Part 3 out of 4
and then suddenly the secret of the shaft burst upon me, and with
it an explanation of the cause that prevented a flier that passed
too far across the ice-barrier ever returning.
The shaft was a mighty magnet, and when once a vessel came within
the radius of its powerful attraction for the aluminum steel that
enters so largely into the construction of all Barsoomian craft,
no power on earth could prevent such an end as we had just witnessed.
I afterward learned that the shaft rests directly over the magnetic
pole of Mars, but whether this adds in any way to its incalculable
power of attraction I do not know. I am a fighting man, not a
Here, at last, was an explanation of the long absence of Tardos Mors
and Mors Kajak. These valiant and intrepid warriors had dared the
mysteries and dangers of the frozen north to search for Carthoris,
whose long absence had bowed in grief the head of his beautiful
mother, Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium.
The moment that the last of the fliers came to rest at the base of
the shaft the black-bearded, yellow warriors swarmed over the mass
of wreckage upon which they lay, making prisoners of those who were
uninjured and occasionally despatching with a sword-thrust one of
the wounded who seemed prone to resent their taunts and insults.
A few of the uninjured red men battled bravely against their cruel
foes, but for the most part they seemed too overwhelmed by the
horror of the catastrophe that had befallen them to do more than
submit supinely to the golden chains with which they were manacled.
When the last of the prisoners had been confined, the party
returned to the city, at the gate of which we met a pack of fierce,
gold-collared apts, each of which marched between two warriors,
who held them with strong chains of the same metal as their collars.
Just beyond the gate the attendants loosened the whole terrible
herd, and as they bounded off toward the grim, black shaft I did
not need to ask to know their mission. Had there not been those
within the cruel city of Kadabra who needed succor far worse than
the poor unfortunate dead and dying out there in the cold upon the
bent and broken carcasses of a thousand fliers I could not have
restrained my desire to hasten back and do battle with those horrid
creatures that had been despatched to rend and devour them.
As it was I could but follow the yellow warriors, with bowed head,
and give thanks for the chance that had given Thuvan Dihn and me
such easy ingress to the capital of Salensus Oll.
Once within the gates, we had no difficulty in eluding our friends
of the morning, and presently found ourselves in a Martian hostelry.
The public houses of Barsoom, I have found, vary but little. There
is no privacy for other than married couples.
Men without their wives are escorted to a large chamber, the floor
of which is usually of white marble or heavy glass, kept scrupulously
clean. Here are many small, raised platforms for the guest's sleeping
silks and furs, and if he have none of his own clean, fresh ones
are furnished at a nominal charge.
Once a man's belongings have been deposited upon one of these
platforms he is a guest of the house, and that platform his own
until he leaves. No one will disturb or molest his belongings, as
there are no thieves upon Mars.
As assassination is the one thing to be feared, the proprietors
of the hostelries furnish armed guards, who pace back and forth
through the sleeping-rooms day and night. The number of guards and
gorgeousness of their trappings quite usually denote the status of
No meals are served in these houses, but generally a public eating
place adjoins them. Baths are connected with the sleeping chambers,
and each guest is required to bathe daily or depart from the hotel.
Usually on a second or third floor there is a large sleeping-room
for single women guests, but its appointments do not vary materially
from the chamber occupied by men. The guards who watch the women
remain in the corridor outside the sleeping chamber, while female
slaves pace back and forth among the sleepers within, ready to
notify the warriors should their presence be required.
I was surprised to note that all the guards with the hotel at which
we stopped were red men, and on inquiring of one of them I learned
that they were slaves purchased by the proprietors of the hotels from
the government. The man whose post was past my sleeping platform
had been commander of the navy of a great Martian nation; but fate
had carried his flagship across the ice-barrier within the radius
of power of the magnetic shaft, and now for many tedious years he
had been a slave of the yellow men.
He told me that princes, jeds, and even jeddaks of the outer
world, were among the menials who served the yellow race; but when
I asked him if he had heard of the fate of Mors Kajak or Tardos Mors
he shook his head, saying that he never had heard of their being
prisoners here, though he was very familiar with the reputations
and fame they bore in the outer world.
Neither had he heard any rumor of the coming of the Father of Therns
and the black dator of the First Born, but he hastened to explain
that he knew little of what took place within the palace. I could
see that he wondered not a little that a yellow man should be so
inquisitive about certain red prisoners from beyond the ice-barrier,
and that I should be so ignorant of customs and conditions among
my own race.
In fact, I had forgotten my disguise upon discovering a red man
pacing before my sleeping platform; but his growing expression of
surprise warned me in time, for I had no mind to reveal my identity
to any unless some good could come of it, and I did not see how
this poor fellow could serve me yet, though I had it in my mind
that later I might be the means of serving him and all the other
thousands of prisoners who do the bidding of their stern masters
Thuvan Dihn and I discussed our plans as we sat together among our
sleeping silks and furs that night in the midst of the hundreds
of yellow men who occupied the apartment with us. We spoke in low
whispers, but, as that is only what courtesy demands in a public
sleeping place, we roused no suspicion.
At last, determining that all must be but idle speculation until
after we had had a chance to explore the city and attempt to put
into execution the plan Talu had suggested, we bade each other good
night and turned to sleep.
After breakfasting the following morning we set out to see Kadabra,
and as, through the generosity of the prince of Marentina, we were
well supplied with the funds current in Okar we purchased a handsome
ground flier. Having learned to drive them while in Marentina, we
spent a delightful and profitable day exploring the city, and late
in the afternoon at the hour Talu told us we would find government
officials in their offices, we stopped before a magnificent building
on the plaza opposite the royal grounds and the palace.
Here we walked boldly in past the armed guard at the door, to be
met by a red slave within who asked our wishes.
"Tell Sorav, your master, that two warriors from Illall wish to
take service in the palace guard," I said.
Sorav, Talu had told us, was the commander of the forces of the
palace, and as men from the further cities of Okar--and especially
Illall--were less likely to be tainted with the germ of intrigue
which had for years infected the household of Salensus Oll, he was
sure that we would be welcomed and few questions asked us.
He had primed us with such general information as he thought would
be necessary for us to pass muster before Sorav, after which we would
have to undergo a further examination before Salensus Oll that he
might determine our physical fitness and our ability as warriors.
The little experience we had had with the strange hooked sword of
the yellow man and his cuplike shield made it seem rather unlikely
that either of us could pass this final test, but there was the
chance that we might be quartered in the palace of Salensus Oll
for several days after being accepted by Sorav before the Jeddak
of Jeddaks would find time to put us to the final test.
After a wait of several minutes in an ante-chamber we were summoned
into the private office of Sorav, where we were courteously greeted
by this ferocious-appearing, black-bearded officer. He asked us
our names and stations in our own city, and having received replies
that were evidently satisfactory to him, he put certain questions
to us that Talu had foreseen and prepared us for.
The interview could not have lasted over ten minutes when Sorav
summoned an aid whom he instructed to record us properly, and then
escort us to the quarters in the palace which are set aside for
aspirants to membership in the palace guard.
The aid took us to his own office first, where he measured and
weighed and photographed us simultaneously with a machine ingeniously
devised for that purpose, five copies being instantly reproduced in
five different offices of the government, two of which are located
in other cities miles distant. Then he led us through the palace
grounds to the main guardroom of the palace, there turning us over
to the officer in charge.
This individual again questioned us briefly, and finally despatched
a soldier to guide us to our quarters. These we found located upon
the second floor of the palace in a semi-detached tower at the rear
of the edifice.
When we asked our guide why we were quartered so far from the
guardroom he replied that the custom of the older members of the
guard of picking quarrels with aspirants to try their metal had
resulted in so many deaths that it was found difficult to maintain
the guard at its full strength while this custom prevailed. Salensus
Oll had, therefore, set apart these quarters for aspirants, and here
they were securely locked against the danger of attack by members
of the guard.
This unwelcome information put a sudden check to all our well-laid
plans, for it meant that we should virtually be prisoners in the
palace of Salensus Oll until the time that he should see fit to
give us the final examination for efficiency.
As it was this interval upon which we had banked to accomplish
so much in our search for Dejah Thoris and Thuvia of Ptarth, our
chagrin was unbounded when we heard the great lock click behind our
guide as he had quitted us after ushering us into the chambers we
were to occupy.
With a wry face I turned to Thuvan Dihn. My companion but shook
his head disconsolately and walked to one of the windows upon the
far side of the apartment.
Scarcely had he gazed beyond them than he called to me in a tone
of suppressed excitement and surprise. In an instant I was by his
"Look!" said Thuvan Dihn, pointing toward the courtyard below.
As my eyes followed the direction indicated I saw two women pacing
back and forth in an enclosed garden.
At the same moment I recognized them--they were Dejah Thoris and
Thuvia of Ptarth!
There were they whom I had trailed from one pole to another, the
length of a world. Only ten feet of space and a few metal bars
separated me from them.
With a cry I attracted their attention, and as Dejah Thoris looked
up full into my eyes I made the sign of love that the men of Barsoom
make to their women.
To my astonishment and horror her head went high, and as a look
of utter contempt touched her finely chiseled features she turned
her back full upon me. My body is covered with the scars of a
thousand conflicts, but never in all my long life have I suffered
such anguish from a wound, for this time the steel of a woman's
look had entered my heart.
