Part 5 out of 5
The eyes of those within the chamber were fixed first upon me and
then upon Zat Arras, until finally a flush of anger crept slowly
over his face.
"You may go," he said to those who had brought me, and when only
his two companions and ourselves were left in the chamber, he spoke
to me again in a voice of ice--very slowly and deliberately, with
many pauses, as though he would choose his words cautiously.
"John Carter," he said, "by the edict of custom, by the law of
our religion, and by the verdict of an impartial court, you are
condemned to die. The people cannot save you--I alone may accomplish
that. You are absolutely in my power to do with as I wish--I may
kill you, or I may free you, and should I elect to kill you, none
would be the wiser.
"Should you go free in Helium for a year, in accordance with the
conditions of your reprieve, there is little fear that the people
would ever insist upon the execution of the sentence imposed upon
"You may go free within two minutes, upon one condition. Tardos
Mors will never return to Helium. Neither will Mors Kajak, nor
Dejah Thoris. Helium must select a new Jeddak within the year.
Zat Arras would be Jeddak of Helium. Say that you will espouse my
cause. This is the price of your freedom. I am done."
I knew it was within the scope of Zat Arras' cruel heart to destroy
me, and if I were dead I could see little reason to doubt that he
might easily become Jeddak of Helium. Free, I could prosecute the
search for Dejah Thoris. Were I dead, my brave comrades might not
be able to carry out our plans. So, by refusing to accede to his
request, it was quite probable that not only would I not prevent
him from becoming Jeddak of Helium, but that I would be the means
of sealing Dejah Thoris' fate--of consigning her, through my refusal,
to the horrors of the arena of Issus.
For a moment I was perplexed, but for a moment only. The proud
daughter of a thousand Jeddaks would choose death to a dishonorable
alliance such as this, nor could John Carter do less for Helium
than his Princess would do.
Then I turned to Zat Arras.
"There can be no alliance," I said, "between a traitor to Helium
and a prince of the House of Tardos Mors. I do not believe, Zat
Arras, that the great Jeddak is dead."
Zat Arras shrugged his shoulders.
"It will not be long, John Carter," he said, "that your opinions
will be of interest even to yourself, so make the best of them
while you can. Zat Arras will permit you in due time to reflect
further upon the magnanimous offer he has made you. Into the silence
and darkness of the pits you will enter upon your reflection this
night with the knowledge that should you fail within a reasonable
time to agree to the alternative which has been offered you, never
shall you emerge from the darkness and the silence again. Nor
shall you know at what minute the hand will reach out through the
darkness and the silence with the keen dagger that shall rob you
of your last chance to win again the warmth and the freedom and
joyousness of the outer world."
Zat Arras clapped his hands as he ceased speaking. The guards
Zat Arras waved his hand in my direction.
"To the pits," he said. That was all. Four men accompanied me
from the chamber, and with a radium hand-light to illumine the way,
escorted me through seemingly interminable tunnels, down, ever down
beneath the city of Helium.
At length they halted within a fair-sized chamber. There were rings
set in the rocky walls. To them chains were fastened, and at the
ends of many of the chains were human skeletons. One of these
they kicked aside, and, unlocking the huge padlock that had held
a chain about what had once been a human ankle, they snapped the
iron band about my own leg. Then they left me, taking the light
Utter darkness prevailed. For a few minutes I could hear the
clanking of accoutrements, but even this grew fainter and fainter,
until at last the silence was as complete as the darkness. I was
alone with my gruesome companions--with the bones of dead men whose
fate was likely but the index of my own.
How long I stood listening in the darkness I do not know, but the
silence was unbroken, and at last I sunk to the hard floor of my
prison, where, leaning my head against the stony wall, I slept.
It must have been several hours later that I awakened to find
a young man standing before me. In one hand he bore a light, in
the other a receptacle containing a gruel-like mixture--the common
prison fare of Barsoom.
"Zat Arras sends you greetings," said the young man, "and commands
me to inform you that though he is fully advised of the plot to
make you Jeddak of Helium, he is, however, not inclined to withdraw
the offer which he has made you. To gain your freedom you have
but to request me to advise Zat Arras that you accept the terms of
I but shook my head. The youth said no more, and, after placing
the food upon the floor at my side, returned up the corridor, taking
the light with him.
Twice a day for many days this youth came to my cell with food, and
ever the same greetings from Zat Arras. For a long time I tried
to engage him in conversation upon other matters, but he would not
talk, and so, at length, I desisted.
For months I sought to devise methods to inform Carthoris of my
whereabouts. For months I scraped and scraped upon a single link
of the massive chain which held me, hoping eventually to wear it
through, that I might follow the youth back through the winding
tunnels to a point where I could make a break for liberty.
I was beside myself with anxiety for knowledge of the progress
of the expedition which was to rescue Dejah Thoris. I felt that
Carthoris would not let the matter drop, were he free to act, but
in so far as I knew, he also might be a prisoner in Zat Arras'
That Zat Arras' spy had overheard our conversation relative to
the selection of a new Jeddak, I knew, and scarcely a half-dozen
minutes prior we had discussed the details of the plan to rescue
Dejah Thoris. The chances were that that matter, too, was well
known to him. Carthoris, Kantos Kan, Tars Tarkas, Hor Vastus, and
Xodar might even now be the victims of Zat Arras' assassins, or
else his prisoners.
I determined to make at least one more effort to learn something,
and to this end I adopted strategy when next the youth came to
my cell. I had noticed that he was a handsome fellow, about the
size and age of Carthoris. And I had also noticed that his shabby
trappings but illy comported with his dignified and noble bearing.
It was with these observations as a basis that I opened my negotiations
with him upon his next subsequent visit.
"You have been very kind to me during my imprisonment here," I
said to him, "and as I feel that I have at best but a very short
time to live, I wish, ere it is too late, to furnish substantial
testimony of my appreciation of all that you have done to render
my imprisonment bearable.
"Promptly you have brought my food each day, seeing that it was
pure and of sufficient quantity. Never by word or deed have you
attempted to take advantage of my defenceless condition to insult
or torture me. You have been uniformly courteous and considerate--it
is this more than any other thing which prompts my feeling of
gratitude and my desire to give you some slight token of it.
"In the guard-room of my palace are many fine trappings. Go thou
there and select the harness which most pleases you--it shall be
yours. All I ask is that you wear it, that I may know that my wish
has been realized. Tell me that you will do it."
The boy's eyes had lighted with pleasure as I spoke, and I saw him
glance from his rusty trappings to the magnificence of my own. For
a moment he stood in thought before he spoke, and for that moment
my heart fairly ceased beating--so much for me there was which
hung upon the substance of his answer.
"And I went to the palace of the Prince of Helium with any such
demand, they would laugh at me and, into the bargain, would more
than likely throw me headforemost into the avenue. No, it cannot
be, though I thank you for the offer. Why, if Zat Arras even dreamed
that I contemplated such a thing he would have my heart cut out of
"There can be no harm in it, my boy," I urged. "By night you may
go to my palace with a note from me to Carthoris, my son. You
may read the note before you deliver it, that you may know that it
contains nothing harmful to Zat Arras. My son will be discreet,
and so none but us three need know. It is very simple, and such
a harmless act that it could be condemned by no one."
Again he stood silently in deep thought.
"And there is a jewelled short-sword which I took from the body of
a northern Jeddak. When you get the harness, see that Carthoris
gives you that also. With it and the harness which you may select
there will be no more handsomely accoutred warrior in all Zodanga.
"Bring writing materials when you come next to my cell, and within
a few hours we shall see you garbed in a style befitting your birth
Still in thought, and without speaking, he turned and left me. I
could not guess what his decision might be, and for hours I sat
fretting over the outcome of the matter.
If he accepted a message to Carthoris it would mean to me that
Carthoris still lived and was free. If the youth returned wearing
the harness and the sword, I would know that Carthoris had received
my note and that he knew that I still lived. That the bearer of
the note was a Zodangan would be sufficient to explain to Carthoris
that I was a prisoner of Zat Arras.
It was with feelings of excited expectancy which I could scarce
hide that I heard the youth's approach upon the occasion of his
next regular visit. I did not speak beyond my accustomed greeting
of him. As he placed the food upon the floor by my side he also
deposited writing materials at the same time.
My heart fairly bounded for joy. I had won my point. For a moment
I looked at the materials in feigned surprise, but soon I permitted
an expression of dawning comprehension to come into my face,
and then, picking them up, I penned a brief order to Carthoris to
deliver to Parthak a harness of his selection and the short-sword
which I described. That was all. But it meant everything to me
and to Carthoris.
I laid the note open upon the floor. Parthak picked it up and,
without a word, left me.
