that if I struggled, it would hamper you.” There was even more to the erstwhile Jeddara of the Tarids than I had imagined.

“What are we going to do now, John Carter?” she asked. Her teeth were chattering from cold, or terror; and she seemed very miserable.

“You are cold,” I said; “if I can find anything dry enough to burn, we shall have a fire.”

The girl came close to me. I could feel her body trembling against mine.

“I am a little cold,” she said, “but that is nothing; I am terribly afraid.”

“But why are you afraid now, Ozara? Do you think that Ul Vas will send men after us?”

“No, it is not that,” she replied. “He couldn’t make men come into this wood at night, and even by daylight they would hesitate to venture into it on this side of the river. Tomorrow he will know that it will be useless to send after us, for tomorrow we shall be dead.”

“What makes you say that?” I demanded.

“The beasts,” she said, “the beasts that hunt through the forest by night; we cannot escape them.”

“Yet you came here willingly.”

“Ul Vas would have tortured us,” she replied; “the beasts will be more merciful. Listen! You can hear them now.”

In the distance, I heard strange grunts and then a fearsome roar.

“They are not near us,” I said.

“They will come,” she replied.

“Then I had better get a fire started; that will keep them away.”

“Do you think so?” she asked.

“I hope so.”

I knew that in any forest there must be deadwood; and so, although it was pitch dark, I commenced to search for fallen branches; and soon I had collected a little pile of these and some dry leaves.

The Tarids had not taken away my pocket pouch, and in it I still had the common Martian appliance for making fire.

“You said that the Tarids would hesitate to enter the forest on this side of the river even by day,” I remarked, as I sought to ignite the dry leaves with which I hoped to start my fire. “Why is that?”

“The Masenas,” she replied. “They often come up the river in great numbers, hunting the Tarids; and unfortunate is he whom they find outside the castle walls. It is seldom, however, that they cross to the other side of the river.”

“Why do they hunt the Tarids?” I asked. “What do they want of them?”

“Food,” she replied.

“You don’t mean to say that the Masenas eat human flesh?” I demanded.

She nodded. “Yes, they are very fond of it.”

I had succeeded in igniting the leaves, and now I busied myself placing small twigs upon my newborn fire and building it up into the semblance of something worth while.

“But I was imprisoned for a long time with one of the Masenas,” I reminded her.

“He seemed very friendly.”

“Under those circumstances, of course,” she said, “he might not try to eat you. He might even become very friendly; but if you should meet him here in the forest with his own people, you would find him very different. They are hunting beasts, like all of the other creatures, that inhabit the forest.”

My fire grew to quite a respectable size. It illuminated the forest and the surface of the river and the castle beyond.

When it blazed up and revealed us, the Tarids, called across to us, prophesying our early death.

The warmth of the fire was pleasant after our emersion from the cold water and our exposure to the chill of the forest night. Ozara came close to it, stretching her lithe, young body before it. The yellow flames illuminated her fair skin, imparted a greenish tinge to her blue hair, awakened slumberous fires in her languorous eyes.

Suddenly she tensed, her eyes widened in fright. “Look!” she whispered, and pointed.

I turned in the direction that she indicated. From the dense shadows just beyond the firelight, two blazing eyes were flaming.

“They have come for us,” said Ozara.

I picked a blazing brand from the fire and hurled it at the intruder. There was a hideous, bloodcurdling scream as the eyes disappeared.

The girl was trembling again. She cast affrighted glances in all directions.

“There is another,” she exclaimed presently, “and there, and there, and there.”

I caught a glimpse of a great body slinking in the shadows; and all about us, as I turned, I saw blazing eyes. I threw a few more brands, but the eyes disappeared for only a moment to return again almost immediately, and each time they seemed to come closer; and now, since I had cast the first brand, the beasts were roaring and growling and screaming continuously—a veritable diapason of horror.

I realized that my fire would not last long if I kept throwing it at the beasts, as I had not sufficient wood to keep it replenished.

