“We do not want such a hideous creature in the guards,” he said.
I looked around at the other hormads in the chamber, and really couldn’t see much to choose from between them and me. They were all hideous monsters. What difference could it make that I was a little more hideous? Of course there was nothing for me to do; and, much disappointed, I stepped back from the line.
Five of the seven remaining were little better than halfwits, and they were eliminated. The other two might have been high grade morons at the best, but they were accepted. The Third Jed spoke to an officer. “Where is the hormad I sent for?” he demanded. “Tor-dur-bar.”
“I am Tor-dur-bar,” I said.
“Come here,” said the Third Jed, and again I stepped to the foot of the dais.
“One of my guardsmen says you are the strongest person in Morbus,” continued the Third Jed. “Are you?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I am very strong.”
“He says that you can toss a man to the ceiling and catch him again. Let me see you do it.”
I picked up one of the rejected hormads and threw him as high as I could. I learned then that I didn’t know my own strength. The room was quite lofty, but the creature hit the ceiling with a dull thud and fell back into my arms unconscious. The seven jeds and the others in the room looked at me with astonishment.
“He may not be beautiful,” said the Third Jed, “but I shall take him for my guard.”
The jed who had waved me aside objected. “Guardsmen must be intelligent,” he said. “This creature looks as though it had no brains at all.”
“We shall see,” said another jed, and then they commenced to fire questions at me. Of course they were simple questions that the most ignorant of red men could have answered easily, for the questioners had only the brains and experience of hormads after all.
“He is very intelligent,” said the Third Jed. “He answers all our questions easily. I insist upon having him.”
“We shall draw lots for him,” said the First Jed.
“We shall do nothing of the kind,” stormed the Third Jed. “He belongs to me. It was I who sent for him. None of the rest of you had ever heard of him.”
“We shall take a vote on it,” said the Fourth Jed.
The Fifth Jed, who had rejected me, said nothing. He just sat there scowling. I had made a fool of him by proving myself so desirable that many jeds wished me.
“Come,” said the Seventh Jed, “let’s take a vote to see whether we award him to the Third Jed or draw lots for him.”
“Don’t waste time,” said the Third Jed, “for I am going to take him anyway.” He was a big man, larger than any of his fellows.
“You are always making trouble,” growled the First Jed.
“It is the rest of you that are making trouble,” retorted the Third Jed, “by trying to deprive me of what is rightfully mine.”
“The Third Jed is right,” said the Second Jed. “None of the rest of us have any claim on this hormad. We were willing to see him rejected until the Third Jed proved that he would make a desirable guardsman.”
They wrangled on for a long time, but finally gave in to the Third Jed. Now I had a new master. He put me in charge of one of his own officers and I was taken away to be initiated into the duties of a guardsman in the palace of the seven jeds of Morbus.
The officer conducted me to a large guardroom where there were many other hormad warriors. Teeaytan-ov was among them, and he lost no time in claiming credit for having me chosen for the guards. One of the first things I was taught was that I was to fight and die, if necessary, in defense of the Third Jed. I was given the insignia of the guard to wear around my neck, and then an officer undertook to train me in the use of a longsword. I had to pretend to a little awkwardness lest he discover that I was more familiar with the weapon than he. He complimented me upon my aptitude, and said that he would give me daily instruction thereafter.
I found my fellow guardsmen a stupid, egotistical lot of morons. They were all jealous of one another and of the seven jeds who were only hormads after all with the bodies of red men. I discovered that only fear held them in leash, for they were just intelligent enough to resent their lot and to envy the officers and jeds who had power and authority. The soil was ripe for mutiny or revolution. It was just an undercurrent that one sensed if he had intelligence, for they feared spies and informers too much to voice their true feeling aloud.
I chafed now at every delay that kept me from searching for Janai. I did not dare make any inquiries concerning her, as that would immediately have aroused suspicion; nor did I dare go poking about the palace until I knew more of its customs and its life.
The following day I was taken with a detachment of guardsmen beyond the walls of the city out among the crowded villages of the common hormads. Here I saw thousands of monstrous creatures, stupid and sullen, with no pleasures beyond eating and sleeping, and just enough intelligence ordinarily to make them dissatisfied with their lot. There were many, of course, with less brains and no more imagination than beasts. These alone were contented.
I saw envy and hate in the glances that many of them cast upon us and our officers, and there were growling murmurs after we had passed that followed us like the low moaning of the wind in the wake of a flier. I came to the conclusion that the Seven Jeds of Morbus were going to find many obstacles in the way of their grandiose plan to conquer a world with these creatures, and the most insurmountable of all would be the creatures themselves.
At last I learned the ways of the palace and how to find my way about, and the first time I was off duty I commenced a systematic search for Janai. I always moved quickly, as though I was on some important errand; so when I met officers or hormads they paid no attention to me.
One day, as I came to the end of a corridor, a hormad stepped from the doorway and confronted me. “What are you doing here?” he demanded. “Don’t you know that these are the quarters of the women and that no one is allowed here except those who guard them?”