As nearly as I could estimate, I had at this time been in the pits
for three hundred days. If anything was to be done to save Dejah
Thoris it must be done quickly, for, were she not already dead,
her end must soon come, since those whom Issus chose lived but a
The next time I heard approaching footsteps I could scarce await
to see if Parthak wore the harness and the sword, but judge, if you
can, my chagrin and disappointment when I saw that he who bore my
food was not Parthak.
"What has become of Parthak?" I asked, but the fellow would not
answer, and as soon as he had deposited my food, turned and retraced
his steps to the world above.
Days came and went, and still my new jailer continued his duties,
nor would he ever speak a word to me, either in reply to the simplest
question or of his own initiative.
I could only speculate on the cause of Parthak's removal, but that
it was connected in some way directly with the note I had given him
was most apparent to me. After all my rejoicing, I was no better
off than before, for now I did not even know that Carthoris lived,
for if Parthak had wished to raise himself in the estimation of
Zat Arras he would have permitted me to go on precisely as I did,
so that he could carry my note to his master, in proof of his own
loyalty and devotion.
Thirty days had passed since I had given the youth the note. Three
hundred and thirty days had passed since my incarceration. As
closely as I could figure, there remained a bare thirty days ere
Dejah Thoris would be ordered to the arena for the rites of Issus.
As the terrible picture forced itself vividly across my imagination,
I buried my face in my arms, and only with the greatest difficulty
was it that I repressed the tears that welled to my eyes despite my
every effort. To think of that beautiful creature torn and rended
by the cruel fangs of the hideous white apes! It was unthinkable.
Such a horrid fact could not be; and yet my reason told me that
within thirty days my incomparable Princess would be fought over
in the arena of the First Born by those very wild beasts; that her
bleeding corpse would be dragged through the dirt and the dust,
until at last a part of it would be rescued to be served as food
upon the tables of the black nobles.
I think that I should have gone crazy but for the sound of my
approaching jailer. It distracted my attention from the terrible
thoughts that had been occupying my entire mind. Now a new and grim
determination came to me. I would make one super-human effort to
escape. Kill my jailer by a ruse, and trust to fate to lead me to
the outer world in safety.
With the thought came instant action. I threw myself upon the floor
of my cell close by the wall, in a strained and distorted posture,
as though I were dead after a struggle or convulsions. When he
should stoop over me I had but to grasp his throat with one hand
and strike him a terrific blow with the slack of my chain, which
I gripped firmly in my right hand for the purpose.
Nearer and nearer came the doomed man. Now I heard him halt before
me. There was a muttered exclamation, and then a step as he came
to my side. I felt him kneel beside me. My grip tightened upon
the chain. He leaned close to me. I must open my eyes to find
his throat, grasp it, and strike one mighty final blow all at the
The thing worked just as I had planned. So brief was the interval
between the opening of my eyes and the fall of the chain that
I could not check it, though it that minute interval I recognized
the face so close to mine as that of my son, Carthoris.
God! What cruel and malign fate had worked to such a frightful
end! What devious chain of circumstances had led my boy to my side
at this one particular minute of our lives when I could strike him
down and kill him, in ignorance of his identity! A benign though
tardy Providence blurred my vision and my mind as I sank into
unconsciousness across the lifeless body of my only son.
When I regained consciousness it was to feel a cool, firm hand
pressed upon my forehead. For an instant I did not open my eyes.
I was endeavouring to gather the loose ends of many thoughts and
memories which flitted elusively through my tired and overwrought
At length came the cruel recollection of the thing that I had done
in my last conscious act, and then I dared not to open my eyes
for fear of what I should see lying beside me. I wondered who it
could be who ministered to me. Carthoris must have had a companion
whom I had not seen. Well, I must face the inevitable some time,
so why not now, and with a sigh I opened my eyes.
Leaning over me was Carthoris, a great bruise upon his forehead
where the chain had struck, but alive, thank God, alive! There
was no one with him. Reaching out my arms, I took my boy within
them, and if ever there arose from any planet a fervent prayer of
gratitude, it was there beneath the crust of dying Mars as I thanked
the Eternal Mystery for my son's life.
The brief instant in which I had seen and recognized Carthoris
before the chain fell must have been ample to check the force of
the blow. He told me that he had lain unconscious for a time--how
long he did not know.
"How came you here at all?" I asked, mystified that he had found
me without a guide.
"It was by your wit in apprising me of your existence and imprisonment
through the youth, Parthak. Until he came for his harness and his
sword, we had thought you dead. When I had read your note I did
as you had bid, giving Parthak his choice of the harnesses in the
guardroom, and later bringing the jewelled short-sword to him; but
the minute that I had fulfilled the promise you evidently had made
him, my obligation to him ceased. Then I commenced to question
him, but he would give me no information as to your whereabouts.
He was intensely loyal to Zat Arras.
"Finally I gave him a fair choice between freedom and the pits
beneath the palace--the price of freedom to be full information as
to where you were imprisoned and directions which would lead us to
you; but still he maintained his stubborn partisanship. Despairing,
I had him removed to the pits, where he still is.
"No threats of torture or death, no bribes, however fabulous,
would move him. His only reply to all our importunities was that
whenever Parthak died, were it to-morrow or a thousand years hence,
no man could truly say, 'A traitor is gone to his deserts.'
"Finally, Xodar, who is a fiend for subtle craftiness, evolved
a plan whereby we might worm the information from him. And so I
caused Hor Vastus to be harnessed in the metal of a Zodangan soldier
and chained in Parthak's cell beside him. For fifteen days the
noble Hor Vastus has languished in the darkness of the pits, but
not in vain. Little by little he won the confidence and friendship
of the Zodangan, until only to-day Parthak, thinking that he was
speaking not only to a countryman, but to a dear friend, revealed
that Hor Vastus the exact cell in which you lay.
"It took me but a short time to locate the plans of the pits
of Helium among thy official papers. To come to you, though, was
a trifle more difficult matter. As you know, while all the pits
beneath the city are connected, there are but single entrances
from those beneath each section and its neighbour, and that at the
upper level just underneath the ground.
"Of course, these openings which lead from contiguous pits to those
beneath government buildings are always guarded, and so, while I
easily came to the entrance to the pits beneath the palace which
Zat Arras is occupying, I found there a Zodangan soldier on guard.
There I left him when I had gone by, but his soul was no longer
"And here I am, just in time to be nearly killed by you," he ended,
As he talked Carthoris had been working at the lock which held my
fetters, and now, with an exclamation of pleasure, he dropped the
end of the chain to the floor, and I stood up once more, freed from
the galling irons I had chafed in for almost a year.
He had brought a long-sword and a dagger for me, and thus armed we
set out upon the return journey to my palace.
At the point where we left the pits of Zat Arras we found the body
of the guard Carthoris had slain. It had not yet been discovered,
and, in order to still further delay search and mystify the jed's
people, we carried the body with us for a short distance, hiding
it in a tiny cell off the main corridor of the pits beneath an
Some half-hour later we came to the pits beneath our own palace,
and soon thereafter emerged into the audience chamber itself, where
we found Kantos Kan, Tars Tarkas, Hor Vastus, and Xodar awaiting
us most impatiently.
No time was lost in fruitless recounting of my imprisonment. What
I desired to know was how well the plans we had laid nearly a year
ago and had been carried out.
"It has taken much longer than we had expected," replied Kantos
Kan. "The fact that we were compelled to maintain utter secrecy
has handicapped us terribly. Zat Arras' spies are everywhere. Yet,
to the best of my knowledge, no word of our real plans has reached
the villain's ear.
"To-night there lies about the great docks at Hastor a fleet of a
thousand of the mightiest battleships that ever sailed above Barsoom,
and each equipped to navigate the air of Omean and the waters of
Omean itself. Upon each battleship there are five ten-man cruisers,
and ten five-man scouts, and a hundred one-man scouts; in all, one
hundred and sixteen thousand craft fitted with both air and water
"At Thark lie the transports for the green warriors of Tars Tarkas,
nine hundred large troopships, and with them their convoys. Seven
days ago all was in readiness, but we waited in the hope that by so
doing your rescue might be encompassed in time for you to command
the expedition. It is well we waited, my Prince."
"How is it, Tars Tarkas," I asked, "that the men of Thark take not
the accustomed action against one who returns from the bosom of
"They sent a council of fifty chieftains to talk with me here,"
replied the Thark. "We are a just people, and when I had told
them the entire story they were as one man in agreeing that their
action toward me would be guided by the action of Helium toward
John Carter. In the meantime, at their request, I was to resume my
throne as Jeddak of Thark, that I might negotiate with neighboring
hordes for warriors to compose the land forces of the expedition.
I have done that which I agreed. Two hundred and fifty thousand
fighting men, gathered from the ice cap at the north to the ice cap
at the south, and representing a thousand different communities,
from a hundred wild and warlike hordes, fill the great city of
Thark to-night. They are ready to sail for the Land of the First
Born when I give the word and fight there until I bid them stop.