Something must be done. I cast about me rather hopelessly in search of some avenue of escape and discovered a nearby tree that looked as though it might be easily scaled. Only such a tree would be of any advantage to us, as I had no doubt that the creatures would charge the moment that we started to climb.

I took two brands from the fire and handed them to Ozara, and then selected two for myself.

“What are we going to do?” she asked.

“We are going to try to climb that tree,” I replied. “Perhaps some of these brutes can climb, too, but we shall have to take a chance. Those I have seen look too large and heavy for climbing.

“We will walk slowly to the foot of the tree. When we are there, throw your brands at the nearest beasts; and then start to climb. When you are safely out of their reach, I will follow.”

Slowly we crossed from the fire to the tree, waving the blazing brands about us.

Here, Ozara did as I had bid her; and when she was safely out of the way, I grasped one of my brands in my teeth, hurled the other, and started to climb.

The beasts charged almost instantly, but I reached a point of safety before they could drag me down, though what with the smoke of the brand in my eyes and the sparks being scraped off against my naked hide, I was lucky to have made it at all; but I felt that we must have the light of the brand, as I did not know what arboreal enemies might be lurking in the branches above.

I immediately examined the tree, climbing to the highest branches that would support my weight. With the aid of my light, I discovered that no creature was in it, other than Ozara and myself; and high among the branches I made a happy find—an enormous nest, carefully woven and lined with soft grasses.

I was about to call down to Ozara to come up, when I saw her already ascending just below me.

When she saw the nest, she told me that it was probably one of those built by the Masenas for temporary use during a raid or expedition into this part of the forest. It was certainly a most providential find, as it afforded us a comfortable place in which to spend the remainder of the night.

It was some time before we could accustom ourselves to the noises of the beasts howling beneath us, but at last we fell asleep; and when we awoke in the morning, they had departed; and the forest was quiet.

Ozara had told me that her country, Domnia, lay across the mountains that rose beyond the forest and that it might be reached by following the river down for a considerable distance to the end of the range, where we could follow another river up to Domnia upon the opposite side.

The most remarkable feature of the following two days was the fact that we survived them. We found food in plenty; and as we were always near the river, we never suffered for lack of water; but by day and by night we were constantly in danger of attack by the roving flesh-eaters.

We always sought to save ourselves by climbing into trees, but upon three occasions we were taken by surprise; and I was forced to fall back upon my sword, which had seemed to me a most inadequate weapon of defense against some of the ferocious beasts that assailed us.

However, in these three instances, I managed to kill our attackers, although, I must confess, that it seemed to me then, and still does, wholly a matter of luck that I succeeded.

By now, Ozara was in a more sanguine frame of mind.

Having survived this long, she felt that it was entirely possible that we might live to reach Domnia, although originally she had been confident that we could not come through the first night alive.

She was often quite gay now, and she was really very good company. Especially was this true on the morning of the third day as we were making good progress toward our distant goal.

The forest seemed to be unusually quiet; and we had seen no dangerous beasts all that day, when suddenly a chorus of hideous roars arose all about us; and simultaneously a score or more of creatures dropped from the concealing foliage of the trees about us.

Ozara’s happy chatter died on her lips. “The Masenas!” she cried.

As they surrounded us and started to close in on us, their roaring ceased and they commenced to meow and purr. This, to me, seemed far more horrifying. As they came closer, I decided to make our capture cost them dearly, though I knew that eventually they would take us. I had seen Umka fight, and I knew what to expect.

Although they closed about me, they did not seem anxious to engage me. By pushing close to me on one side and then on the other, by giving away here and then there, I was forced to move about considerably; but I did not realize until it was too late that I was moving in the direction that they wished me to move and in accordance with their designs.

Presently they got me where they wanted me, beneath the branches of a great tree; and immediately a Masena dropped upon my shoulders and bore me to earth.

Simultaneously, most of the others swarmed on top of me, while a few seized Ozara; and thus they disarmed me before I could strike a blow.