With a groan I turned away and buried my face in my arms. I
heard Thuvan Dihn call aloud to Thuvia, but an instant later his
exclamation of surprise betokened that he, too, had been repulsed
by his own daughter.
"They will not even listen," he cried to me. "They have put their
hands over their ears and walked to the farther end of the garden.
Ever heard you of such mad work, John Carter? The two must be
Presently I mustered the courage to return to the window, for
even though she spurned me I loved her, and could not keep my eyes
from feasting upon her divine face and figure, but when she saw me
looking she again turned away.
I was at my wit's end to account for her strange actions, and that
Thuvia, too, had turned against her father seemed incredible. Could
it be that my incomparable princess still clung to the hideous faith
from which I had rescued her world? Could it be that she looked
upon me with loathing and contempt because I had returned from the
Valley Dor, or because I had desecrated the temples and persons of
the Holy Therns?
To naught else could I ascribe her strange deportment, yet it seemed
far from possible that such could be the case, for the love of
Dejah Thoris for John Carter had been a great and wondrous love--far
above racial distinctions, creed, or religion.
As I gazed ruefully at the back of her haughty, royal head a gate
at the opposite end of the garden opened and a man entered. As he
did so he turned and slipped something into the hand of the yellow
guardsman beyond the gate, nor was the distance too great that I
might not see that money had passed between them.
Instantly I knew that this newcomer had bribed his way within the
garden. Then he turned in the direction of the two women, and
I saw that he was none other than Thurid, the black dator of the
He approached quite close to them before he spoke, and as they turned
at the sound of his voice I saw Dejah Thoris shrink from him.
There was a nasty leer upon his face as he stepped close to her
and spoke again. I could not hear his words, but her answer came
"The granddaughter of Tardos Mors can always die," she said, "but
she could never live at the price you name."
Then I saw the black scoundrel go upon his knees beside her, fairly
groveling in the dirt, pleading with her. Only part of what he said
came to me, for though he was evidently laboring under the stress
of passion and excitement, it was equally apparent that he did not
dare raise his voice for fear of detection.
"I would save you from Matai Shang," I heard him say. "You know
the fate that awaits you at his hands. Would you not choose me
rather than the other?"
"I would choose neither," replied Dejah Thoris, "even were I free
to choose, as you know well I am not."
"You ARE free!" he cried. "John Carter, Prince of Helium, is dead."
"I know better than that; but even were he dead, and I must needs
choose another mate, it should be a plant man or a great white
ape in preference to either Matai Shang or you, black calot," she
answered with a sneer of contempt.
Of a sudden the vicious beast lost all control of himself, as with
a vile oath he leaped at the slender woman, gripping her tender
throat in his brute clutch. Thuvia screamed and sprang to aid her
fellow-prisoner, and at the same instant I, too, went mad, and
tearing at the bars that spanned my window I ripped them from their
sockets as they had been but copper wire.
Hurling myself through the aperture I reached the garden, but a
hundred feet from where the black was choking the life from my Dejah
Thoris, and with a single great bound I was upon him. I spoke no
word as I tore his defiling fingers from that beautiful throat,
nor did I utter a sound as I hurled him twenty feet from me.
Foaming with rage, Thurid regained his feet and charged me like a
"Yellow man," he shrieked, "you knew not upon whom you had laid
your vile hands, but ere I am done with you, you will know well
what it means to offend the person of a First Born."
Then he was upon me, reaching for my throat, and precisely as I had
done that day in the courtyard of the Temple of Issus I did here
in the garden of the palace of Salensus Oll. I ducked beneath his
outstretched arms, and as he lunged past me I planted a terrific
right upon the side of his jaw.
Just as he had done upon that other occasion he did now. Like a
top he spun round, his knees gave beneath him, and he crumpled to
the ground at my feet. Then I heard a voice behind me.
It was the deep voice of authority that marks the ruler of men,
and when I turned to face the resplendent figure of a giant yellow
man I did not need to ask to know that it was Salensus Oll. At
his right stood Matai Shang, and behind them a score of guardsmen.
"Who are you," he cried, "and what means this intrusion within the
precincts of the women's garden? I do not recall your face. How
came you here?"
But for his last words I should have forgotten my disguise entirely
and told him outright that I was John Carter, Prince of Helium;
but his question recalled me to myself. I pointed to the dislodged
bars of the window above.
"I am an aspirant to membership in the palace guard," I said, "and
from yonder window in the tower where I was confined awaiting the
final test for fitness I saw this brute attack the this woman. I
could not stand idly by, O Jeddak, and see this thing done within
the very palace grounds, and yet feel that I was fit to serve and
guard your royal person."
I had evidently made an impression upon the ruler of Okar by my
fair words, and when he had turned to Dejah Thoris and Thuvia of
Ptarth, and both had corroborated my statements it began to look
pretty dark for Thurid.
I saw the ugly gleam in Matai Shang's evil eyes as Dejah Thoris
narrated all that had passed between Thurid and herself, and when
she came to that part which dealt with my interference with the
dator of the First Born her gratitude was quite apparent, though
I could see by her eyes that something puzzled her strangely.
I did not wonder at her attitude toward me while others were present;
but that she should have denied me while she and Thuvia were the
only occupants of the garden still cut me sorely.
As the examination proceeded I cast a glance at Thurid and startled
him looking wide-eyed and wonderingly at me, and then of a sudden
he laughed full in my face.
A moment later Salensus Oll turned toward the black.
"What have you to say in explanation of these charges?" he asked
in a deep and terrible voice. "Dare you aspire to one whom the
Father of Therns has chosen--one who might even be a fit mate for
the Jeddak of Jeddaks himself?"
And then the black-bearded tyrant turned and cast a sudden greedy
look upon Dejah Thoris, as though with the words a new thought and
a new desire had sprung up within his mind and breast.
Thurid had been about to reply and, with a malicious grin upon his
face, was pointing an accusing finger at me, when Salensus Oll's
words and the expression of his face cut him short.
A cunning look crept into his eyes, and I knew from the expression
of his face that his next words were not the ones he had intended
"O Mightiest of Jeddaks," he said, "the man and the women do not
speak the truth. The fellow had come into the garden to assist
them to escape. I was beyond and overheard their conversation,
and when I entered, the woman screamed and the man sprang upon me
and would have killed me.
"What know you of this man? He is a stranger to you, and I dare
say that you will find him an enemy and a spy. Let him be put on
trial, Salensus Oll, rather than your friend and guest, Thurid,
Dator of the First Born."
Salensus Oll looked puzzled. He turned again and looked upon Dejah
Thoris, and then Thurid stepped quite close to him and whispered
something in his ear--what, I know not.
Presently the yellow ruler turned to one of his officers.
"See that this man be securely confined until we have time to go
deeper into this affair," he commanded, "and as bars alone seem
inadequate to restrain him, let chains be added."
Then he turned and left the garden, taking Dejah Thoris with him--his
hand upon her shoulder. Thurid and Matai Shang went also, and as
they reached the gateway the black turned and laughed again aloud
in my face.
What could be the meaning of his sudden change toward me? Could
he suspect my true identity? It must be that, and the thing that
had betrayed me was the trick and blow that had laid him low for
the second time.
As the guards dragged me away my heart was very sad and bitter
indeed, for now to the two relentless enemies that had hounded her
for so long another and a more powerful one had been added, for
I would have been but a fool had I not recognized the sudden love
for Dejah Thoris that had just been born in the terrible breast of
Salensus Oll, Jeddak of Jeddaks, ruler of Okar.
THE PIT OF PLENTY
I did not languish long within the prison of Salensus Oll. During
the short time that I lay there, fettered with chains of gold, I
often wondered as to the fate of Thuvan Dihn, Jeddak of Ptarth.
My brave companion had followed me into the garden as I attacked
Thurid, and when Salensus Oll had left with Dejah Thoris and the
others, leaving Thuvia of Ptarth behind, he, too, had remained
in the garden with his daughter, apparently unnoticed, for he was
appareled similarly to the guards.
The last I had seen of him he stood waiting for the warriors who
escorted me to close the gate behind them, that he might be alone
with Thuvia. Could it be possible that they had escaped? I doubted
it, and yet with all my heart I hoped that it might be true.
The third day of my incarceration brought a dozen warriors to escort
me to the audience chamber, where Salensus Oll himself was to try
me. A great number of nobles crowded the room, and among them I
saw Thurid, but Matai Shang was not there.
Dejah Thoris, as radiantly beautiful as ever, sat upon a small throne
beside Salensus Oll. The expression of sad hopelessness upon her
dear face cut deep into my heart.
Her position beside the Jeddak of Jeddaks boded ill for her and me,
and on the instant that I saw her there, there sprang to my mind
the firm intention never to leave that chamber alive if I must
leave her in the clutches of this powerful tyrant.
I had killed better men than Salensus Oll, and killed them with my
bare hands, and now I swore to myself that I should kill him if I
found that the only way to save the Princess of Helium. That it
would mean almost instant death for me I cared not, except that
it would remove me from further efforts in behalf of Dejah Thoris,
and for this reason alone I would have chosen another way, for
even though I should kill Salensus Oll that act would not restore
my beloved wife to her own people. I determined to wait the final
outcome of the trial, that I might learn all that I could of the
Okarian ruler's intentions, and then act accordingly.