All they ask is the loot they take and transportation to their own
territories when the fighting and the looting are over. I am done."
"And thou, Hor Vastus," I asked, "what has been thy success?"
"A million veteran fighting-men from Helium's thin waterways man the
battleships, the transports, and the convoys," he replied. "Each
is sworn to loyalty and secrecy, nor were enough recruited from a
single district to cause suspicion."
"Good!" I cried. "Each has done his duty, and now, Kantos Kan, may
we not repair at once to Hastor and get under way before to-morrow's
"We should lose no time, Prince," replied Kantos Kan. "Already the
people of Hastor are questioning the purpose of so great a fleet
fully manned with fighting-men. I wonder much that word of it
has not before reached Zat Arras. A cruiser awaits above at your
own dock; let us leave at--" A fusillade of shots from the palace
gardens just without cut short his further words.
Together we rushed to the balcony in time to see a dozen members of
my palace guard disappear in the shadows of some distant shrubbery as
in pursuit of one who fled. Directly beneath us upon the scarlet
sward a handful of guardsmen were stooping above a still and
While we watched they lifted the figure in their arms and at
my command bore it to the audience chamber where we had been in
council. When they stretched the body at our feet we saw that it
was that of a red man in the prime of life--his metal was plain,
such as common soldiers wear, or those who wish to conceal their
"Another of Zat Arras' spies," said Hor Vastus.
"So it would seem," I replied, and then to the guard: "You may
remove the body."
"Wait!" said Xodar. "If you will, Prince, ask that a cloth and a
little thoat oil be brought."
I nodded to one of the soldiers, who left the chamber, returning
presently with the things that Xodar had requested. The black
kneeled beside the body and, dipping a corner of the cloth in the
thoat oil, rubbed for a moment on the dead face before him, Then
he turned to me with a smile, pointing to his work. I looked and
saw that where Xodar had applied the thoat oil the face was white,
as white as mine, and then Xodar seized the black hair of the corpse
and with a sudden wrench tore it all away, revealing a hairless
Guardsmen and nobles pressed close about the silent witness upon
the marble floor. Many were the exclamations of astonishment and
questioning wonder as Xodar's acts confirmed the suspicion which
he had held.
"A thern!" whispered Tars Tarkas.
"Worse than that, I fear," replied Xodar. "But let us see."
With that he drew his dagger and cut open a locked pouch which had
dangled from the thern's harness, and from it he brought forth a
circlet of gold set with a large gem--it was the mate to that which
I had taken from Sator Throg.
"He was a Holy Thern," said Xodar. "Fortunate indeed it is for us
that he did not escape."
The officer of the guard entered the chamber at this juncture.
"My Prince," he said, "I have to report that this fellow's companion
escaped us. I think that it was with the connivance of one or more
of the men at the gate. I have ordered them all under arrest."
Xodar handed him the thoat oil and cloth.
"With this you may discover the spy among you," he said.
I at once ordered a secret search within the city, for every Martian
noble maintains a secret service of his own.
A half-hour later the officer of the guard came again to report.
This time it was to confirm our worst fears--half the guards at
the gate that night had been therns disguised as red men.
"Come!" I cried. "We must lose no time. On to Hastor at once.
Should the therns attempt to check us at the southern verge of
the ice cap it may result in the wrecking of all our plans and the
total destruction of the expedition."
Ten minutes later we were speeding through the night toward Hastor,
prepared to strike the first blow for the preservation of Dejah
THE AIR BATTLE
Two hours after leaving my palace at Helium, or about midnight,
Kantos Kan, Xodar, and I arrived at Hastor. Carthoris, Tars Tarkas,
and Hor Vastus had gone directly to Thark upon another cruiser.
The transports were to get under way immediately and move slowly
south. The fleet of battleships would overtake them on the morning
of the second day.
At Hastor we found all in readiness, and so perfectly had Kantos
Kan planned every detail of the campaign that within ten minutes
of our arrival the first of the fleet had soared aloft from its
dock, and thereafter, at the rate of one a second, the great ships
floated gracefully out into the night to form a long, thin line
which stretched for miles toward the south.
It was not until after we had entered the cabin of Kantos Kan that
I thought to ask the date, for up to now I was not positive how
long I had lain in the pits of Zat Arras. When Kantos Kan told me,
I realized with a pang of dismay that I had misreckoned the time
while I lay in the utter darkness of my cell. Three hundred and
sixty-five days had passed--it was too late to save Dejah Thoris.
The expedition was no longer one of rescue but of revenge. I did
not remind Kantos Kan of the terrible fact that ere we could hope
to enter the Temple of Issus, the Princess of Helium would be no
more. In so far as I knew she might be already dead, for I did
not know the exact date on which she first viewed Issus.
What now the value of burdening my friends with my added personal
sorrows--they had shared quite enough of them with me in the past.
Hereafter I would keep my grief to myself, and so I said nothing
to any other of the fact that we were too late. The expedition
could yet do much if it could but teach the people of Barsoom the
facts of the cruel deception that had been worked upon them for
countless ages, and thus save thousands each year from the horrid
fate that awaited them at the conclusion of the voluntary pilgrimage.
If it could open to the red men the fair Valley Dor it would
have accomplished much, and in the Land of Lost Souls between the
Mountains of Otz and the ice barrier were many broad acres that
needed no irrigation to bear rich harvests.
Here at the bottom of a dying world was the only naturally productive
area upon its surface. Here alone were dews and rains, here alone
was an open sea, here was water in plenty; and all this was but
the stamping ground of fierce brutes and from its beauteous and
fertile expanse the wicked remnants of two once mighty races barred
all the other millions of Barsoom. Could I but succeed in once
breaking down the barrier of religious superstition which had kept
the red races from this El Dorado it would be a fitting memorial
to the immortal virtues of my Princess--I should have again served
Barsoom and Dejah Thoris' martyrdom would not have been in vain.
On the morning of the second day we raised the great fleet of
transports and their consorts at the first flood of dawn, and soon
were near enough to exchange signals. I may mention here that
radio-aerograms are seldom if ever used in war time, or for the
transmission of secret dispatches at any time, for as often as
one nation discovers a new cipher, or invents a new instrument for
wireless purposes its neighbours bend every effort until they are
able to intercept and translate the messages. For so long a time
has this gone on that practically every possibility of wireless
communication has been exhausted and no nation dares transmit
dispatches of importance in this way.
Tars Tarkas reported all well with the transports. The battleships
passed through to take an advanced position, and the combined
fleets moved slowly over the ice cap, hugging the surface closely
to prevent detection by the therns whose land we were approaching.
Far in advance of all a thin line of one-man air scouts protected us
from surprise, and on either side they flanked us, while a smaller
number brought up the rear some twenty miles behind the transports.
In this formation we had progressed toward the entrance to Omean
for several hours when one of our scouts returned from the front
to report that the cone-like summit of the entrance was in sight.
At almost the same instant another scout from the left flank came
racing toward the flagship.
His very speed bespoke the importance of his information. Kantos
Kan and I awaited him upon the little forward deck which corresponds
with the bridge of earthly battleships. Scarcely had his tiny
flier come to rest upon the broad landing-deck of the flagship ere
he was bounding up the stairway to the deck where we stood.
"A great fleet of battleships south-south-east, my Prince," he
cried. "There must be several thousands and they are bearing down
directly upon us."
"The thern spies were not in the palace of John Carter for nothing,"
said Kantos Kan to me. "Your orders, Prince."
"Dispatch ten battleships to guard the entrance to Omean, with orders
to let no hostile enter or leave the shaft. That will bottle up
the great fleet of the First Born.
"Form the balance of the battleships into a great V with the apex
pointing directly south-south-east. Order the transports, surrounded
by their convoys, to follow closely in the wake of the battleships
until the point of the V has entered the enemies' line, then the V
must open outward at the apex, the battleships of each leg engage
the enemy fiercely and drive him back to form a lane through his
line into which the transports with their convoys must race at top
speed that they may gain a position above the temples and gardens
of the therns.
"Here let them land and teach the Holy Therns such a lesson in
ferocious warfare as they will not forget for countless ages. It
had not been my intention to be distracted from the main issue of
the campaign, but we must settle this attack with the therns once
and for all, or there will be no peace for us while our fleet
remains near Dor, and our chances of ever returning to the outer
world will be greatly minimized."
Kantos Kan saluted and turned to deliver my instructions to his
waiting aides. In an incredibly short space of time the formation
of the battleships changed in accordance with my commands, the
ten that were to guard the way to Omean were speeding toward their
destination, and the troopships and convoys were closing up in
preparation for the spurt through the lane.