There was a great amount of purring after that, and they seemed to be having some sort of a discussion; but as it was in their own language, I did not understand it. Presently, however, they started down river, dragging us along with them.

After perhaps an hour, we came to a section of the forest from which all the brushwood had been cleared. The ground beneath the trees was almost like a lawn.

The branches of the trees were trimmed to a considerable distance about the ground.

As we reached the edge of this park-like space, our captors set up a loud roaring which was presently answered from the trees we were approaching.

We were dragged to the foot of a great tree, up which several of our captors swarmed like cats.

Then came the problem of getting us up. I could see that it puzzled the Masenas, as well it might have. The hole of the tree was so large in diameter that no ordinary man could scale it, and all the branches had been cut off much higher than a man could jump. I could easily have entered it, but I did not tell them so. Ozara, however, could never have succeeded alone.

Presently, after considerable meowing and purring and not a little growling, some of those in the tree above lowered a pliant liana. One of the Masenas on the ground seized Ozara around the waist with one arm and the liana with his free hand and both his feet. Then those above hoisted this human elevator until it could find secure footing for itself and its passenger among the branches above.

In like manner, I was hoisted into the tree, where, thereafter, the climbing was easy.

We ascended only a few feet, however, before we came to a rude platform upon which was built one of the strange, arboreal houses of the Masenas.

Now, in all directions, I could see similar houses as far as my eyes could penetrate through the foliage. I could see that in some places branches had been cut and laid from tree to tree to form walk-ways between the houses. In other places there were only lianas where the Masenas must have crossed hand over hand from one tree to its neighbor.

The house into which we were now conducted was quite large and easily accommodated not only the twenty-odd men that had captured us but fully fifty more that soon congregated.

The Masenas squatted upon their haunches facing the far end of the room where sat, alone, a single male that I took to be their king.

There was a great deal of meowing and purring as they discussed us in their language, and finally I became impatient, Recalling that Umka had spoken the language of the Tarids, I thought it not at all unlikely that some of these others might; and so I addressed them in that tongue.

“Why have you captured us?” I demanded. “We are not your enemies. We were escaping from the Tarids, who are. They had us imprisoned and were about to kill us. Do any of you understand what I am saying?”

“I understand you,” replied the creature whom I took to be king. “I understand your words, but your argument is meaningless. When we leave our houses and go down into the forest we may mean harm to no creature, yet that does not protect us from the beasts of prey that feed upon the flesh of their kill. There are few arguments that would satisfactorily overcome the cravings of the belly.”

“You mean that you are going to eat us?” I demanded.

“Certainly,” he replied.

Ozara shrank closer to me. “So this is the end,” she said, “and what a horrible end! It did us no good to escape from Ul Vas.”

“We have at least had three days of freedom that we would not otherwise have had,” I reminded her; “and, anyway, we must die some time.”

The Masena king spoke to his people in their own tongue, and immediately they set up a great meowing and purring, as, with savage growls, a number of them seized Ozara and me and started to drag us toward the entrance.

They had almost reached the doorway with us when a lone Masena entered and paused before us.

“Umka!” I cried.

“John Carter!” he exclaimed. “What are you doing here, and the Jeddara of the Tarids?”

“We escaped from Ul Vas, and now we are about to be eaten by your people,” I told him.

Umka spoke to the men who were dragging us from the room; they hesitated a moment; and then they led us back before the Masena king, whom Umka addressed for several minutes.

After he had ceased, the king and others in the room carried on what appeared to be a heated discussion. When they had finished, Umka turned toward me.

“You are to be set free,” he said, “in return for what you did for me; but you must leave our country at once.”

“Nothing would suit us better,” I replied.

“Some of us are going with you to see that none of our people attack you while you are still in the land of the Masenas.”

After we had set out with our strange escort, I asked Umka to tell me what he knew of my friends.