Scarcely had I come before him than Salensus Oll summoned Thurid
"Dator Thurid," he said, "you have made a strange request of me;
but, in accordance with your wishes and your promise that it will
result only to my interests, I have decided to accede.
"You tell me that a certain announcement will be the means of
convicting this prisoner and, at the same time, open the way to
the gratification of my dearest wish."
"Then shall I make the announcement here before all my nobles,"
continued Salensus Oll. "For a year no queen has sat upon the
throne beside me, and now it suits me to take to wife one who is
reputed the most beautiful woman upon Barsoom. A statement which
none may truthfully deny.
"Nobles of Okar, unsheathe your swords and do homage to Dejah Thoris,
Princess of Helium and future Queen of Okar, for at the end of the
allotted ten days she shall become the wife of Salensus Oll."
As the nobles drew their blades and lifted them on high, in
accordance with the ancient custom of Okar when a jeddak announces
his intention to wed, Dejah Thoris sprang to her feet and, raising
her hand aloft, cried in a loud voice that they desist.
"I may not be the wife of Salensus Oll," she pleaded, "for already I
be a wife and mother. John Carter, Prince of Helium, still lives.
I know it to be true, for I overheard Matai Shang tell his daughter
Phaidor that he had seen him in Kaor, at the court of Kulan Tith,
Jeddak. A jeddak does not wed a married woman, nor will Salensus
Oll thus violate the bonds of matrimony."
Salensus Oll turned upon Thurid with an ugly look.
"Is this the surprise you held in store for me?" he cried. "You
assured me that no obstacle which might not be easily overcome stood
between me and this woman, and now I find that the one insuperable
obstacle intervenes. What mean you, man? What have you to say?"
"And should I deliver John Carter into your hands, Salensus Oll,
would you not feel that I had more than satisfied the promise that
I made you?" answered Thurid.
"Talk not like a fool," cried the enraged jeddak. "I am no child
to be thus played with."
"I am talking only as a man who knows," replied Thurid. "Knows
that he can do all that he claims."
"Then turn John Carter over to me within ten days or yourself
suffer the end that I should mete out to him were he in my power!"
snapped the Jeddak of Jeddaks, with an ugly scowl.
"You need not wait ten days, Salensus Oll," replied Thurid; and
then, turning suddenly upon me as he extended a pointing finger,
he cried: "There stands John Carter, Prince of Helium!"
"Fool!" shrieked Salensus Oll. "Fool! John Carter is a white
man. This fellow be as yellow as myself. John Carter's face is
smooth--Matai Shang has described him to me. This prisoner has
a beard and mustache as large and black as any in Okar. Quick,
guardsmen, to the pits with the black maniac who wishes to throw
his life away for a poor joke upon your ruler!"
"Hold!" cried Thurid, and springing forward before I could guess
his intention, he had grasped my beard and ripped the whole false
fabric from my face and head, revealing my smooth, tanned skin
beneath and my close-cropped black hair.
Instantly pandemonium reigned in the audience chamber of Salensus
Oll. Warriors pressed forward with drawn blades, thinking that I
might be contemplating the assassination of the Jeddak of Jeddaks;
while others, out of curiosity to see one whose name was familiar
from pole to pole, crowded behind their fellows.
As my identity was revealed I saw Dejah Thoris spring to her
feet--amazement writ large upon her face--and then through that
jam of armed men she forced her way before any could prevent. A
moment only and she was before me with outstretched arms and eyes
filled with the light of her great love.
"John Carter! John Carter!" she cried as I folded her to my breast,
and then of a sudden I knew why she had denied me in the garden
beneath the tower.
What a fool I had been! Expecting that she would penetrate the
marvelous disguise that had been wrought for me by the barber of
Marentina! She had not known me, that was all; and when she saw
the sign of love from a stranger she was offended and righteously
indignant. Indeed, but I had been a fool.
"And it was you," she cried, "who spoke to me from the tower! How
could I dream that my beloved Virginian lay behind that fierce
beard and that yellow skin?"
She had been wont to call me her Virginian as a term of endearment,
for she knew that I loved the sound of that beautiful name, made a
thousand times more beautiful and hallowed by her dear lips, and as
I heard it again after all those long years my eyes became dimmed
with tears and my voice choked with emotion.
But an instant did I crush that dear form to me ere Salensus Oll,
trembling with rage and jealousy, shouldered his way to us.
"Seize the man," he cried to his warriors, and a hundred ruthless
hands tore us apart.
Well it was for the nobles of the court of Okar that John Carter
had been disarmed. As it was, a dozen of them felt the weight of
my clenched fists, and I had fought my way half up the steps before
the throne to which Salensus Oll had carried Dejah Thoris ere ever
they could stop me.
Then I went down, fighting, beneath a half-hundred warriors; but
before they had battered me into unconsciousness I heard that from
the lips of Dejah Thoris that made all my suffering well worth
Standing there beside the great tyrant, who clutched her by the
arm, she pointed to where I fought alone against such awful odds.
"Think you, Salensus Oll, that the wife of such as he is," she
cried, "would ever dishonor his memory, were he a thousand times
dead, by mating with a lesser mortal? Lives there upon any world
such another as John Carter, Prince of Helium? Lives there another
man who could fight his way back and forth across a warlike planet,
facing savage beasts and hordes of savage men, for the love of a
"I, Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, am his. He fought for me
and won me. If you be a brave man you will honor the bravery that
is his, and you will not kill him. Make him a slave if you will,
Salensus Oll; but spare his life. I would rather be a slave with
such as he than be Queen of Okar."
"Neither slave nor queen dictates to Salensus Oll," replied the
Jeddak of Jeddaks. "John Carter shall die a natural death in the
Pit of Plenty, and the day he dies Dejah Thoris shall become my
I did not hear her reply, for it was then that a blow upon my
head brought unconsciousness, and when I recovered my senses only
a handful of guardsmen remained in the audience chamber with me.
As I opened my eyes they goaded me with the points of their swords
and bade me rise.
Then they led me through long corridors to a court far toward the
center of the palace.
In the center of the court was a deep pit, near the edge of which
stood half a dozen other guardsmen, awaiting me. One of them
carried a long rope in his hands, which he commenced to make ready
as we approached.
We had come to within fifty feet of these men when I felt a sudden
strange and rapid pricking sensation in one of my fingers.
For a moment I was nonplused by the odd feeling, and then there
came to me recollection of that which in the stress of my adventure
I had entirely forgotten--the gift ring of Prince Talu of Marentina.
Instantly I looked toward the group we were nearing, at the same
time raising my left hand to my forehead, that the ring might be
visible to one who sought it. Simultaneously one of the waiting
warriors raised his left hand, ostensibly to brush back his hair,
and upon one of his fingers I saw the duplicate of my own ring.
A quick look of intelligence passed between us, after which I kept
my eyes turned away from the warrior and did not look at him again,
for fear that I might arouse the suspicion of the Okarians. When
we reached the edge of the pit I saw that it was very deep, and
presently I realized I was soon to judge just how far it extended
below the surface of the court, for he who held the rope passed it
about my body in such a way that it could be released from above
at any time; and then, as all the warriors grasped it, he pushed
me forward, and I fell into the yawning abyss.
After the first jerk as I reached the end of the rope that had
been paid out to let me fall below the pit's edge they lowered me
quickly but smoothly. The moment before the plunge, while two or
three of the men had been assisting in adjusting the rope about
me, one of them had brought his mouth close to my cheek, and in
the brief interval before I was cast into the forbidding hole he
breathed a single word into my ear:
The pit, which my imagination had pictured as bottomless, proved
to be not more than a hundred feet in depth; but as its walls were
smoothly polished it might as well have been a thousand feet, for
I could never hope to escape without outside assistance.
For a day I was left in darkness; and then, quite suddenly, a
brilliant light illumined my strange cell. I was reasonably hungry
and thirsty by this time, not having tasted food or drink since
the day prior to my incarceration.
To my amazement I found the sides of the pit, that I had thought
smooth, lined with shelves, upon which were the most delicious
viands and liquid refreshments that Okar afforded.
With an exclamation of delight I sprang forward to partake of
some of the welcome food, but ere ever I reached it the light was
extinguished, and, though I groped my way about the chamber, my
hands came in contact with nothing beside the smooth, hard wall
that I had felt on my first examination of my prison.
Immediately the pangs of hunger and thirst began to assail me.
Where before I had had but a mild craving for food and drink, I now
actually suffered for want of it, and all because of the tantalizing
sight that I had had of food almost within my grasp.
Once more darkness and silence enveloped me, a silence that was
broken only by a single mocking laugh.
For another day nothing occurred to break the monotony of my
imprisonment or relieve the suffering superinduced by hunger and
thirst. Slowly the pangs became less keen, as suffering deadened
the activity of certain nerves; and then the light flashed on once
again, and before me stood an array of new and tempting dishes,
with great bottles of clear water and flagons of refreshing wine,
upon the outside of which the cold sweat of condensation stood.
Again, with the hunger madness of a wild beast, I sprang forward
to seize those tempting dishes; but, as before, the light went out
and I came to a sudden stop against a hard wall.
Then the mocking laugh rang out for a second time.
The Pit of Plenty!