“You are one of the guards?” I asked.
“Yes; now be on your way, and don’t come back here again.”
“It must be a very important post, guarding the women,” I said.
He swelled perceptibly. “It is, indeed. Only the most trustworthy warriors are chosen.”
“Are the women very beautiful?” I asked.
“Very,” he said.
“I certainly envy you. I wish that I might be a guard here, too. It would make me happy to see these beautiful women. I have never seen one. Just to get a glimpse of them would be wonderful,”
“Well,” he said, “perhaps it would do no harm to let you have a little glimpse. You seem to be a very intelligent fellow. What is your name.
“I am Tor-dur-bar,” I said. “I am in the guard of the Third Jed.”
“You are Tor-dur-bar, the strongest man in Morbus?” he demanded.
“Yes, I am he.”
“I have heard of you. Every one is talking about you, and how you threw a hormad up against the ceiling of the council chamber so hard that you killed him. I shall be very glad to let you have a look at the women, but don’t tell anybody that I did so.”
“Of course not,” I assured him.
He stepped to the door at the end of the corridor and swung it open. Beyond was a large chamber in which were several women and a number of the sexless hormads who were evidently their servants.
“You may step in,” said the guard; “they will think you are another guard.”
I entered the room and looked quickly about, and as I did so my heart leaped to my throat, for there, at the far end of the room, was Janai. Forgetful of everything else, I started to cross toward her. I forgot the guard. I forgot that I was a hideous monster. I forgot everything but that here was the woman I loved and here was I. The guard overtook me and laid a hand upon my shoulder.
“Hey! Where are you going?” he demanded.
Then I came to myself. “I wanted to get a closer look at them,” I said. “I wanted to see what it was that the jeds saw in women.”
“Well, you have seen enough. I don’t see what they see in them, myself. Come now, you must get out.”
As he spoke the door by which we had entered swung open again, and the Third Jed entered. The guard shrivelled in terror. “Quick!” he gasped. “Mingle with the servants. Pretend you are one of them. Perhaps he will not notice you.”
I crossed quickly toward Janai and kneeled before her. “What do you want?” she demanded. “What are you doing here, hormad? You are not one of our servants.”
“I have a message for you,” I whispered. I touched her with my hand. I could not help it. I could scarcely resist the tremendous urge I felt to take her in my arms. She shrank from me, an expression of loathing and disgust upon her face.
“Do not touch me, hormad,” she said, “or I shall call the guard.”
Then I remembered the hideous monster that I was, and I drew away from her. “Do not call the guard until you have heard my message,” I begged.
“There is no one here to send me any message I would care to hear,” she said.
“There is Vor Daj,” I said. “Have you forgotten him?”
I waited breathlessly to note her reaction.
“Vor Daj!” she breathed in a whisper. “He has sent you to me?”
“Yes. He told me to find you. He did not know but that you were dead. He told me that if I found you I was to tell you that day and night he was searching for some plan whereby he might take you away from Morbus.”
“There can be no hope,” she said, “but tell him that I have not forgotten him and never shall. Every day I think of him, and now every day I shall bless him for thinking of me and wishing to help me.”
I was about to say more to her, to tell her that Vor Daj loved her, so that I might see whether that pleased her or not; but then I heard a loud voice demand, “What are you doing here?” and turning I saw that the First Jed had entered the room and was confronting the Third Jed accusingly.
“I have come after my slave woman,” replied the latter. “What are you going to do about it?”
“These women have not been distributed by the Council. You have no right to any of them. If you need more slaves, order some additional hormads. Come on, get out of here!”
For answer, the Third Jed crossed the room and seized Janai by one arm, “Come with me, woman,” he ordered, and started to drag her toward the door; then the First Jed whipped out his sword and blocked the way. The sword of the Third Jed flashed from its scabbard, and the two men engaged, which necessitated the Third Jed’s relinquishing his hold on Janai.
The duel was a rare spectacle of poor swordsmanship, but they skipped about the room so much and cut and slashed so terrifically in all directions that the other occupants of the chamber had to keep constantly on the move to avoid injury. I tried always to keep between them and Janai, and presently I found myself near the door with the girl close beside me. The attention of the guard as well as all others in the room was riveted upon the two combatants, and the door was just behind us. Nowhere could Janai be in greater danger than here.
Perhaps never again would I have such an opportunity to get her out of these quarters in which she was a prisoner. Where I could take her, I did not know; but to get her out of here would be something. If, in some way, I could smuggle her into the laboratory I was sure that John Carter and Ras Thavas would find some place to hide her. Bending my ugly face close to her beautiful one, I whispered, “Come with me,” but she shrank away. “Please don’t be afraid of me,”
I begged. “I am doing this for Vor Daj, because he is my friend. I want to try to help you.”
“Very well,” she said, without further hesitation.
I looked hurriedly about the room. No one was paying any attention to us. Every eye was centered upon the combatants. I took Janai’s hand, and together we slipped through the doorway out into the corridor beyond.