“After we left the castle of the Tarids,” he explained, “we drifted around idly in the air for a long time. They wanted to follow the man who had taken the woman away in the other ship, but they did not know where to search. Today I looked down and saw that we were over Masena, and I asked them to put me on the ground. This they did, and they are still there for all I know, as they were taking fresh water aboard and were going to gather fruits and hunt for meat.”

It developed that the landing had been made at no great distance from where we then were, and at my request he led us to the spot.

As we approached it, the hearts of two of that party almost stopped beating, so great was the suspense. It quite easily might mean the difference between life and death for Ozara and me.

And then we saw it, the strange craft, lying in a little clearing among the trees.

Umka thought it best that he and his fellows should not approach the craft, as he might not be able to restrain them in the presence of these others whom they had not promised to protect; so we thanked him and bade him good-bye, and he and his weird companions melted into the forest.

None of the three on the ship had noticed our approach, and we were quite close to her before they discovered us. They greeted us enthusiastically as two returned from the dead. Even Ur Jan was genuinely pleased to see me.

The assassin of Zodanga was furious with Gar Nal because he had broken his oath; and now, to my astonishment, the fellow threw his sword at my feet and swore eternal fealty to me.

“Never in my life,” he said, “have I fought shoulder to shoulder with such a swordsman, and never shall it be said that I have drawn sword against him.”

I accepted his service, and then I asked them how they had been able to maneuver the ship to this point.

“Zanda was the only one who knew anything about the mechanism or its control,” explained Jat Or; “and after a little experimenting, she found that she could operate it.” He looked proudly at her, and I read much in the smile that passed between them.

“You seem none the worse off for your experiences, Zanda,” I said; “in fact, you appear very happy.”

“I am very happy, Vandor,” she replied, “happier than I ever expected to be in my life.”

She emphasized the word Vandor, and I thought that I detected a smile lurking deep in her eyes.

“Is your happiness so great,” I asked, “that it has caused you to forget your vow to kill John Carter?”

She returned my bantering smile as she replied. “I do not know anyone by the name of John Carter.”

Jat Or and Ur Jan were laughing but I could see that Ozara did not know what it was all about.

“I hope for his sake that you never meet him, Zanda,” I said, “for I am rather fond of him, and I should hate to see him killed.”

“Yes,” she said, “I should hate to kill him, for I know now that he is the bravest man and the truest friend in the world—with possibly one exception,” she added, with a sly glance at Jat Or.

We discussed our situation at length, and tried to make plans for the future, and at last we decided to act upon Ozara’s suggestion that we go to Domnia and enlist the aid of her father. From there, she thought, we might more easily conduct the search for Gar Nal and Dejah Thoris.

I shall not take up your time with an account of our journey to Ozara’s country or of the welcome that we received at the hands of her father and the strange sights that we saw in this Thurian city.

Ozara’s father is the jeddak of Domnia. He is a powerful man, with political affiliations in other cities of the nearer moon. His agents are everywhere among the peoples with whom his country has relations, either amicable or otherwise; and it was not long before word reached him that a strange object that floated in the air had become disabled and had been captured in the country of Ombra. In it were a man and a woman.

The Domnians gave us explicit directions for reaching Ombra; and, exacting a promise from us that we would return and visit them after the conclusion of our adventure, they bid us good-bye.

My parting with Ozara was rather painful. She told me quite frankly that she loved me, but that she was resigned to the fact that my heart belonged to another. She exhibited splendid strength of character then that I had not believed she possessed, and when she bid me farewell it was with the wish that I find my princess and enjoy the happiness that I deserved.

As our ship rose above Domnia, my heart was full with a sense of elation, so great was my assurance that I should soon be united with the incomparable Dejah Thoris. I was thus certain of success because of what Ozara’s father had told me of the character of the Jeddak of Ombra. He was an arrant coward, and almost any sort of a demonstration would bring him to his knees suing for peace.

Now we were in a position to make a demonstration such as the Ombrans had never witnessed; for, in common with the other inhabitants of Thuria that we had seen thus far, they were entirely ignorant of firearms.