Ah, what a cruel mind must have devised this exquisite, hellish
torture! Day after day was the thing repeated, until I was on
the verge of madness; and then, as I had done in the pits of the
Warhoons, I took a new, firm hold upon my reason and forced it back
into the channels of sanity.
By sheer will-power I regained control over my tottering mentality,
and so successful was I that the next time that the light came I
sat quite still and looked indifferently at the fresh and tempting
food almost within my reach. Glad I was that I had done so, for
it gave me an opportunity to solve the seeming mystery of those
As I made no move to reach the food, the torturers left the light
turned on in the hope that at last I could refrain no longer from
giving them the delicious thrill of enjoyment that my former futile
efforts to obtain it had caused.
And as I sat scrutinizing the laden shelves I presently saw how
the thing was accomplished, and so simple was it that I wondered I
had not guessed it before. The wall of my prison was of clearest
glass--behind the glass were the tantalizing viands.
After nearly an hour the light went out, but this time there was
no mocking laughter--at least not upon the part of my tormentors;
but I, to be at quits with them, gave a low laugh that none might
mistake for the cackle of a maniac.
Nine days passed, and I was weak from hunger and thirst, but no
longer suffering--I was past that. Then, down through the darkness
above, a little parcel fell to the floor at my side.
Indifferently I groped for it, thinking it but some new invention
of my jailers to add to my sufferings.
At last I found it--a tiny package wrapped in paper, at the end of
a strong and slender cord. As I opened it a few lozenges fell to
the floor. As I gathered them up, feeling of them and smelling
of them, I discovered that they were tablets of concentrated food
such as are quite common in all parts of Barsoom.
Poison! I thought.
Well, what of it? Why not end my misery now rather than drag out
a few more wretched days in this dark pit? Slowly I raised one of
the little pellets to my lips.
"Good-bye, my Dejah Thoris!" I breathed. "I have lived for you
and fought for you, and now my next dearest wish is to be realized,
for I shall die for you," and, taking the morsel in my mouth, I
One by one I ate them all, nor ever did anything taste better than
those tiny bits of nourishment, within which I knew must lie the
seeds of death--possibly of some hideous, torturing death.
As I sat quietly upon the floor of my prison, waiting for the end,
my fingers by accident came in contact with the bit of paper in
which the things had been wrapped; and as I idly played with it,
my mind roaming far back into the past, that I might live again for
a few brief moments before I died some of the many happy moments
of a long and happy life, I became aware of strange protuberances
upon the smooth surface of the parchment-like substance in my hands.
For a time they carried no special significance to my mind--I merely
was mildly wondrous that they were there; but at last they seemed
to take form, and then I realized that there was but a single line
of them, like writing.
Now, more interestedly, my fingers traced and retraced them. There
were four separate and distinct combinations of raised lines. Could
it be that these were four words, and that they were intended to
carry a message to me?
The more I thought of it the more excited I became, until my fingers
raced madly back and forth over those bewildering little hills and
valleys upon that bit of paper.
But I could make nothing of them, and at last I decided that my very
haste was preventing me from solving the mystery. Then I took it
more slowly. Again and again my forefinger traced the first of
those four combinations.
Martian writing is rather difficult to explain to an Earth man--it
is something of a cross between shorthand and picture-writing, and
is an entirely different language from the spoken language of Mars.
Upon Barsoom there is but a single oral language.
It is spoken today by every race and nation, just as it was at
the beginning of human life upon Barsoom. It has grown with the
growth of the planet's learning and scientific achievements, but
so ingenious a thing it is that new words to express new thoughts
or describe new conditions or discoveries form themselves--no other
word could explain the thing that a new word is required for other
than the word that naturally falls to it, and so, no matter how far
removed two nations or races, their spoken languages are identical.
Not so their written languages, however. No two nations have the
same written language, and often cities of the same nation have a
written language that differs greatly from that of the nation to
which they belong.
Thus it was that the signs upon the paper, if in reality they were
words, baffled me for some time; but at last I made out the first
It was "courage," and it was written in the letters of Marentina.
That was the word the yellow guardsman had whispered in my ear as
I stood upon the verge of the Pit of Plenty.
The message must be from him, and he I knew was a friend.
With renewed hope I bent my every energy to the deciphering of the
balance of the message, and at last success rewarded my endeavor--I
had read the four words:
"Courage! Follow the rope."
"FOLLOW THE ROPE"
What could it mean?
"Follow the rope." What rope?
Presently I recalled the cord that had been attached to the parcel
when it fell at my side, and after a little groping my hand came in
contact with it again. It depended from above, and when I pulled
upon it I discovered that it was rigidly fastened, possibly at the
Upon examination I found that the cord, though small, was amply
able to sustain the weight of several men. Then I made another
discovery--there was a second message knotted in the rope at about
the height of my head. This I deciphered more easily, now that
the key was mine.
"Bring the rope with you. Beyond the knots lies danger."
That was all there was to this message. It was evidently hastily
I did not pause longer than to learn the contents of the second
message, and, though I was none too sure of the meaning of the
final admonition, "Beyond the knots lies danger," yet I was sure
that here before me lay an avenue of escape, and that the sooner
I took advantage of it the more likely was I to win to liberty.
At least, I could be but little worse off than I had been in the
Pit of Plenty.
I was to find, however, ere I was well out of that damnable hole
that I might have been very much worse off had I been compelled to
remain there another two minutes.
It had taken me about that length of time to ascend some fifty feet
above the bottom when a noise above attracted my attention. To my
chagrin I saw that the covering of the pit was being removed far
above me, and in the light of the courtyard beyond I saw a number
of yellow warriors.
Could it be that I was laboriously working my way into some new
trap? Were the messages spurious, after all? And then, just as
my hope and courage had ebbed to their lowest, I saw two things.
One was the body of a huge, struggling, snarling apt being lowered
over the side of the pit toward me, and the other was an aperture
in the side of the shaft--an aperture larger than a man's body,
into which my rope led.
Just as I scrambled into the dark hole before me the apt passed
me, reaching out with his mighty hands to clutch me, and snapping,
growling, and roaring in a most frightful manner.
Plainly now I saw the end for which Salensus Oll had destined me.
After first torturing me with starvation he had caused this fierce
beast to be lowered into my prison to finish the work that the
jeddak's hellish imagination had conceived.
And then another truth flashed upon me--I had lived nine days of
the allotted ten which must intervene before Salensus Oll could
make Dejah Thoris his queen. The purpose of the apt was to insure
my death before the tenth day.
I almost laughed aloud as I thought how Salensus Oll's measure of
safety was to aid in defeating the very end he sought, for when
they discovered that the apt was alone in the Pit of Plenty they
could not know but that he had completely devoured me, and so no
suspicion of my escape would cause a search to be made for me.
Coiling the rope that had carried me thus far upon my strange
journey, I sought for the other end, but found that as I followed
it forward it extended always before me. So this was the meaning
of the words: "Follow the rope."
The tunnel through which I crawled was low and dark. I had followed
it for several hundred yards when I felt a knot beneath my fingers.
"Beyond the knots lies danger."
Now I went with the utmost caution, and a moment later a sharp turn
in the tunnel brought me to an opening into a large, brilliantly
The trend of the tunnel I had been traversing had been slightly
upward, and from this I judged that the chamber into which I now
found myself looking must be either on the first floor of the palace
or directly beneath the first floor.
Upon the opposite wall were many strange instruments and devices,
and in the center of the room stood a long table, at which two men
were seated in earnest conversation.
He who faced me was a yellow man--a little, wizened-up, pasty-faced
old fellow with great eyes that showed the white round the entire
circumference of the iris.
His companion was a black man, and I did not need to see his face
to know that it was Thurid, for there was no other of the First
Born north of the ice-barrier.
Thurid was speaking as I came within hearing of the men's voices.
"Solan," he was saying, "there is no risk and the reward is great.
You know that you hate Salensus Oll and that nothing would please
you more than to thwart him in some cherished plan. There be
nothing that he more cherishes today than the idea of wedding the
beautiful Princess of Helium; but I, too, want her, and with your
help I may win her.
"You need not more than step from this room for an instant when
I give you the signal. I will do the rest, and then, when I am
gone, you may come and throw the great switch back into its place,
and all will be as before. I need but an hour's start to be safe
beyond the devilish power that you control in this hidden chamber
beneath the palace of your master. See how easy," and with the
words the black dator rose from his seat and, crossing the room,
laid his hand upon a large, burnished lever that protruded from
the opposite wall.
"No! No!" cried the little old man, springing after him, with a wild
shriek. "Not that one! Not that one! That controls the sunray
tanks, and should you pull it too far down, all Kadabra would be
consumed by heat before I could replace it. Come away! Come away!
You know not with what mighty powers you play. This is the lever
that you seek. Note well the symbol inlaid in white upon its ebon
Thurid approached and examined the handle of the lever.
"Ah, a magnet," he said. "I will remember. It is settled then I
take it," he continued.
The old man hesitated. A look of combined greed and apprehension
overspread his none too beautiful features.
"Double the figure," he said. "Even that were all too small an amount
for the service you ask. Why, I risk my life by even entertaining
you here within the forbidden precincts of my station. Should
Salensus Oll learn of it he would have me thrown to the apts before
the day was done."