The order of full speed ahead was given, the fleet sprang through
the air like coursing greyhounds, and in another moment the ships
of the enemy were in full view. They formed a ragged line as far
as the eye could reach in either direction and about three ships
deep. So sudden was our onslaught that they had no time to prepare
for it. It was as unexpected as lightning from a clear sky.
Every phase of my plan worked splendidly. Our huge ships mowed
their way entirely through the line of thern battlecraft; then the
V opened up and a broad lane appeared through which the transports
leaped toward the temples of the therns which could now be plainly
seen glistening in the sunlight. By the time the therns had rallied
from the attack a hundred thousand green warriors were already
pouring through their courts and gardens, while a hundred and fifty
thousand others leaned from low swinging transports to direct their
almost uncanny marksmanship upon the thern soldiery that manned
the ramparts, or attempted to defend the temples.
Now the two great fleets closed in a titanic struggle far above
the fiendish din of battle in the gorgeous gardens of the therns.
Slowly the two lines of Helium's battleships joined their ends, and
then commenced the circling within the line of the enemy which is
so marked a characteristic of Barsoomian naval warfare.
Around and around in each other's tracks moved the ships under
Kantos Kan, until at length they formed nearly a perfect circle.
By this time they were moving at high speed so that they presented
a difficult target for the enemy. Broadside after broadside they
delivered as each vessel came in line with the ships of the therns.
The latter attempted to rush in and break up the formation, but it
was like stopping a buzz saw with the bare hand.
From my position on the deck beside Kantos Kan I saw ship after
ship of the enemy take the awful, sickening dive which proclaims
its total destruction. Slowly we manoeuvered our circle of death
until we hung above the gardens where our green warriors were
engaged. The order was passed down for them to embark. Then they
rose slowly to a position within the centre of the circle.
In the meantime the therns' fire had practically ceased. They had
had enough of us and were only too glad to let us go on our way in
peace. But our escape was not to be encompassed with such ease,
for scarcely had we gotten under way once more in the direction of
the entrance to Omean than we saw far to the north a great black
line topping the horizon. It could be nothing other than a fleet
Whose or whither bound, we could not even conjecture. When they
had come close enough to make us out at all, Kantos Kan's operator
received a radio-aerogram, which he immediately handed to my
companion. He read the thing and handed it to me.
"Kantos Kan:" it read. "Surrender, in the name of the Jeddak of
Helium, for you cannot escape," and it was signed, "Zat Arras."
The therns must have caught and translated the message almost as
soon as did we, for they immediately renewed hostilities when they
realized that we were soon to be set upon by other enemies.
Before Zat Arras had approached near enough to fire a shot we were
again hotly engaged with the thern fleet, and as soon as he drew
near he too commenced to pour a terrific fusillade of heavy shot
into us. Ship after ship reeled and staggered into uselessness
beneath the pitiless fire that we were undergoing.
The thing could not last much longer. I ordered the transports to
descend again into the gardens of the therns.
"Wreak your vengeance to the utmost," was my message to the green
allies, "for by night there will be none left to avenge your wrongs."
Presently I saw the ten battleships that had been ordered to hold
the shaft of Omean. They were returning at full speed, firing
their stern batteries almost continuously. There could be but one
explanation. They were being pursued by another hostile fleet.
Well, the situation could be no worse. The expedition already was
doomed. No man that had embarked upon it would return across that
dreary ice cap. How I wished that I fight face Zat Arras with my
longsword for just an instant before I died! It was he who had
caused our failure.
As I watched the oncoming ten I saw their pursuers race swiftly
into sight. It was another great fleet; for a moment I could not
believe my eyes, but finally I was forced to admit that the most
fatal calamity had overtaken the expedition, for the fleet I saw
was none other than the fleet of the First Born, that should have
been safely bottled up in Omean. What a series of misfortunes and
disasters! What awful fate hovered over me, that I should have been
so terribly thwarted at every angle of my search for my lost love!
Could it be possible that the curse of Issus was upon me! That
there was, indeed, some malign divinity in that hideous carcass!
I would not believe it, and, throwing back my shoulders, I ran to
the deck below to join my men in repelling boarders from one of
the thern craft that had grappled us broadside. In the wild lust
of hand-to-hand combat my old dauntless hopefulness returned. And
as thern after thern went down beneath my blade, I could almost feel
that we should win success in the end, even from apparent failure.
My presence among the men so greatly inspirited them that they fell
upon the luckless whites with such terrible ferocity that within a
few moments we had turned the tables upon them and a second later
as we swarmed their own decks I had the satisfaction of seeing
their commander take the long leap from the bows of his vessel in
token of surrender and defeat.
Then I joined Kantos Kan. He had been watching what had taken place
on the deck below, and it seemed to have given him a new thought.
Immediately he passed an order to one of his officers, and presently
the colours of the Prince of Helium broke from every point of the
flagship. A great cheer arose from the men of our own ship, a cheer
that was taken up by every other vessel of our expedition as they
in turn broke my colours from their upper works.
Then Kantos Kan sprang his coup. A signal legible to every sailor
of all the fleets engaged in that fierce struggle was strung aloft
upon the flagship.
"Men of Helium for the Prince of Helium against all his enemies,"
it read. Presently my colours broke from one of Zat Arras' ships.
Then from another and another. On some we could see fierce battles
waging between the Zodangan soldiery and the Heliumetic crews, but
eventually the colours of the Prince of Helium floated above every
ship that had followed Zat Arras upon our trail--only his flagship
flew them not.
Zat Arras had brought five thousand ships. The sky was black with
the three enormous fleets. It was Helium against the field now, and
the fight had settled to countless individual duels. There could
be little or no manoeuvering of fleets in that crowded, fire-split
Zat Arras' flagship was close to my own. I could see the thin
features of the man from where I stood. His Zodangan crew was
pouring broadside after broadside into us and we were returning
their fire with equal ferocity. Closer and closer came the two
vessels until but a few yards intervened. Grapplers and boarders
lined the contiguous rails of each. We were preparing for the
death struggle with our hated enemy.
There was but a yard between the two mighty ships as the first
grappling irons were hurled. I rushed to the deck to be with my men
as they boarded. Just as the vessels came together with a slight
shock, I forced my way through the lines and was the first to
spring to the deck of Zat Arras' ship. After me poured a yelling,
cheering, cursing throng of Helium's best fighting-men. Nothing
could withstand them in the fever of battle lust which enthralled
Down went the Zodangans before that surging tide of war, and as
my men cleared the lower decks I sprang to the forward deck where
stood Zat Arras.
"You are my prisoner, Zat Arras," I cried. "Yield and you shall
For a moment I could not tell whether he contemplated acceding to
my demand or facing me with drawn sword. For an instant he stood
hesitating, and then throwing down his arms he turned and rushed
to the opposite side of the deck. Before I could overtake him he
had sprung to the rail and hurled himself headforemost into the
awful depths below.
And thus came Zat Arras, Jed of Zodanga, to his end.
On and on went that strange battle. The therns and blacks had not
combined against us. Wherever thern ship met ship of the First
Born was a battle royal, and in this I thought I saw our salvation.
Wherever messages could be passed between us that could not be
intercepted by our enemies I passed the word that all our vessels
were to withdraw from the fight as rapidly as possible, taking a
position to the west and south of the combatants. I also sent an
air scout to the fighting green men in the gardens below to re-embark,
and to the transports to join us.
My commanders were further instructed than when engaged with an enemy
to draw him as rapidly as possible toward a ship of his hereditary
foeman, and by careful manoeuvring to force the two to engage,
thus leaving him-self free to withdraw. This stratagem worked to
perfection, and just before the sun went down I had the satisfaction
of seeing all that was left of my once mighty fleet gathered nearly
twenty miles southwest of the still terrific battle between the
blacks and whites.
I now transferred Xodar to another battleship and sent him with all
the transports and five thousand battleships directly overhead to
the Temple of Issus. Carthoris and I, with Kantos Kan, took the
remaining ships and headed for the entrance to Omean.
Our plan now was to attempt to make a combined assault upon Issus
at dawn of the following day. Tars Tarkas with his green warriors
and Hor Vastus with the red men, guided by Xodar, were to land within
the garden of Issus or the surrounding plains; while Carthoris,
Kantos Kan, and I were to lead our smaller force from the sea of
Omean through the pits beneath the temple, which Carthoris knew so
I now learned for the first time the cause of my ten ships' retreat
from the mouth of the shaft. It seemed that when they had come
upon the shaft the navy of the First Born were already issuing from
its mouth. Fully twenty vessels had emerged, and though they gave
battle immediately in an effort to stem the tide that rolled from
the black pit, the odds against them were too great and they were
forced to flee.
With great caution we approached the shaft, under cover of darkness.
At a distance of several miles I caused the fleet to be halted,
and from there Carthoris went ahead alone upon a one-man flier to
reconnoitre. In perhaps half an hour he returned to report that
there was no sign of a patrol boat or of the enemy in any form, and
so we moved swiftly and noiselessly forward once more toward Omean.