It was my intention to fly low and make my demands for the return of Dejah Thoris and Gar Nal to me, without putting myself in the power of the Ombrans.

If they refused, which I was quite certain that they would, I intended giving them a demonstration of the effectiveness of the firearms of Barsoom through the medium of the ship’s guns that I have already described. That, I was confident, would bring the Jeddak to terms; and I hoped to accomplish it without unnecessary loss of life.

We were all quite gay as we sailed off toward Ombra. Jat Or and Zanda were planning upon the home they expected to establish in Helium, and Ur Jan was anticipating a position among the fighting men of my retinue and a life of honor and respectability.

Presently, Zanda called my attention to the fact that we were gaining considerable altitude, and complained of dizziness. Almost at the same time I felt a weakness stealing over me, and simultaneously Ur Jan collapsed.

Followed by Jat Or, I staggered to the control room, where a glance at the altimeter showed me that we had risen to dangerous heights. Instantly I directed the brain to regulate the oxygen supply in the interior of the ship, and then I directed it to drop nearer to the surface of the satellite.

It obeyed my directions insofar as the oxygen supply was concerned, but it continued to rise past the point where the altimeter could register our height.

As Thuria faded in the distance astern, I realized that we were flying at tremendous speed, a speed far in excess of that which I had directed.

It was evident that the brain was entirely out of control. There was nothing more that I could do; so I returned to the cabin. Here I found that both Zanda and Ur Jan had recovered, now that the oxygen supply had been replenished.

I told them that the ship was running wild in space and that our eventual fate could be nothing more than a matter of idle speculation— they knew as much about it as I.

My hopes, that had been so high, were now completely dashed; and the farther that we sped from Thuria, the greater became my anguish, though I hid my personal feelings from my companions.

It was not until it became apparent that we were headed for Barsoom that even hope of life was renewed in the breasts of any of us.

As we drew near the surface of the planet, it became evident to me that the ship was fully under control; and I wondered whether or not the brain itself had discovered the power of original thought, for I knew that I was not controlling it nor were any of my companions.

It was night, a very dark night. The ship was approaching a large city. I could see the lights ahead, and as we drew closer I recognized that the city was Zodanga.

As though guided by a human hand and brain, the ship slid silently across the eastern wall of the great city, dropped into the shadows of a dark avenue, and moved steadily toward its unknown destination.

But not for long was the destination to be unknown. Presently the neighborhood became familiar. We were moving very slowly. Zanda was with me in the control room, gazing through one of the forward ports.

“The house of Fal Sivas!” she exclaimed.

I recognized it, too, and then just in front of us I saw the open doors of the great hangar from which I had stolen the ship.

With the utmost precision, the ship turned slowly about until its tail pointed toward the hangar doorway. Then it backed in and settled down upon its scaffolding.

At my direction, the doors opened and the ladder dropped out to the floor; and a moment later I was searching for Fal Sivas, to demand an explanation. Ur Jan and Jat Or accompanied me with drawn swords, and Zanda followed close behind.

I went at once to Fal Sivas’s sleeping quarters. They were deserted; but as I was leaving them, I saw a note fastened beside the door. It was addressed to me.

I opened it and read the following:

    From Fal Sivas
    Of Zodanga

    To John Carter
    Of Helium

Let this be known:

You betrayed me. You stole my ship. You thought that your puny mind could best that of the great Fal Sivas.

Very well, John Carter, it shall be a duel of minds—my mind against yours.

Let us see who will win.

I am recalling the ship.

I am directing it to return from wherever it may be and at full speed. It is to allow no other brain to change its course. I am commanding it to return to its hangar and remain there forever unless it receives contrary directions from my brain.

Know you then, John Carter, when you read this note, that I, Fal Sivas, have won; and that as long as I live, no other brain than mine can ever cause my ship to move.

I might have dashed the ship to pieces against the ground and thus destroyed you; but then I could not have gloated over you, as I now shall.