"He dare not do that, and you know it full well, Solan," contradicted
the black. "Too great a power of life and death you hold over the
people of Kadabra for Salensus Oll ever to risk threatening you
with death. Before ever his minions could lay their hands upon you,
you might seize this very lever from which you have just warned me
and wipe out the entire city."
"And myself into the bargain," said Solan, with a shudder.
"But if you were to die, anyway, you would find the nerve to do
it," replied Thurid.
"Yes," muttered Solan, "I have often thought upon that very thing.
Well, First Born, is your red princess worth the price I ask for
my services, or will you go without her and see her in the arms of
Salensus Oll tomorrow night?"
"Take your price, yellow man," replied Thurid, with an oath. "Half
now and the balance when you have fulfilled your contract."
With that the dator threw a well-filled money-pouch upon the table.
Solan opened the pouch and with trembling fingers counted its contents.
His weird eyes assumed a greedy expression, and his unkempt beard
and mustache twitched with the muscles of his mouth and chin. It
was quite evident from his very mannerism that Thurid had keenly
guessed the man's weakness--even the clawlike, clutching movement
of the fingers betokened the avariciousness of the miser.
Having satisfied himself that the amount was correct, Solan replaced
the money in the pouch and rose from the table.
"Now," he said, "are you quite sure that you know the way to your
destination? You must travel quickly to cover the ground to the
cave and from thence beyond the Great Power, all within a brief
hour, for no more dare I spare you."
"Let me repeat it to you," said Thurid, "that you may see if I be
"Proceed," replied Solan.
"Through yonder door," he commenced, pointing to a door at the far
end of the apartment, "I follow a corridor, passing three diverging
corridors upon my right; then into the fourth right-hand corridor
straight to where three corridors meet; here again I follow to the
right, hugging the left wall closely to avoid the pit.
"At the end of this corridor I shall come to a spiral runway, which
I must follow down instead of up; after that the way is along but
a single branchless corridor. Am I right?"
"Quite right, Dator," answered Solan; "and now begone. Already
have you tempted fate too long within this forbidden place."
"Tonight, or tomorrow, then, you may expect the signal," said
Thurid, rising to go.
"Tonight, or tomorrow," repeated Solan, and as the door closed
behind his guest the old man continued to mutter as he turned back
to the table, where he again dumped the contents of the money-pouch,
running his fingers through the heap of shining metal; piling the
coins into little towers; counting, recounting, and fondling the
wealth the while he muttered on and on in a crooning undertone.
Presently his fingers ceased their play; his eyes popped wider
than ever as they fastened upon the door through which Thurid
had disappeared. The croon changed to a querulous muttering, and
finally to an ugly growl.
Then the old man rose from the table, shaking his fist at the closed
door. Now he raised his voice, and his words came distinctly.
"Fool!" he muttered. "Think you that for your happiness Solan will
give up his life? If you escaped, Salensus Oll would know that
only through my connivance could you have succeeded. Then would
he send for me. What would you have me do? Reduce the city and
myself to ashes? No, fool, there is a better way--a better way
for Solan to keep thy money and be revenged upon Salensus Oll."
He laughed in a nasty, cackling note.
"Poor fool! You may throw the great switch that will give you
the freedom of the air of Okar, and then, in fatuous security, go
on with thy red princess to the freedom of--death. When you have
passed beyond this chamber in your flight, what can prevent Solan
replacing the switch as it was before your vile hand touched it?
Nothing; and then the Guardian of the North will claim you and
your woman, and Salensus Oll, when he sees your dead bodies, will
never dream that the hand of Solan had aught to do with the thing."
Then his voice dropped once more into mutterings that I could not
translate, but I had heard enough to cause me to guess a great deal
more, and I thanked the kind Providence that had led me to this
chamber at a time so filled with importance to Dejah Thoris and
myself as this.
But how to pass the old man now! The cord, almost invisible upon
the floor, stretched straight across the apartment to a door upon
the far side.
There was no other way of which I knew, nor could I afford to
ignore the advice to "follow the rope." I must cross this room,
but however I should accomplish it undetected with that old man in
the very center of it baffled me.
Of course I might have sprung in upon him and with my bare hands
silenced him forever, but I had heard enough to convince me that
with him alive the knowledge that I had gained might serve me at
some future moment, while should I kill him and another be stationed
in his place Thurid would not come hither with Dejah Thoris, as
was quite evidently his intention.
As I stood in the dark shadow of the tunnel's end racking my brain
for a feasible plan the while I watched, catlike, the old man's
every move, he took up the money-pouch and crossed to one end of
the apartment, where, bending to his knees, he fumbled with a panel
in the wall.
Instantly I guessed that here was the hiding place in which he
hoarded his wealth, and while he bent there, his back toward me,
I entered the chamber upon tiptoe, and with the utmost stealth
essayed to reach the opposite side before he should complete his
task and turn again toward the room's center.
Scarcely thirty steps, all told, must I take, and yet it seemed to
my overwrought imagination that that farther wall was miles away;
but at last I reached it, nor once had I taken my eyes from the
back of the old miser's head.
He did not turn until my hand was upon the button that controlled
the door through which my way led, and then he turned away from me
as I passed through and gently closed the door.
For an instant I paused, my ear close to the panel, to learn if he
had suspected aught, but as no sound of pursuit came from within
I wheeled and made my way along the new corridor, following the
rope, which I coiled and brought with me as I advanced.
But a short distance farther on I came to the rope's end at a point
where five corridors met. What was I to do? Which way should I
turn? I was nonplused.
A careful examination of the end of the rope revealed the fact that
it had been cleanly cut with some sharp instrument. This fact and
the words that had cautioned me that danger lay beyond the KNOTS
convinced me that the rope had been severed since my friend had
placed it as my guide, for I had but passed a single knot, whereas
there had evidently been two or more in the entire length of the
Now, indeed, was I in a pretty fix, for neither did I know which
avenue to follow nor when danger lay directly in my path; but there
was nothing else to be done than follow one of the corridors, for
I could gain nothing by remaining where I was.
So I chose the central opening, and passed on into its gloomy depths
with a prayer upon my lips.
The floor of the tunnel rose rapidly as I advanced, and a moment
later the way came to an abrupt end before a heavy door.
I could hear nothing beyond, and, with my accustomed rashness, pushed
the portal wide to step into a room filled with yellow warriors.
The first to see me opened his eyes wide in astonishment, and at
the same instant I felt the tingling sensation in my finger that
denoted the presence of a friend of the ring.
Then others saw me, and there was a concerted rush to lay hands upon
me, for these were all members of the palace guard--men familiar
with my face.
The first to reach me was the wearer of the mate to my strange
ring, and as he came close he whispered: "Surrender to me!" then
in a loud voice shouted: "You are my prisoner, white man," and
menaced me with his two weapons.
And so John Carter, Prince of Helium, meekly surrendered to a
single antagonist. The others now swarmed about us, asking many
questions, but I would not talk to them, and finally my captor
announced that he would lead me back to my cell.
An officer ordered several other warriors to accompany him, and a
moment later we were retracing the way I had just come. My friend
walked close beside me, asking many silly questions about the
country from which I had come, until finally his fellows paid no
further attention to him or his gabbling.
Gradually, as he spoke, he lowered his voice, so that presently
he was able to converse with me in a low tone without attracting
attention. His ruse was a clever one, and showed that Talu had
not misjudged the man's fitness for the dangerous duty upon which
he was detailed.
When he had fully assured himself that the other guardsmen were not
listening, he asked me why I had not followed the rope, and when
I told him that it had ended at the five corridors he said that it
must have been cut by someone in need of a piece of rope, for he
was sure that "the stupid Kadabrans would never have guessed its
Before we had reached the spot from which the five corridors diverge
my Marentinian friend had managed to drop to the rear of the little
column with me, and when we came in sight of the branching ways he
"Run up the first upon the right. It leads to the watchtower upon
the south wall. I will direct the pursuit up the next corridor,"
and with that he gave me a great shove into the dark mouth of the
tunnel, at the same time crying out in simulated pain and alarm as
he threw himself upon the floor as though I had felled him with a
From behind the voices of the excited guardsmen came reverberating
along the corridor, suddenly growing fainter as Talu's spy led them
up the wrong passageway in fancied pursuit.
As I ran for my life through the dark galleries beneath the palace of
Salensus Oll I must indeed have presented a remarkable appearance
had there been any to note it, for though death loomed large
about me, my face was split by a broad grin as I thought of the
resourcefulness of the nameless hero of Marentina to whom I owed
Of such stuff are the men of my beloved Helium, and when I meet
another of their kind, of whatever race or color, my heart goes
out to him as it did now to my new friend who had risked his life
for me simply because I wore the mate to the ring his ruler had
put upon his finger.
The corridor along which I ran led almost straight for a considerable
distance, terminating at the foot of a spiral runway, up which
I proceeded to emerge presently into a circular chamber upon the
first floor of a tower.
In this apartment a dozen red slaves were employed polishing or
repairing the weapons of the yellow men. The walls of the room
were lined with racks in which were hundreds of straight and hooked
swords, javelins, and daggers. It was evidently an armory. There
were but three warriors guarding the workers.
My eyes took in the entire scene at a glance. Here were weapons
in plenty! Here were sinewy red warriors to wield them!
And here now was John Carter, Prince of Helium, in need both of
weapons and warriors!