At the mouth of the shaft we stopped again for a moment for all
the vessels to reach their previously appointed stations, then with
the flagship I dropped quickly into the black depths, while one by
one the other vessels followed me in quick succession.
We had decided to stake all on the chance that we would be able to
reach the temple by the subterranean way and so we left no guard
of vessels at the shaft's mouth. Nor would it have profited us any
to have done so, for we did not have sufficient force all told to
have withstood the vast navy of the First Born had they returned
to engage us.
For the safety of our entrance upon Omean we depended largely upon
the very boldness of it, believing that it would be some little time
before the First Born on guard there would realize that it was an
enemy and not their own returning fleet that was entering the vault
of the buried sea.
And such proved to be the case. In fact, four hundred of my fleet
of five hundred rested safely upon the bosom of Omean before the
first shot was fired. The battle was short and hot, but there could
have been but one outcome, for the First Born in the carelessness
of fancied security had left but a handful of ancient and obsolete
hulks to guard their mighty harbour.
It was at Carthoris' suggestion that we landed our prisoners under
guard upon a couple of the larger islands, and then towed the ships
of the First Born to the shaft, where we managed to wedge a number
of them securely in the interior of the great well. Then we turned
on the buoyance rays in the balance of them and let them rise by
themselves to further block the passage to Omean as they came into
contact with the vessels already lodged there.
We now felt that it would be some time at least before the returning
First Born could reach the surface of Omean, and that we would have
ample opportunity to make for the subterranean passages which lead
to Issus. One of the first steps I took was to hasten personally
with a good-sized force to the island of the submarine, which I
took without resistance on the part of the small guard there.
I found the submarine in its pool, and at once placed a strong
guard upon it and the island, where I remained to wait the coming
of Carthoris and the others.
Among the prisoners was Yersted, commander of the submarine. He
recognized me from the three trips that I had taken with him during
my captivity among the First Born.
"How does it seem," I asked him, "to have the tables turned? To
be prisoner of your erstwhile captive?"
He smiled, a very grim smile pregnant with hidden meaning.
"It will not be for long, John Carter," he replied. "We have been
expecting you and we are prepared."
"So it would appear," I answered, "for you were all ready to become
my prisoners with scarce a blow struck on either side."
"The fleet must have missed you," he said, "but it will return
to Omean, and then that will be a very different matter--for John
"I do not know that the fleet has missed me as yet," I said, but
of course he did not grasp my meaning, and only looked puzzled.
"Many prisoners travel to Issus in your grim craft, Yersted?" I
"Very many," he assented.
Might you remember one whom men called Dejah Thoris?"
"Well, indeed, for her great beauty, and then, too, for the fact
that she was wife to the first mortal that ever escaped from Issus
through all the countless ages of her godhood. And they way that
Issus remembers her best as the wife of one and the mother of
another who raised their hands against the Goddess of Life Eternal."
I shuddered for fear of the cowardly revenge that I knew Issus
might have taken upon the innocent Dejah Thoris for the sacrilege
of her son and her husband.
"And where is Dejah Thoris now?" I asked, knowing that he would
say the words I most dreaded, but yet I loved her so that I could
not refrain from hearing even the worst about her fate so that it
fell from the lips of one who had seen her but recently. It was
to me as though it brought her closer to me.
"Yesterday the monthly rites of Issus were held," replied Yersted,
"and I saw her then sitting in her accustomed place at the foot of
"What," I cried, "she is not dead, then?"
"Why, no," replied the black, "it has been no year since she gazed
upon the divine glory of the radiant face of--"
"No year?" I interrupted.
"Why, no," insisted Yersted. "It cannot have been upward of three
hundred and seventy or eighty days."
A great light burst upon me. How stupid I had been! I could
scarcely retain an outward exhibition of my great joy. Why had I
forgotten the great difference in the length of Martian and Earthly
years! The ten Earth years I had spent upon Barsoom had encompassed
but five years and ninety-six days of Martian time, whose days
are forty-one minutes longer than ours, and whose years number six
hundred and eighty-seven days.
I am in time! I am in time! The words surged through my brain
again and again, until at last I must have voiced them audibly,
for Yersted shook his head.
"In time to save your Princess?" he asked, and then without waiting
for my reply, "No, John Carter, Issus will not give up her own.
She knows that you are coming, and ere ever a vandal foot is set
within the precincts of the Temple of Issus, if such a calamity
should befall, Dejah Thoris will be put away for ever from the last
faint hope of rescue."
"You mean that she will be killed merely to thwart me?" I asked.
"Not that, other than as a last resort," he replied. "Hast ever
heard of the Temple of the Sun? It is there that they will put
her. It lies far within the inner court of the Temple of Issus,
a little temple that raises a thin spire far above the spires and
minarets of the great temple that surrounds it. Beneath it, in
the ground, there lies the main body of the temple consisting in
six hundred and eighty-seven circular chambers, one below another.
To each chamber a single corridor leads through solid rock from
the pits of Issus.
"As the entire Temple of the Sun revolves once with each revolution
of Barsoom about the sun, but once each year does the entrance to
each separate chamber come opposite the mouth of the corridor which
forms its only link to the world without.
"Here Issus puts those who displease her, but whom she does not
care to execute forthwith. Or to punish a noble of the First Born
she may cause him to be placed within a chamber of the Temple of
the Sun for a year. Ofttimes she imprisons an executioner with
the condemned, that death may come in a certain horrible form upon
a given day, or again but enough food is deposited in the chamber
to sustain life but the number of days that Issus has allotted for
"Thus will Dejah Thoris die, and her fate will be sealed by the
first alien foot that crosses the threshold of Issus."
So I was to be thwarted in the end, although I had performed the
miraculous and come within a few short moments of my divine Princess,
yet was I as far from her as when I stood upon the banks of the
Hudson forty-eight million miles away.
THROUGH FLOOD AND FLAME
Yersted's information convinced me that there was no time to be
lost. I must reach the Temple of Issus secretly before the forces
under Tars Tarkas assaulted at dawn. Once within its hated walls
I was positive that I could overcome the guards of Issus and bear
away my Princess, for at my back I would have a force ample for
No sooner had Carthoris and the others joined me than we commenced
the transportation of our men through the submerged passage to the
mouth of the gangways which lead from the submarine pool at the
temple end of the watery tunnel to the pits of Issus.
Many trips were required, but at last all stood safely together
again at the beginning of the end of our quest. Five thousand
strong we were, all seasoned fighting-men of the most warlike race
of the red men of Barsoom.
As Carthoris alone knew the hidden ways of the tunnels we could not
divide the party and attack the temple at several points at once
as would have been most desirable, and so it was decided that he
lead us all as quickly as possible to a point near the temple's
As we were about to leave the pool and enter the corridor, an
officer called my attention to the waters upon which the submarine
floated. At first they seemed to be merely agitated as from the
movement of some great body beneath the surface, and I at once
conjectured that another submarine was rising to the surface in
pursuit of us; but presently it became apparent that the level of
the waters was rising, not with extreme rapidity, but very surely,
and that soon they would overflow the sides of the pool and submerge
the floor of the chamber.
For a moment I did not fully grasp the terrible import of the slowly
rising water. It was Carthoris who realized the full meaning of
the thing--its cause and the reason for it.
"Haste!" he cried. "If we delay, we all are lost. The pumps of
Omean have been stopped. They would drown us like rats in a trap.
We must reach the upper levels of the pits in advance of the flood
or we shall never reach them. Come."
"Lead the way, Carthoris," I cried. "We will follow."
At my command, the youth leaped into one of the corridors, and in
column of twos the soldiers followed him in good order, each company
entering the corridor only at the command of its dwar, or captain.
Before the last company filed from the chamber the water was ankle
deep, and that the men were nervous was quite evident. Entirely
unaccustomed to water except in quantities sufficient for drinking
and bathing purposes the red Martians instinctively shrank from it
in such formidable depths and menacing activity. That they were
undaunted while it swirled and eddied about their ankles, spoke
well for their bravery and their discipline.
I was the last to leave the chamber of the submarine, and as I followed
the rear of the column toward the corridor, I moved through water
to my knees. The corridor, too, was flooded to the same depth, for
its floor was on a level with the floor of the chamber from which
it led, nor was there any perceptible rise for many yards.
The march of the troops through the corridor was as rapid as was
consistent with the number of men that moved through so narrow a
passage, but it was not ample to permit us to gain appreciably on
the pursuing tide. As the level of the passage rose, so, too, did
the waters rise until it soon became apparent to me, who brought
up the rear, that they were gaining rapidly upon us. I could
understand the reason for this, as with the narrowing expanse of
Omean as the waters rose toward the apex of its dome, the rapidity
of its rise would increase in inverse ratio to the ever-lessening
space to be filled.