Do not search for me. I am hidden where you can never find me.

I have written. That is all.

There was a grim finality about that note and a certain authority that seemed to preclude even faint hope. I was crushed.

In silence, I handed it to Jat Or and asked him to read it aloud to the others.

When he had finished it, Ur Jan drew his short sword and offered it to me hilt first.

“It is I who am the cause of your sorrow,” he said. “My life belongs to you. I offer it to you now in atonement.”

I shook my head and pushed his hand away. “You did not know what you were doing, Ur Jan,” I said.

“Perhaps it is not the end,” said Zanda. “Where can Fal Sivas hide that determined men may not find him?”

“Let us dedicate our lives to that purpose,” said Jat Or; and there, in the quarters of Fal Sivas, we four swore to hunt him down.

As we stepped out into the corridor, I saw a man approaching. He was tiptoeing stealthily in our direction. He did not see me instantly because he was casting an apprehensive glance back across his shoulder, as though fearful of discovery from that direction.

When he faced me, we were both surprised—it was Rapas the Ulsio.

At sight of Ur Jan and me standing side by side, The Rat went ashen grey. He started to turn, as though to run; but evidently he thought better of it, for he immediately faced us again, and stood staring at us as though fascinated.

As we approached him, he affected a silly grin. “Well, Vandor,” he said, “this is a surprise. I am glad to see you.”

“Yes, you must be,” I replied. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to see Fal Sivas.”

“Did you expect to find him here?” demanded Ur Jan.

“Yes,” replied Rapas.

“Then why were you sneaking in on your tiptoes?” inquired the assassin. “You are lying, Rapas. You knew that Fal Sivas was not here. If you had thought that he was here, you would not have had the nerve to come, for you knew that he knew that you were in my employ.”

Ur Jan stepped forward quickly and grasped Rapas by the throat. “Listen, you rat,” he growled; “you know where Fal Sivas is. Tell me, or I’ll wring your neck.”

The fellow commenced to grovel and whine, “Don’t, don’t; you are hurting me,” he cried. “You will kill me.”

“At least you have told the truth for once,” growled the assassin. “Quick now; out with it. Where is Fal Sivas?”

“If I tell you, will you promise not to kill me?” asked The Rat.

“We will promise you that and more,” I said; “Tel us where Fal Sivas is, and I’ll give you your weight in treasure.”

“Speak up,” said Ur Jan, giving the fellow a shake.

“Fal Sivas is in the house of Gar Nal,” whispered Rapas, “but don’t tell him that I told you; don’t tell him that I told you or he will kill me horribly.”

I did not dare turn Rapas loose for fear he would betray us, and furthermore he promised to gain entrance to Gar Nal’s for us and lead us to the room where we would find Fal Sivas.

I could not imagine what Fal Sivas was doing in the house of Gar Nal, unless he had gone there in Gar Nal’s absence in an attempt to steal some of his secrets; nor did I bother to question Rapas about it, as it did not seem of any great importance to me. It was enough that Fal Sivas was there, and that I should find him.

It was half after the eighth zode, or around midnight earth-time, that we reached Gar Nal’s. Rapas admitted us and led us to the third level of the house, up narrow ramps at the rear of the building where we met no one. We moved silently without speaking, and at last our guide halted before a door.

“He is in there,” he whispered.

“Open the door,” I said.

He tried it, but it was locked. Ur Jan pushed him aside, and then hurled his great bulk against the door. With a loud splintering of wood, it burst in. I leaped across the threshold; and there, seated at a table, I saw Fal Sivas and Gar Nal—Gar Nal, the man whom I had thought to be imprisoned in the city of Ombra on the nearer moon.

As the two men recognized Ur Jan and me, they leaped to their feet; their evil faces were studies in surprise and terror.

I sprang forward and seized Gar Nal before he could draw his sword, and Ur Jan fell upon Fal Sivas. He would have killed him offhand, but I forbade it. All that I wanted was to learn the fate of Dejah Thoris, and one of these men must know the truth concerning her. They must not die until I knew.