As I stepped into the apartment, guards and prisoners saw me
Close to the entrance where I stood was a rack of straight swords,
and as my hand closed upon the hilt of one of them my eyes fell
upon the faces of two of the prisoners who worked side by side.
One of the guards started toward me. "Who are you?" he demanded.
"What do you here?"
"I come for Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium, and his son, Mors Kajak,"
I cried, pointing to the two red prisoners, who had now sprung to
their feet, wide-eyed in astonished recognition.
"Rise, red men! Before we die let us leave a memorial in the palace
of Okar's tyrant that will stand forever in the annals of Kadabra
to the honor and glory of Helium," for I had seen that all the
prisoners there were men of Tardos Mors's navy.
Then the first guardsman was upon me and the fight was on, but
scarce did we engage ere, to my horror, I saw that the red slaves
were shackled to the floor.
THE MAGNET SWITCH
The guardsmen paid not the slightest attention to their wards, for
the red men could not move over two feet from the great rings to
which they were padlocked, though each had seized a weapon upon
which he had been engaged when I entered the room, and stood ready
to join me could they have but done so.
The yellow men devoted all their attention to me, nor were they
long in discovering that the three of them were none too many to
defend the armory against John Carter. Would that I had had my own
good long-sword in my hand that day; but, as it was, I rendered a
satisfactory account of myself with the unfamiliar weapon of the
At first I had a time of it dodging their villainous hook-swords,
but after a minute or two I had succeeded in wresting a second
straight sword from one of the racks along the wall, and thereafter,
using it to parry the hooks of my antagonists, I felt more evenly
The three of them were on me at once, and but for a lucky circumstance
my end might have come quickly. The foremost guardsman made
a vicious lunge for my side with his hook after the three of them
had backed me against the wall, but as I sidestepped and raised my
arm his weapon but grazed my side, passing into a rack of javelins,
where it became entangled.
Before he could release it I had run him through, and then, falling
back upon the tactics that have saved me a hundred times in tight
pinches, I rushed the two remaining warriors, forcing them back
with a perfect torrent of cuts and thrusts, weaving my sword in
and out about their guards until I had the fear of death upon them.
Then one of them commenced calling for help, but it was too late
to save them.
They were as putty in my hands now, and I backed them about the
armory as I would until I had them where I wanted them--within reach
of the swords of the shackled slaves. In an instant both lay dead
upon the floor. But their cries had not been entirely fruitless,
for now I heard answering shouts and the footfalls of many men
running and the clank of accouterments and the commands of officers.
"The door! Quick, John Carter, bar the door!" cried Tardos Mors.
Already the guard was in sight, charging across the open court that
was visible through the doorway.
A dozen seconds would bring them into the tower. A single leap
carried me to the heavy portal. With a resounding bang I slammed
"The bar!" shouted Tardos Mors.
I tried to slip the huge fastening into place, but it defied my
"Raise it a little to release the catch," cried one of the red men.
I could hear the yellow warriors leaping along the flagging just
beyond the door. I raised the bar and shot it to the right just
as the foremost of the guardsmen threw himself against the opposite
side of the massive panels.
The barrier held--I had been in time, but by the fraction of a
Now I turned my attention to the prisoners. To Tardos Mors I went
first, asking where the keys might be which would unfasten their
"The officer of the guard has them," replied the Jeddak of Helium,
"and he is among those without who seek entrance. You will have
to force them."
Most of the prisoners were already hacking at their bonds with the
swords in their hands. The yellow men were battering at the door
with javelins and axes.
I turned my attention to the chains that held Tardos Mors. Again
and again I cut deep into the metal with my sharp blade, but ever
faster and faster fell the torrent of blows upon the portal.
At last a link parted beneath my efforts, and a moment later Tardos
Mors was free, though a few inches of trailing chain still dangled
from his ankle.
A splinter of wood falling inward from the door announced the
headway that our enemies were making toward us.
The mighty panels trembled and bent beneath the furious onslaught
of the enraged yellow men.
What with the battering upon the door and the hacking of the red
men at their chains the din within the armory was appalling. No
sooner was Tardos Mors free than he turned his attention to another
of the prisoners, while I set to work to liberate Mors Kajak.
We must work fast if we would have all those fetters cut before
the door gave way. Now a panel crashed inward upon the floor, and
Mors Kajak sprang to the opening to defend the way until we should
have time to release the others.
With javelins snatched from the wall he wrought havoc among the
foremost of the Okarians while we battled with the insensate metal
that stood between our fellows and freedom.
At length all but one of the prisoners were freed, and then the door
fell with a mighty crash before a hastily improvised battering-ram,
and the yellow horde was upon us.
"To the upper chambers!" shouted the red man who was still fettered
to the floor. "To the upper chambers! There you may defend the
tower against all Kadabra. Do not delay because of me, who could
pray for no better death than in the service of Tardos Mors and
the Prince of Helium."
But I would have sacrificed the life of every man of us rather
than desert a single red man, much less the lion-hearted hero who
begged us to leave him.
"Cut his chains," I cried to two of the red men, "while the balance
of us hold off the foe."
There were ten of us now to do battle with the Okarian guard, and I
warrant that that ancient watchtower never looked down upon a more
hotly contested battle than took place that day within its own grim
The first inrushing wave of yellow warriors recoiled from the
slashing blades of ten of Helium's veteran fighting men. A dozen
Okarian corpses blocked the doorway, but over the gruesome barrier
a score more of their fellows dashed, shouting their hoarse and
Upon the bloody mound we met them, hand to hand, stabbing where
the quarters were too close to cut, thrusting when we could push
a foeman to arm's length; and mingled with the wild cry of the
Okarian there rose and fell the glorious words: "For Helium! For
Helium!" that for countless ages have spurred on the bravest of the
brave to those deeds of valor that have sent the fame of Helium's
heroes broadcast throughout the length and breadth of a world.
Now were the fetters struck from the last of the red men, and
thirteen strong we met each new charge of the soldiers of Salensus
Oll. Scarce one of us but bled from a score of wounds, yet none
From without we saw hundreds of guardsmen pouring into the courtyard,
and along the lower corridor from which I had found my way to the
armory we could hear the clank of metal and the shouting of men.
In a moment we should be attacked from two sides, and with all
our prowess we could not hope to withstand the unequal odds which
would thus divide our attention and our small numbers.
"To the upper chambers!" cried Tardos Mors, and a moment later we
fell back toward the runway that led to the floors above.
Here another bloody battle was waged with the force of yellow men
who charged into the armory as we fell back from the doorway. Here
we lost our first man, a noble fellow whom we could ill spare; but
at length all had backed into the runway except myself, who remained
to hold back the Okarians until the others were safe above.
In the mouth of the narrow spiral but a single warrior could attack
me at a time, so that I had little difficulty in holding them all
back for the brief moment that was necessary. Then, backing slowly
before them, I commenced the ascent of the spiral.
All the long way to the tower's top the guardsmen pressed me closely.
When one went down before my sword another scrambled over the dead
man to take his place; and thus, taking an awful toll with each
few feet gained, I came to the spacious glass-walled watchtower of
Here my companions clustered ready to take my place, and for a
moment's respite I stepped to one side while they held the enemy
From the lofty perch a view could be had for miles in every direction.
Toward the south stretched the rugged, ice-clad waste to the edge
of the mighty barrier. Toward the east and west, and dimly toward
the north I descried other Okarian cities, while in the immediate
foreground, just beyond the walls of Kadabra, the grim guardian
shaft reared its somber head.
Then I cast my eyes down into the streets of Kadabra, from which
a sudden tumult had arisen, and there I saw a battle raging, and
beyond the city's walls I saw armed men marching in great columns
toward a near-by gate.
Eagerly I pressed forward against the glass wall of the observatory,
scarce daring to credit the testimony of my own eyes. But at
last I could doubt no longer, and with a shout of joy that rose
strangely in the midst of the cursing and groaning of the battling
men at the entrance to the chamber, I called to Tardos Mors.
As he joined me I pointed down into the streets of Kadabra and to
the advancing columns beyond, above which floated bravely in the
arctic air the flags and banners of Helium.
An instant later every red man in the lofty chamber had seen the
inspiring sight, and such a shout of thanksgiving arose as I warrant
never before echoed through that age-old pile of stone.
But still we must fight on, for though our troops had entered
Kadabra, the city was yet far from capitulation, nor had the palace
been even assaulted. Turn and turn about we held the top of the
runway while the others feasted their eyes upon the sight of our
valiant countrymen battling far beneath us.
Now they have rushed the palace gate! Great battering-rams are
dashed against its formidable surface. Now they are repulsed by
a deadly shower of javelins from the wall's top!
Once again they charge, but a sortie by a large force of Okarians
from an intersecting avenue crumples the head of the column, and
the men of Helium go down, fighting, beneath an overwhelming force.
The palace gate flies open and a force of the jeddak's own guard,
picked men from the flower of the Okarian army, sallies forth
to shatter the broken regiments. For a moment it looks as though
nothing could avert defeat, and then I see a noble figure upon
a mighty thoat--not the tiny thoat of the red man, but one of his
huge cousins of the dead sea bottoms.