Long ere the last of the column could hope to reach the upper pits
which lay above the danger point I was convinced that the waters
would surge after us in overwhelming volume, and that fully half
the expedition would be snuffed out.
As I cast about for some means of saving as many as possible of the
doomed men, I saw a diverging corridor which seemed to rise at a
steep angle at my right. The waters were now swirling about my waist.
The men directly before me were quickly becoming panic-stricken.
Something must be done at once or they would rush forward upon
their fellows in a mad stampede that would result in trampling
down hundreds beneath the flood and eventually clogging the passage
beyond any hope of retreat for those in advance.
Raising my voice to its utmost, I shouted my command to the dwars
ahead of me.
"Call back the last twenty-five utans," I shouted. "Here seems a
way of escape. Turn back and follow me."
My orders were obeyed by nearer thirty utans, so that some three
thousand men came about and hastened into the teeth of the flood
to reach the corridor up which I directed them.
As the first dwar passed in with his utan I cautioned him to listen
closely for my commands, and under no circumstances to venture into
the open, or leave the pits for the temple proper until I should
have come up with him, "or you know that I died before I could
The officer saluted and left me. The men filed rapidly past me and
entered the diverging corridor which I hoped would lead to safety.
The water rose breast high. Men stumbled, floundered, and went
down. Many I grasped and set upon their feet again, but alone
the work was greater than I could cope with. Soldiers were being
swept beneath the boiling torrent, never to rise. At length the
dwar of the 10th utan took a stand beside me. He was a valorous
soldier, Gur Tus by name, and together we kept the now thoroughly
frightened troops in the semblance of order and rescued many that
would have drowned otherwise.
Djor Kantos, son of Kantos Kan, and a padwar of the fifth utan
joined us when his utan reached the opening through which the men
were fleeing. Thereafter not a man was lost of all the hundreds
that remained to pass from the main corridor to the branch.
As the last utan was filing past us the waters had risen until they
surged about our necks, but we clasped hands and stood our ground
until the last man had passed to the comparative safety of the new
passageway. Here we found an immediate and steep ascent, so that
within a hundred yards we had reached a point above the waters.
For a few minutes we continued rapidly up the steep grade, which I
hoped would soon bring us quickly to the upper pits that let into
the Temple of Issus. But I was to meet with a cruel disappointment.
Suddenly I heard a cry of "fire" far ahead, followed almost at once
by cries of terror and the loud commands of dwars and padwars who
were evidently attempting to direct their men away from some grave
danger. At last the report came back to us. "They have fired the
pits ahead." "We are hemmed in by flames in front and flood behind."
"Help, John Carter; we are suffocating," and then there swept back
upon us at the rear a wave of dense smoke that sent us, stumbling
and blinded, into a choking retreat.
There was naught to do other than seek a new avenue of escape. The
fire and smoke were to be feared a thousand times over the water,
and so I seized upon the first gallery which led out of and up from
the suffocating smoke that was engulfing us.
Again I stood to one side while the soldiers hastened through on the
new way. Some two thousand must have passed at a rapid run, when
the stream ceased, but I was not sure that all had been rescued who
had not passed the point of origin of the flames, and so to assure
myself that no poor devil was left behind to die a horrible death,
unsuccoured, I ran quickly up the gallery in the direction of the
flames which I could now see burning with a dull glow far ahead.
It was hot and stifling work, but at last I reached a point where
the fire lit up the corridor sufficiently for me to see that no
soldier of Helium lay between me and the conflagration--what was
in it or upon the far side I could not know, nor could any man have
passed through that seething hell of chemicals and lived to learn.
Having satisfied my sense of duty, I turned and ran rapidly back
to the corridor through which my men had passed. To my horror,
however, I found that my retreat in this direction had been
blocked--across the mouth of the corridor stood a massive steel
grating that had evidently been lowered from its resting-place
above for the purpose of effectually cutting off my escape.
That our principal movements were known to the First Born I could
not have doubted, in view of the attack of the fleet upon us the
day before, nor could the stopping of the pumps of Omean at the
psychological moment have been due to chance, nor the starting
of a chemical combustion within the one corridor through which
we were advancing upon the Temple of Issus been due to aught than
And now the dropping of the steel gate to pen me effectually between
fire and flood seemed to indicate that invisible eyes were upon us
at every moment. What chance had I, then, to rescue Dejah Thoris
were I to be compelled to fight foes who never showed themselves.
A thousand times I berated myself for being drawn into such a trap
as I might have known these pits easily could be. Now I saw that
it would have been much better to have kept our force intact and made
a concerted attack upon the temple from the valley side, trusting
to chance and our great fighting ability to have overwhelmed the
First Born and compelled the safe delivery of Dejah Thoris to me.
The smoke from the fire was forcing me further and further back down
the corridor toward the waters which I could hear surging through
the darkness. With my men had gone the last torch, nor was this
corridor lighted by the radiance of phosphorescent rock as were
those of the lower levels. It was this fact that assured me that
I was not far from the upper pits which lie directly beneath the
Finally I felt the lapping waters about my feet. The smoke was
thick behind me. My suffering was intense. There seemed but one
thing to do, and that to choose the easier death which confronted
me, and so I moved on down the corridor until the cold waters of Omean
closed about me, and I swam on through utter blackness toward--what?
The instinct of self-preservation is strong even when one, unafraid
and in the possession of his highest reasoning faculties, knows
that death--positive and unalterable--lies just ahead. And so I
swam slowly on, waiting for my head to touch the top of the corridor,
which would mean that I had reached the limit of my flight and the
point where I must sink for ever to an unmarked grave.
But to my surprise I ran against a blank wall before I reached a
point where the waters came to the roof of the corridor. Could I
be mistaken? I felt around. No, I had come to the main corridor,
and still there was a breathing space between the surface of the
water and the rocky ceiling above. And then I turned up the main
corridor in the direction that Carthoris and the head of the column
had passed a half-hour before. On and on I swam, my heart growing
lighter at every stroke, for I knew that I was approaching closer
and closer to the point where there would be no chance that the
waters ahead could be deeper than they were about me. I was positive
that I must soon feel the solid floor beneath my feet again and
that once more my chance would come to reach the Temple of Issus
and the side of the fair prisoner who languished there.
But even as hope was at its highest I felt the sudden shock of
contact as my head struck the rocks above. The worst, then, had
come to me. I had reached one of those rare places where a Martian
tunnel dips suddenly to a lower level. Somewhere beyond I knew
that it rose again, but of what value was that to me, since I did
not know how great the distance that it maintained a level entirely
beneath the surface of the water!
There was but a single forlorn hope, and I took it. Filling my
lungs with air, I dived beneath the surface and swam through the
inky, icy blackness on and on along the submerged gallery. Time
and time again I rose with upstretched hand, only to feel the
disappointing rocks close above me.
Not for much longer would my lungs withstand the strain upon them.
I felt that I must soon succumb, nor was there any retreating now
that I had gone this far. I knew positively that I could never
endure to retrace my path now to the point from which I had felt
the waters close above my head. Death stared me in the face, nor
ever can I recall a time that I so distinctly felt the icy breath
from his dead lips upon my brow.
One more frantic effort I made with my fast ebbing strength. Weakly
I rose for the last time--my tortured lungs gasped for the breath
that would fill them with a strange and numbing element, but instead
I felt the revivifying breath of life-giving air surge through my
starving nostrils into my dying lungs. I was saved.
A few more strokes brought me to a point where my feet touched the
floor, and soon thereafter I was above the water level entirely,
and racing like mad along the corridor searching for the first
doorway that would lead me to Issus. If I could not have Dejah
Thoris again I was at least determined to avenge her death, nor
would any life satisfy me other than that of the fiend incarnate
who was the cause of such immeasurable suffering upon Barsoom.
Sooner than I had expected I came to what appeared to me to be
a sudden exit into the temple above. It was at the right side of
the corridor, which ran on, probably, to other entrances to the
To me one point was as good as another. What knew I where any
of them led! And so without waiting to be again discovered and
thwarted, I ran quickly up the short, steep incline and pushed open
the doorway at its end.
The portal swung slowly in, and before it could be slammed against
me I sprang into the chamber beyond. Although not yet dawn, the
room was brilliantly lighted. Its sole occupant lay prone upon
a low couch at the further side, apparently in sleep. From the
hangings and sumptuous furniture of the room I judged it to be a
living-room of some priestess, possibly of Issus herself.
At the thought the blood tingled through my veins. What, indeed,
if fortune had been kind enough to place the hideous creature alone
and unguarded in my hands. With her as hostage I could force
acquiescence to my every demand. Cautiously I approached the
recumbent figure, on noiseless feet. Closer and closer I came to
it, but I had crossed but little more than half the chamber when
the figure stirred, and, as I sprang, rose and faced me.