“What are you doing here, Gar Nal?” I demanded. “I thought that you were a prisoner in Ombra.”

“I escaped,” he replied.

“Do you know where my princess is?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

A cunning look entered his eyes. “You would like to know, wouldn’t you?” he asked with a sneer; “but do you think Gar Nal is fool enough to tell you? No, as long as I know and you don’t, you will not dare to kill me.”

“I’ll get the truth out of him,” growled Ur Jan. “Here, Rapas, heat a dagger for me. Heat it red-hot.” But when we looked around, Rapas was not there. As we had entered the room, he had made good his escape.

“Well,” said Ur Jan, “I can heat it myself; but first let me kill Fal Sivas.”

“No, no,” screamed the old inventor. “I did not steal the Princess of Helium; it was Gar Nal.”

And then the two commenced to accuse one another, and presently I discovered that after Gar Nal’s return from Thuria, these two master inventors and great scoundrels had patched up a truce and joined forces because of their mutual fear of me. Gar Nal was to hide Fal Sivas, and in return Fal Sivas was to show him the secret of his mechanical brain.

They had both been certain that the last place in the world that I would look for Fal Sivas would be in the house of Gar Nal. Gar Nal had instructed his servants to say that he had never returned from his trip with Ur Jan, giving the impression that he was still upon Thuria; and he was planning to leave that very night for a distant hiding-place.

But all this annoyed me. I did not care about them, or their plans. I wanted to know but one thing, and that was the fate of Dejah Thoris.

“Where is my princess, Gar Nal?” I demanded; “tell me that, and I will spare your life.”

“She is still in Ombra,” he replied.

Then I turned upon Fal Sivas. “That is your death warrant, Fal Sivas,” I told him.

“Why?” he demanded. “What have I to do with it?”

“You keep me from directing the brain that operates your ship, and only thus may I reach Ombra.”

Ur Jan raised his sword to cleave Fal Sivas’s skull, but the coward went down upon his knees and begged for his life.

“Spare me,” he cried, “and I will turn the ship over to you and let you control the brain.”

“I can’t trust you,” I said.

“You can take me with you,” he pleaded; “that will be better than death.”

“Very well,” I said; “but if you interfere with my plans or attempt to betray me, you shall pay for your treachery with your life.”

I turned toward the door. “I am returning to Thuria tonight,” I said to my companions. “I shall take Fal Sivas with me, and when I return with my princess (and I shall not return without her), I hope to be able to reward you in some material way for your splendid loyalty.”

“I am going with you, my prince,” said Jat Or; “and I ask for no reward.”

“And I, too, am going,” said Zanda.

“And I,” growled Ur Jan, “but first, my prince, please let me run my sword through the heart of this scoundrel,” and as he spoke he advanced upon Gar Nal.

“He should die for what he has done. He gave you his word, and he broke it.”

I shook my head. “No,” I said. “He told me where I could find my princess; and in return for that, I have guaranteed his safety.”

Grumbling, Ur Jan returned his sword to its scabbard; and then we four, with Fal Sivas, moved toward the door. The others preceded me. I was the last to pass out into the corridor; and just as I did so, I heard a door open at the opposite end of the room we were just leaving. I turned to glance back; and there, in the doorway across the room, stood Dejah Thoris.

She came toward me with arms outstretched as I ran to meet her.

She was breathing very hard and trembling as I took her in my arms. “Oh, my prince,” she cried, “I thought I should not be in time. I heard all that was said in this room, but I was bound and gagged and could not warn you that Gar Nal was deceiving you. It was only just this instant that I succeeded in freeing myself.”

My exclamation of surprise when I first saw her had attracted the attention of my companions, and they had all returned to the room; and as I held my princess in my arms, Ur Jan leaped past me and ran his sword through the putrid heart of Gar Nal.


THE END


Swords of Mars - Contents


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