The warrior hews his way to the front, and behind him rally the
disorganized soldiers of Helium. As he raises his head aloft to
fling a challenge at the men upon the palace walls I see his face,
and my heart swells in pride and happiness as the red warriors leap
to the side of their leader and win back the ground that they had
but just lost--the face of him upon the mighty thoat is the face
of my son--Carthoris of Helium.
At his side fights a huge Martian war-hound, nor did I need a
second look to know that it was Woola--my faithful Woola who had
thus well performed his arduous task and brought the succoring
legions in the nick of time.
"In the nick of time?"
Who yet might say that they were not too late to save, but surely
they could avenge! And such retribution as that unconquered army
would deal out to the hateful Okarians! I sighed to think that I
might not be alive to witness it.
Again I turned to the windows. The red men had not yet forced the
outer palace wall, but they were fighting nobly against the best
that Okar afforded--valiant warriors who contested every inch of
Now my attention was caught by a new element without the city wall--a
great body of mounted warriors looming large above the red men.
They were the huge green allies of Helium--the savage hordes from
the dead sea bottoms of the far south.
In grim and terrible silence they sped on toward the gate, the
padded hoofs of their frightful mounts giving forth no sound. Into
the doomed city they charged, and as they wheeled across the wide
plaza before the palace of the Jeddak of Jeddaks I saw, riding at
their head, the mighty figure of their mighty leader--Tars Tarkas,
Jeddak of Thark.
My wish, then, was to be gratified, for I was to see my old friend
battling once again, and though not shoulder to shoulder with him,
I, too, would be fighting in the same cause here in the high tower
Nor did it seem that our foes would ever cease their stubborn
attacks, for still they came, though the way to our chamber was
often clogged with the bodies of their dead. At times they would
pause long enough to drag back the impeding corpses, and then fresh
warriors would forge upward to taste the cup of death.
I had been taking my turn with the others in defending the approach
to our lofty retreat when Mors Kajak, who had been watching the
battle in the street below, called aloud in sudden excitement.
There was a note of apprehension in his voice that brought me to
his side the instant that I could turn my place over to another,
and as I reached him he pointed far out across the waste of snow
and ice toward the southern horizon.
"Alas!" he cried, "that I should be forced to witness cruel fate
betray them without power to warn or aid; but they be past either
As I looked in the direction he indicated I saw the cause of his
perturbation. A mighty fleet of fliers was approaching majestically
toward Kadabra from the direction of the ice-barrier. On and on
they came with ever increasing velocity.
"The grim shaft that they call the Guardian of the North is beckoning
to them," said Mors Kajak sadly, "just as it beckoned to Tardos
Mors and his great fleet; see where they lie, crumpled and broken,
a grim and terrible monument to the mighty force of destruction
which naught can resist."
I, too, saw; but something else I saw that Mors Kajak did not; in
my mind's eye I saw a buried chamber whose walls were lined with
strange instruments and devices.
In the center of the chamber was a long table, and before it sat a
little, pop-eyed old man counting his money; but, plainest of all,
I saw upon the wall a great switch with a small magnet inlaid within
the surface of its black handle.
Then I glanced out at the fast-approaching fleet. In five minutes
that mighty armada of the skies would be bent and worthless scrap,
lying at the base of the shaft beyond the city's wall, and yellow
hordes would be loosed from another gate to rush out upon the few
survivors stumbling blindly down through the mass of wreckage;
then the apts would come. I shuddered at the thought, for I could
vividly picture the whole horrible scene.
Quick have I always been to decide and act. The impulse that moves
me and the doing of the thing seem simultaneous; for if my mind
goes through the tedious formality of reasoning, it must be a
subconscious act of which I am not objectively aware. Psychologists
tell me that, as the subconscious does not reason, too close a
scrutiny of my mental activities might prove anything but flattering;
but be that as it may, I have often won success while the thinker
would have been still at the endless task of comparing various
And now celerity of action was the prime essential to the success
of the thing that I had decided upon.
Grasping my sword more firmly in my hand, I called to the red man
at the opening to the runway to stand aside.
"Way for the Prince of Helium!" I shouted; and before the astonished
yellow man whose misfortune it was to be at the fighting end of
the line at that particular moment could gather his wits together
my sword had decapitated him, and I was rushing like a mad bull
down upon those behind him.
"Way for the Prince of Helium!" I shouted as I cut a path through
the astonished guardsmen of Salensus Oll.
Hewing to right and left, I beat my way down that warrior-choked
spiral until, near the bottom, those below, thinking that an army
was descending upon them, turned and fled.
The armory at the first floor was vacant when I entered it, the
last of the Okarians having fled into the courtyard, so none saw
me continue down the spiral toward the corridor beneath.
Here I ran as rapidly as my legs would carry me toward the five
corners, and there plunged into the passageway that led to the
station of the old miser.
Without the formality of a knock, I burst into the room. There sat
the old man at his table; but as he saw me he sprang to his feet,
drawing his sword.
With scarce more than a glance toward him I leaped for the great
switch; but, quick as I was, that wiry old fellow was there before
How he did it I shall never know, nor does it seem credible that
any Martian-born creature could approximate the marvelous speed of
my earthly muscles.
Like a tiger he turned upon me, and I was quick to see why Solan
had been chosen for this important duty.
Never in all my life have I seen such wondrous swordsmanship and
such uncanny agility as that ancient bag of bones displayed. He was
in forty places at the same time, and before I had half a chance
to awaken to my danger he was like to have made a monkey of me,
and a dead monkey at that.
It is strange how new and unexpected conditions bring out unguessed
ability to meet them.
That day in the buried chamber beneath the palace of Salensus Oll
I learned what swordsmanship meant, and to what heights of sword
mastery I could achieve when pitted against such a wizard of the
blade as Solan.
For a time he liked to have bested me; but presently the latent
possibilities that must have been lying dormant within me for a
lifetime came to the fore, and I fought as I had never dreamed a
human being could fight.
That that duel-royal should have taken place in the dark recesses
of a cellar, without a single appreciative eye to witness it has
always seemed to me almost a world calamity--at least from the
viewpoint Barsoomian, where bloody strife is the first and greatest
consideration of individuals, nations, and races.
I was fighting to reach the switch, Solan to prevent me; and, though
we stood not three feet from it, I could not win an inch toward
it, for he forced me back an inch for the first five minutes of
I knew that if I were to throw it in time to save the oncoming
fleet it must be done in the next few seconds, and so I tried my
old rushing tactics; but I might as well have rushed a brick wall
for all that Solan gave way.
In fact, I came near to impaling myself upon his point for my
pains; but right was on my side, and I think that that must give a
man greater confidence than though he knew himself to be battling
in a wicked cause.
At least, I did not want in confidence; and when I next rushed Solan
it was to one side with implicit confidence that he must turn to
meet my new line of attack, and turn he did, so that now we fought
with our sides towards the coveted goal--the great switch stood
within my reach upon my right hand.
To uncover my breast for an instant would have been to court sudden
death, but I saw no other way than to chance it, if by so doing I
might rescue that oncoming, succoring fleet; and so, in the face
of a wicked sword-thrust, I reached out my point and caught the
great switch a sudden blow that released it from its seating.
So surprised and horrified was Solan that he forgot to finish his
thrust; instead, he wheeled toward the switch with a loud shriek--a
shriek which was his last, for before his hand could touch the
lever it sought, my sword's point had passed through his heart.
THE TIDE OF BATTLE
But solan's last loud cry had not been without effect, for a moment
later a dozen guardsmen burst into the chamber, though not before
I had so bent and demolished the great switch that it could not be
again used to turn the powerful current into the mighty magnet of
destruction it controlled.
The result of the sudden coming of the guardsmen had been to compel
me to seek seclusion in the first passageway that I could find,
and that to my disappointment proved to be not the one with which
I was familiar, but another upon its left.
They must have either heard or guessed which way I went, for I had
proceeded but a short distance when I heard the sound of pursuit.
I had no mind to stop and fight these men here when there was
fighting aplenty elsewhere in the city of Kadabra--fighting that
could be of much more avail to me and mine than useless life-taking
far below the palace.
But the fellows were pressing me; and as I did not know the way at
all, I soon saw that they would overtake me unless I found a place
to conceal myself until they had passed, which would then give me
an opportunity to return the way I had come and regain the tower,
or possibly find a way to reach the city streets.
The passageway had risen rapidly since leaving the apartment of
the switch, and now ran level and well lighted straight into the
distance as far as I could see. The moment that my pursuers reached
this straight stretch I would be in plain sight of them, with no
chance to escape from the corridor undetected.
Presently I saw a series of doors opening from either side of the
corridor, and as they all looked alike to me I tried the first
one that I reached. It opened into a small chamber, luxuriously
furnished, and was evidently an ante-chamber off some office or
audience chamber of the palace.
On the far side was a heavily curtained doorway beyond which I
heard the hum of voices. Instantly I crossed the small chamber,
and, parting the curtains, looked within the larger apartment.
Before me were a party of perhaps fifty gorgeously clad nobles of
the court, standing before a throne upon which sat Salensus Oll.
The Jeddak of Jeddaks was addressing them.
"The allotted hour has come," he was saying as I entered the
apartment; "and though the enemies of Okar be within her gates,
naught may stay the will of Salensus Oll. The great ceremony must
be omitted that no single man may be kept from his place in the
defenses other than the fifty that custom demands shall witness
the creation of a new queen in Okar.