At first an expression of terror overspread the features of the
woman who confronted me--then startled incredulity--hope--thanksgiving.
My heart pounded within my breast as I advanced toward her--tears
came to my eyes--and the words that would have poured forth in a
perfect torrent choked in my throat as I opened my arms and took
into them once more the woman I loved--Dejah Thoris, Princess of
VICTORY AND DEFEAT
"John Carter, John Carter," she sobbed, with her dear head upon
my shoulder; "even now I can scarce believe the witness of my own
eyes. When the girl, Thuvia, told me that you had returned to
Barsoom, I listened, but I could not understand, for it seemed that
such happiness would be impossible for one who had suffered so in
silent loneliness for all these long years. At last, when I realized
that it was truth, and then came to know the awful place in which
I was held prisoner, I learned to doubt that even you could reach
"As the days passed, and moon after moon went by without bringing
even the faintest rumour of you, I resigned myself to my fate.
And now that you have come, scarce can I believe it. For an hour
I have heard the sounds of conflict within the palace. I knew not
what they meant, but I have hoped against hope that it might be
the men of Helium headed by my Prince.
"And tell me, what of Carthoris, our son?"
"He was with me less than an hour since, Dejah Thoris," I replied.
"It must have been he whose men you have heard battling within the
precincts of the temple.
"Where is Issus?" I asked suddenly.
Dejah Thoris shrugged her shoulders.
"She sent me under guard to this room just before the fighting
began within the temple halls. She said that she would send for
me later. She seemed very angry and somewhat fearful. Never have
I seen her act in so uncertain and almost terrified a manner. Now
I know that it must have been because she had learned that John
Carter, Prince of Helium, was approaching to demand an accounting
of her for the imprisonment of his Princess."
The sounds of conflict, the clash of arms, the shouting and the
hurrying of many feet came to us from various parts of the temple.
I knew that I was needed there, but I dared not leave Dejah Thoris,
nor dared I take her with me into the turmoil and danger of battle.
At last I bethought me of the pits from which I had just emerged.
Why not secrete her there until I could return and fetch her away
in safety and for ever from this awful place. I explained my plan
For a moment she clung more closely to me.
"I cannot bear to be parted from you now, even for a moment, John
Carter," she said. "I shudder at the thought of being alone again
where that terrible creature might discover me. You do not know
her. None can imagine her ferocious cruelty who has not witnessed
her daily acts for over half a year. It has taken me nearly all
this time to realize even the things that I have seen with my own
"I shall not leave you, then, my Princess," I replied.
She was silent for a moment, then she drew my face to hers and
"Go, John Carter," she said. "Our son is there, and the soldiers
of Helium, fighting for the Princess of Helium. Where they are you
should be. I must not think of myself now, but of them and of my
husband's duty. I may not stand in the way of that. Hide me in
the pits, and go."
I led her to the door through which I had entered the chamber from
below. There I pressed her dear form to me, and then, though it
tore my heart to do it, and filled me only with the blackest shadows
of terrible foreboding, I guided her across the threshold, kissed
her once again, and closed the door upon her.
Without hesitating longer, I hurried from the chamber in the
direction of the greatest tumult. Scarce half a dozen chambers had
I traversed before I came upon the theatre of a fierce struggle.
The blacks were massed at the entrance to a great chamber where
they were attempting to block the further progress of a body of
red men toward the inner sacred precincts of the temple.
Coming from within as I did, I found myself behind the blacks, and,
without waiting to even calculate their numbers or the foolhardiness
of my venture, I charged swiftly across the chamber and fell upon
them from the rear with my keen long-sword.
As I struck the first blow I cried aloud, "For Helium!" And then
I rained cut after cut upon the surprised warriors, while the reds
without took heart at the sound of my voice, and with shouts of
"John Carter! John Carter!" redoubled their efforts so effectually
that before the blacks could recover from their temporary demoralization
their ranks were broken and the red men had burst into the chamber.
The fight within that room, had it had but a competent chronicler,
would go down in the annals of Barsoom as a historic memorial to
the grim ferocity of her warlike people. Five hundred men fought
there that day, the black men against the red. No man asked quarter
or gave it. As though by common assent they fought, as though to
determine once and for all their right to live, in accordance with
the law of the survival of the fittest.
I think we all knew that upon the outcome of this battle would hinge
for ever the relative positions of these two races upon Barsoom.
It was a battle between the old and the new, but not for once did
I question the outcome of it. With Carthoris at my side I fought
for the red men of Barsoom and for their total emancipation from
the throttling bondage of a hideous superstition.
Back and forth across the room we surged, until the floor was ankle
deep in blood, and dead men lay so thickly there that half the
time we stood upon their bodies as we fought. As we swung toward
the great windows which overlooked the gardens of Issus a sight
met my gaze which sent a wave of exultation over me.
"Look!" I cried. "Men of the First Born, look!"
For an instant the fighting ceased, and with one accord every eye
turned in the direction I had indicated, and the sight they saw
was one no man of the First Born had ever imagined could be.
Across the gardens, from side to side, stood a wavering line of
black warriors, while beyond them and forcing them ever back was a
great horde of green warriors astride their mighty thoats. And as
we watched, one, fiercer and more grimly terrible than his fellows,
rode forward from the rear, and as he came he shouted some fierce
command to his terrible legion.
It was Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark, and as he couched his great
forty-foot metal-shod lance we saw his warriors do likewise. Then
it was that we interpreted his command. Twenty yards now separated the
green men from the black line. Another word from the great Thark,
and with a wild and terrifying battle-cry the green warriors charged.
For a moment the black line held, but only for a moment--then the
fearsome beasts that bore equally terrible riders passed completely
After them came utan upon utan of red men. The green horde broke
to surround the temple. The red men charged for the interior, and
then we turned to continue our interrupted battle; but our foes
My first thought was of Dejah Thoris. Calling to Carthoris that I
had found his mother, I started on a run toward the chamber where
I had left her, with my boy close beside me. After us came those
of our little force who had survived the bloody conflict.
The moment I entered the room I saw that some one had been there
since I had left. A silk lay upon the floor. It had not been
there before. There were also a dagger and several metal ornaments
strewn about as though torn from their wearer in a struggle. But
worst of all, the door leading to the pits where I had hidden my
Princess was ajar.
With a bound I was before it, and, thrusting it open, rushed
within. Dejah Thoris had vanished. I called her name aloud again
and again, but there was no response. I think in that instant I
hovered upon the verge of insanity. I do not recall what I said
or did, but I know that for an instant I was seized with the rage
of a maniac.
"Issus!" I cried. "Issus! Where is Issus? Search the temple for
her, but let no man harm her but John Carter. Carthoris, where
are the apartments of Issus?"
"This way," cried the boy, and, without waiting to know that I
had heard him, he dashed off at breakneck speed, further into the
bowels of the temple. As fast as he went, however, I was still
beside him, urging him on to greater speed.
At last we came to a great carved door, and through this Carthoris
dashed, a foot ahead of me. Within, we came upon such a scene as
I had witnessed within the temple once before--the throne of Issus,
with the reclining slaves, and about it the ranks of soldiery.
We did not even give the men a chance to draw, so quickly were we
upon them. With a single cut I struck down two in the front rank.
And then by the mere weight and momentum of my body, I rushed
completely through the two remaining ranks and sprang upon the dais
beside the carved sorapus throne.
The repulsive creature, squatting there in terror, attempted to
escape me and leap into a trap behind her. But this time I was
not to be outwitted by any such petty subterfuge. Before she had
half arisen I had grasped her by the arm, and then, as I saw the
guard starting to make a concerted rush upon me from all sides, I
whipped out my dagger and, holding it close to that vile breast,
ordered them to halt.
"Back!" I cried to them. "Back! The first black foot that is
planted upon this platform sends my dagger into Issus' heart."
For an instant they hesitated. Then an officer ordered them back,
while from the outer corridor there swept into the throne room at
the heels of my little party of survivors a full thousand red men
under Kantos Kan, Hor Vastus, and Xodar.
"Where is Dejah Thoris?" I cried to the thing within my hands.
For a moment her eyes roved wildly about the scene beneath her.
I think that it took a moment for the true condition to make any
impression upon her--she could not at first realize that the temple
had fallen before the assault of men of the outer world. When she
did, there must have come, too, a terrible realization of what it
meant to her--the loss of power--humiliation--the exposure of the
fraud and imposture which she had for so long played upon her own
There was just one thing needed to complete the reality of the
picture she was seeing, and that was added by the highest noble of
her realm--the high priest of her religion--the prime minister of
"Issus, Goddess of Death, and of Life Eternal," he cried, "arise
in the might of thy righteous wrath and with one single wave of thy
omnipotent hand strike dead thy blasphemers! Let not one escape.