"In a moment the thing shall have been done and we may return to
the battle, while she who is now the Princess of Helium looks down
from the queen's tower upon the annihilation of her former countrymen
and witnesses the greatness which is her husband's."
Then, turning to a courtier, he issued some command in a low voice.
The addressed hastened to a small door at the far end of the chamber
and, swinging it wide, cried: "Way for Dejah Thoris, future Queen
Immediately two guardsmen appeared dragging the unwilling bride toward
the altar. Her hands were still manacled behind her, evidently to
Her disheveled hair and panting bosom betokened that, chained though
she was, still had she fought against the thing that they would do
At sight of her Salensus Oll rose and drew his sword, and the sword
of each of the fifty nobles was raised on high to form an arch,
beneath which the poor, beautiful creature was dragged toward her
A grim smile forced itself to my lips as I thought of the rude
awakening that lay in store for the ruler of Okar, and my itching
fingers fondled the hilt of my bloody sword.
As I watched the procession that moved slowly toward the throne--a
procession which consisted of but a handful of priests, who followed
Dejah Thoris and the two guardsmen--I caught a fleeting glimpse
of a black face peering from behind the draperies that covered the
wall back of the dais upon which stood Salensus Oll awaiting his
Now the guardsmen were forcing the Princess of Helium up the few
steps to the side of the tyrant of Okar, and I had no eyes and no
thoughts for aught else. A priest opened a book and, raising his
hand, commenced to drone out a sing-song ritual. Salensus Oll
reached for the hand of his bride.
I had intended waiting until some circumstance should give me a
reasonable hope of success; for, even though the entire ceremony
should be completed, there could be no valid marriage while I
lived. What I was most concerned in, of course, was the rescuing
of Dejah Thoris--I wished to take her from the palace of Salensus
Oll, if such a thing were possible; but whether it were accomplished
before or after the mock marriage was a matter of secondary import.
When, however, I saw the vile hand of Salensus Oll reach out for
the hand of my beloved princess I could restrain myself no longer,
and before the nobles of Okar knew that aught had happened I had
leaped through their thin line and was upon the dais beside Dejah
Thoris and Salensus Oll.
With the flat of my sword I struck down his polluting hand; and
grasping Dejah Thoris round the waist, I swung her behind me as,
with my back against the draperies of the dais, I faced the tyrant
of the north and his roomful of noble warriors.
The Jeddak of Jeddaks was a great mountain of a man--a coarse,
brutal beast of a man--and as he towered above me there, his fierce
black whiskers and mustache bristling in rage, I can well imagine
that a less seasoned warrior might have trembled before him.
With a snarl he sprang toward me with naked sword, but whether
Salensus Oll was a good swordsman or a poor I never learned; for
with Dejah Thoris at my back I was no longer human--I was a superman,
and no man could have withstood me then.
With a single, low: "For the Princess of Helium!" I ran my blade
straight through the rotten heart of Okar's rotten ruler, and before
the white, drawn faces of his nobles Salensus Oll rolled, grinning
in horrible death, to the foot of the steps below his marriage
For a moment tense silence reigned in the nuptial-room. Then the
fifty nobles rushed upon me. Furiously we fought, but the advantage
was mine, for I stood upon a raised platform above them, and I
fought for the most glorious woman of a glorious race, and I fought
for a great love and for the mother of my boy.
And from behind my shoulder, in the silvery cadence of that dear
voice, rose the brave battle anthem of Helium which the nation's
women sing as their men march out to victory.
That alone was enough to inspire me to victory over even greater
odds, and I verily believe that I should have bested the entire
roomful of yellow warriors that day in the nuptial chamber of the
palace at Kadabra had not interruption come to my aid.
Fast and furious was the fighting as the nobles of Salensus Oll
sprang, time and again, up the steps before the throne only to fall
back before a sword hand that seemed to have gained a new wizardry
from its experience with the cunning Solan.
Two were pressing me so closely that I could not turn when I heard
a movement behind me, and noted that the sound of the battle anthem
had ceased. Was Dejah Thoris preparing to take her place beside
Heroic daughter of a heroic world! It would not be unlike her to
have seized a sword and fought at my side, for, though the women
of Mars are not trained in the arts of war, the spirit is theirs,
and they have been known to do that very thing upon countless
But she did not come, and glad I was, for it would have doubled my
burden in protecting her before I should have been able to force
her back again out of harm's way. She must be contemplating some
cunning strategy, I thought, and so I fought on secure in the belief
that my divine princess stood close behind me.
For half an hour at least I must have fought there against the
nobles of Okar ere ever a one placed a foot upon the dais where I
stood, and then of a sudden all that remained of them formed below
me for a last, mad, desperate charge; but even as they advanced
the door at the far end of the chamber swung wide and a wild-eyed
messenger sprang into the room.
"The Jeddak of Jeddaks!" he cried. "Where is the Jeddak of Jeddaks?
The city has fallen before the hordes from beyond the barrier, and
but now the great gate of the palace itself has been forced and
the warriors of the south are pouring into its sacred precincts.
"Where is Salensus Oll? He alone may revive the flagging courage
of our warriors. He alone may save the day for Okar. Where is
The nobles stepped back from about the dead body of their ruler,
and one of them pointed to the grinning corpse.
The messenger staggered back in horror as though from a blow in
"Then fly, nobles of Okar!" he cried, "for naught can save you.
Hark! They come!"
As he spoke we heard the deep roar of angry men from the corridor
without, and the clank of metal and the clang of swords.
Without another glance toward me, who had stood a spectator of
the tragic scene, the nobles wheeled and fled from the apartment
through another exit.
Almost immediately a force of yellow warriors appeared in the
doorway through which the messenger had come. They were backing
toward the apartment, stubbornly resisting the advance of a handful
of red men who faced them and forced them slowly but inevitably
Above the heads of the contestants I could see from my elevated
station upon the dais the face of my old friend Kantos Kan. He was
leading the little party that had won its way into the very heart
of the palace of Salensus Oll.
In an instant I saw that by attacking the Okarians from the rear
I could so quickly disorganize them that their further resistance
would be short-lived, and with this idea in mind I sprang from
the dais, casting a word of explanation to Dejah Thoris over my
shoulder, though I did not turn to look at her.
With myself ever between her enemies and herself, and with Kantos
Kan and his warriors winning to the apartment, there could be no
danger to Dejah Thoris standing there alone beside the throne.
I wanted the men of Helium to see me and to know that their beloved
princess was here, too, for I knew that this knowledge would inspire
them to even greater deeds of valor than they had performed in the
past, though great indeed must have been those which won for them
a way into the almost impregnable palace of the tyrant of the north.
As I crossed the chamber to attack the Kadabrans from the rear a
small doorway at my left opened, and, to my surprise, revealed the
figures of Matai Shang, Father of Therns and Phaidor, his daughter,
peering into the room.
A quick glance about they took. Their eyes rested for a moment,
wide in horror, upon the dead body of Salensus Oll, upon the blood
that crimsoned the floor, upon the corpses of the nobles who had
fallen thick before the throne, upon me, and upon the battling
warriors at the other door.
They did not essay to enter the apartment, but scanned its every
corner from where they stood, and then, when their eyes had sought
its entire area, a look of fierce rage overspread the features
of Matai Shang, and a cold and cunning smile touched the lips of
Then they were gone, but not before a taunting laugh was thrown
directly in my face by the woman.
I did not understand then the meaning of Matai Shang's rage or
Phaidor's pleasure, but I knew that neither boded good for me.
A moment later I was upon the backs of the yellow men, and as the
red men of Helium saw me above the shoulders of their antagonists
a great shout rang through the corridor, and for a moment drowned
the noise of battle.
"For the Prince of Helium!" they cried. "For the Prince of Helium!"
and, like hungry lions upon their prey, they fell once more upon
the weakening warriors of the north.
The yellow men, cornered between two enemies, fought with the
desperation that utter hopelessness often induces. Fought as I
should have fought had I been in their stead, with the determination
to take as many of my enemies with me when I died as lay within
the power of my sword arm.
It was a glorious battle, but the end seemed inevitable, when
presently from down the corridor behind the red men came a great
body of reenforcing yellow warriors.
Now were the tables turned, and it was the men of Helium who seemed
doomed to be ground between two millstones. All were compelled to
turn to meet this new assault by a greatly superior force, so that
to me was left the remnants of the yellow men within the throneroom.
They kept me busy, too; so busy that I began to wonder if indeed
I should ever be done with them. Slowly they pressed me back into
the room, and when they had all passed in after me, one of them
closed and bolted the door, effectually barring the way against
the men of Kantos Kan.
It was a clever move, for it put me at the mercy of a dozen men
within a chamber from which assistance was locked out, and it gave
the red men in the corridor beyond no avenue of escape should their
new antagonists press them too closely.
But I have faced heavier odds myself than were pitted against me
that day, and I knew that Kantos Kan had battled his way from a
hundred more dangerous traps than that in which he now was. So it
was with no feelings of despair that I turned my attention to the
business of the moment.
Constantly my thoughts reverted to Dejah Thoris, and I longed for
the moment when, the fighting done, I could fold her in my arms,
and hear once more the words of love which had been denied me for
so many years.
During the fighting in the chamber I had not even a single chance