Issus, thy people depend upon thee. Daughter of the Lesser Moon,
thou only art all-powerful. Thou only canst save thy people. I
am done. We await thy will. Strike!"
And then it was that she went mad. A screaming, gibbering maniac
writhed in my grasp. It bit and clawed and scratched in impotent
fury. And then it laughed a weird and terrible laughter that froze
the blood. The slave girls upon the dais shrieked and cowered
away. And the thing jumped at them and gnashed its teeth and then
spat upon them from frothing lips. God, but it was a horrid sight.
Finally, I shook the thing, hoping to recall it for a moment to
"Where is Dejah Thoris?" I cried again.
The awful creature in my grasp mumbled inarticulately for a moment,
then a sudden gleam of cunning shot into those hideous, close-set
"Dejah Thoris? Dejah Thoris?" and then that shrill, unearthly
laugh pierced our ears once more.
"Yes, Dejah Thoris--I know. And Thuvia, and Phaidor, daughter of
Matai Shang. They each love John Carter. Ha-ah! but it is droll.
Together for a year they will meditate within the Temple of the
Sun, but ere the year is quite gone there will be no more food for
them. Ho-oh! what divine entertainment," and she licked the froth
from her cruel lips. "There will be no more food--except each
other. Ha-ah! Ha-ah!"
The horror of the suggestion nearly paralysed me. To this awful
fate the creature within my power had condemned my Princess. I
trembled in the ferocity of my rage. As a terrier shakes a rat I
shook Issus, Goddess of Life Eternal.
"Countermand your orders!" I cried. "Recall the condemned. Haste,
or you die!"
"It is too late. Ha-ah! Ha-ah!" and then she commenced her
gibbering and shrieking again.
Almost of its own volition, my dagger flew up above that putrid
heart. But something stayed my hand, and I am now glad that it
did. It were a terrible thing to have struck down a woman with
one's own hand. But a fitter fate occurred to me for this false
"First Born," I cried, turning to those who stood within the
chamber, "you have seen to-day the impotency of Issus--the gods are
impotent. Issus is no god. She is a cruel and wicked old woman,
who has deceived and played upon you for ages. Take her. John
Carter, Prince of Helium, would not contaminate his hand with
her blood," and with that I pushed the raving beast, whom a short
half-hour before a whole world had worshipped as divine, from the
platform of her throne into the waiting clutches of her betrayed
and vengeful people.
Spying Xodar among the officers of the red men, I called him to
lead me quickly to the Temple of the Sun, and, without waiting to
learn what fate the First Born would wreak upon their goddess, I
rushed from the chamber with Xodar, Carthoris, Hor Vastus, Kantos
Kan, and a score of other red nobles.
The black led us rapidly through the inner chambers of the temple,
until we stood within the central court--a great circular space
paved with a transparent marble of exquisite whiteness. Before
us rose a golden temple wrought in the most wondrous and fanciful
designs, inlaid with diamond, ruby, sapphire, turquoise, emerald,
and the thousand nameless gems of Mars, which far transcend in
loveliness and purity of ray the most priceless stones of Earth.
"This way," cried Xodar, leading us toward the entrance to a tunnel
which opened in the courtyard beside the temple. Just as we were
on the point of descending we heard a deep-toned roar burst from
the Temple of Issus, which we had but just quitted, and then a red
man, Djor Kantos, padwar of the fifth utan, broke from a nearby
gate, crying to us to return.
"The blacks have fired the temple," he cried. "In a thousand places
it is burning now. Haste to the outer gardens, or you are lost."
As he spoke we saw smoke pouring from a dozen windows looking out
upon the courtyard of the Temple of the Sun, and far above the
highest minaret of Issus hung an ever-growing pall of smoke.
"Go back! Go back!" I cried to those who had accompanied me. "The
way! Xodar; point the way and leave me. I shall reach my Princess
"Follow me, John Carter," replied Xodar, and without waiting for
my reply he dashed down into the tunnel at our feet. At his heels
I ran down through a half-dozen tiers of galleries, until at last
he led me along a level floor at the end of which I discerned a
Massive bars blocked our further progress, but beyond I saw her--my
incomparable Princess, and with her were Thuvia and Phaidor. When
she saw me she rushed toward the bars that separated us. Already
the chamber had turned upon its slow way so far that but a portion
of the opening in the temple wall was opposite the barred end of
the corridor. Slowly the interval was closing. In a short time
there would be but a tiny crack, and then even that would be closed,
and for a long Barsoomian year the chamber would slowly revolve
until once more for a brief day the aperture in its wall would pass
the corridor's end.
But in the meantime what horrible things would go on within that
"Xodar!" I cried. "Can no power stop this awful revolving thing?
Is there none who holds the secret of these terrible bars?"
"None, I fear, whom we could fetch in time, though I shall go and
make the attempt. Wait for me here."
After he had left I stood and talked with Dejah Thoris, and she
stretched her dear hand through those cruel bars that I might hold
it until the last moment.
Thuvia and Phaidor came close also, but when Thuvia saw that we
would be alone she withdrew to the further side of the chamber.
Not so the daughter of Matai Shang.
"John Carter," she said, "this be the last time that you shall see
any of us. Tell me that you love me, that I may die happy."
"I love only the Princess of Helium," I replied quietly. "I am
sorry, Phaidor, but it is as I have told you from the beginning."
She bit her lip and turned away, but not before I saw the black
and ugly scowl she turned upon Dejah Thoris. Thereafter she stood
a little way apart, but not so far as I should have desired, for
I had many little confidences to impart to my long-lost love.
For a few minutes we stood thus talking in low tones. Ever smaller
and smaller grew the opening. In a short time now it would be too
small even to permit the slender form of my Princess to pass. Oh,
why did not Xodar haste. Above we could hear the faint echoes of
a great tumult. It was the multitude of black and red and green
men fighting their way through the fire from the burning Temple of
A draught from above brought the fumes of smoke to our nostrils.
As we stood waiting for Xodar the smoke became thicker and thicker.
Presently we heard shouting at the far end of the corridor, and
"Come back, John Carter, come back!" cried a voice, "even the pits
In a moment a dozen men broke through the now blinding smoke to
my side. There was Carthoris, and Kantos Kan, and Hor Vastus, and
Xodar, with a few more who had followed me to the temple court.
"There is no hope, John Carter," cried Xodar. "The keeper of the
keys is dead and his keys are not upon his carcass. Our only hope
is to quench this conflagration and trust to fate that a year will
find your Princess alive and well. I have brought sufficient food
to last them. When this crack closes no smoke can reach them, and
if we hasten to extinguish the flames I believe they will be safe."
"Go, then, yourself and take these others with you," I replied.
"I shall remain here beside my Princess until a merciful death
releases me from my anguish. I care not to live."
As I spoke Xodar had been tossing a great number of tiny cans
within the prison cell. The remaining crack was not over an inch
in width a moment later. Dejah Thoris stood as close to it as she
could, whispering words of hope and courage to me, and urging me
to save myself.
Suddenly beyond her I saw the beautiful face of Phaidor contorted
into an expression of malign hatred. As my eyes met hers she spoke.
"Think not, John Carter, that you may so lightly cast aside the
love of Phaidor, daughter of Matai Shang. Nor ever hope to hold
thy Dejah Thoris in thy arms again. Wait you the long, long year;
but know that when the waiting is over it shall be Phaidor's arms
which shall welcome you--not those of the Princess of Helium.
Behold, she dies!"
And as she finished speaking I saw her raise a dagger on high, and
then I saw another figure. It was Thuvia's. As the dagger fell
toward the unprotected breast of my love, Thuvia was almost between
them. A blinding gust of smoke blotted out the tragedy within that
fearsome cell--a shriek rang out, a single shriek, as the dagger
The smoke cleared away, but we stood gazing upon a blank wall. The
last crevice had closed, and for a long year that hideous chamber
would retain its secret from the eyes of men.
They urged me to leave.
"In a moment it will be too late," cried Xodar. "There is, in fact,
but a bare chance that we can come through to the outer garden alive
even now. I have ordered the pumps started, and in five minutes
the pits will be flooded. If we would not drown like rats in a
trap we must hasten above and make a dash for safety through the
"Go," I urged them. "Let me die here beside my Princess--there is
no hope or happiness elsewhere for me. When they carry her dear
body from that terrible place a year hence let them find the body
of her lord awaiting her."
Of what happened after that I have only a confused recollection.
It seems as though I struggled with many men, and then that I was
picked bodily from the ground and borne away. I do not know. I
have never asked, nor has any other who was there that day intruded
on my sorrow or recalled to my mind the occurrences which they know
could but at best reopen the terrible wound within my heart.
Ah! If I could but know one thing, what a burden of suspense would
be lifted from my shoulders! But whether the assassin's dagger
reached one fair bosom or another, only time will divulge.