A Fighting Man of Mars (Barsoom #7)

Page 8

I rode as close to the flier as possible, and, leaving Tavia on the thoat, slipped quickly to the ground and dragged the small craft out into the open. An examination of the controls showed that they had not been tampered with, which was a great relief to me as I had feared that the flier might have been damaged by the great apes, which are inclined to be both inquisitive and destructive.

Assured that all was well I assisted Tavia to the ground, and a moment later we were upon the deck of the flier. The craft responded satisfactorily, though a little sluggishly, to the controls, and immediately we were floating gently upward into the temporary safety of a Barsoomian night.

The flier, which was of a design now almost obsolete in Helium, was not equipped with a destination control compass, which rendered it necessary for the pilot to be constantly at the controls. Our quarters on the narrow deck were exceedingly cramped and I foresaw a most uncomfortable journey ahead of us. Our safety belts were snapped to the same deck ring as we lay almost touching one another upon the hard skeel. The cowl which protected our faces from the rush of the wind that was generated even by our relatively slow speed was not sufficiently high to permit us to change our positions to any considerable degree, though occasionally we found it a relief to sit up with our backs toward the bow and thus relieve the tedium of remaining constantly prone in one position. When I thus rested my cramped muscles, Tavia guided the flier, but the cold wind of the Barsoomian night always brought me down behind the cowl in a very few moments.

By mutual consent, we were heading in a south-westerly direction while we discussed our eventual destination.

I had told Tavia that I wished to go to Jahar and why. She appeared much interested in the story of the abduction of Sanoma Tora, and, from her knowledge of Tul Axtar and the customs of Jahar, she thought it most probable that the missing girl might be found there, but as to the possibility of rescuing her, that was another matter over which she shook her head dubiously.

It was obvious to me that Tavia did not desire to return to Jahar, yet she put no obstacles in the path of my search for this my great objective; in fact, she gave me Jahar’s position and herself set the nose of the flier upon the right course.

“Will there be any great danger to you in returning to Jahar?” I asked her.

“The danger will be very great,” she said, “but where the master goes, the slave must follow.”

“I am not your master,” I said, “and you are not my slave. Let us consider ourselves rather as comrades in arms.”

“That will be nice,” she said simply, and then after a pause, and if we are to be comrades then let me warn you against going directly to Jahar. This flier would be recognized immediately. Your harness would mark you as an alien and you would accomplish nothing more toward rescuing your Sanoma Tora than to achieve the pits of Tul Axtar and sooner or later the games in the great arena, where eventually you must be slain.”

“What would you suggest then?” I asked.

“Beyond Jahar, to the southwest, lies Tjanath, the city of my birth. Of all the cities upon Barsoom that is the only one where I may hope to be received in a friendly manner and as they receive me, so will they receive you. There you may better prepare to enter Jahar, which you may only accomplish by disguising yourself as a Jaharian, for Tul Axtar permits no alien within the confines of his empire other than those who are brought as prisoners of war and as slaves. In Tjanath you can obtain the harness and metal of Jahar and there I can coach you in the customs and manners of the empire of Tul Axtar so that in a short time you may enter it with some reasonably slight assurance that you may deceive them as to your identity. To enter without proper preparation would be fatal.”

I saw the wisdom of her counsel and accordingly we altered our course so as to pass south of Jahar, as we headed straight toward Tjanath, six thousand haads away.

All the balance of the night we traveled steadily at the rate of about six hundred haads per zode—a slow speed when compared with that of the good one-man flier that I had brought out of Helium.

As the sun rose the first thing that attracted my particular attention was the ghastly blue of the flier.

“What a color for a flier!” I exclaimed.

Tavia looked up at me. “There is an excellent reason for it, though,” she said; “a reason that you must fully understand before you enter Jahar.”



BELOW us, in the ever changing light of the two moons, stretched the weird landscape of Barsoomian night as our little craft sorely overloaded, winged slowly away from Xanator above the low bills that mark the southwestern boundary of the fierce, green hordes of Torquas. With the coming of the new day we discussed the advisability of making a landing and waiting until night before proceeding upon our journey, since we realized that should we be sighted by an enemy craft we could not possibly hope to escape.

“Few fliers pass this way,” said Tavia, “and if we keep a sharp lookout I believe that we shall be as safe in the air as on the ground for although we have passed beyond the limits of Torquas, there would still be danger from their raiding parties, which often go far afield.”

And so we proceeded slowly in the direction of Tjanath, our eyes constantly scanning the heavens in all directions.

The monotony of the landscape, combined with our slow rate of progress, would ordinarily have rendered such a journey unendurable to me, but to my surprise the time passed quickly, a fact which I attributed solely to the wit and intelligence of my companion for there was no gainsaying the fact that Tavia was excellent company. I think that we must have talked about everything upon Barsoom and naturally a great deal of the conversation revolved about our own experiences and personalities, so that long before we reached Tjanath I felt that I knew Tavia better than I had ever known any other woman and I was quite sure that I had never confided so completely in any other person.

Tavia had a way with her that seemed to compel confidences so that, to my own surprise, I found myself discussing the most intimate details of my past life, my hopes, ambitions and aspirations, as well as the fears and doubts which, I presume, assail the minds of all young men.

When I realized how fully I had unbosomed myself to this little slave girl, I experienced a distinct shock of embarrassment, but the sincerity of Tavia’s interest dispelled this feeling as did the realization that she had been almost as equally free with her confidences as had I.

We were two nights and a day covering the distance between Xanator and Tjanath and as the towers and landing stages of our destination appeared upon the distant horizon toward the end of the first zode of the second day, I realized that the hours that stretched away behind us to Xanator were, for some unaccountable reason, as happy a period as I had ever experienced.

Now it was over. Tjanath lay before us, and with the realization I experienced a distinct regret that Tjanath did not lie upon the opposite side of Barsoom.

With the exception of Sanoma Tora, I had never been particularly keen to be much in the company of women. I do not mean to convey the impression that I did not like them, for that would not be true. Their occasional company offered a diversion, which I enjoyed and of which I took advantage, but that I could be for so many hours in the exclusive company of a woman I did not love and thoroughly enjoy every minute of it would have seemed to me quite impossible; yet such had been the fact and I found myself wondering if Tavia had shared my enjoyment of the adventure.

“That must be Tjanath,” I said nodding in the direction of the distant city.

“Yes,” she replied.

“You must be glad that the journey is over,” I ventured.

She looked up at me quickly, her brows contracting suddenly in conjecture. “Perhaps I should be,” she replied enigmatically.

“It is your home,” I reminded her.

“I have no home,” she replied.

“But your friends are here,” I insisted.

“I have no friends,” she said.

“You forget Hadron of Hastor,” I reminded her.

“No,” she said, “I do not forget that you have been kind to me, but I remember that I am only an incident in your search for Sanoma Tora. Tomorrow, perhaps, you will be gone and we shall never see each other again.”

I had not thought of that and I found that I did not like to think about it, and yet I knew that it was true. “You will soon make friends here,” I said.

“I hope so,” she replied; “but I have been gone a very long time and I was so young when I was taken away that I have but the faintest of memories of my life in Tjanath. Tjanath really means nothing to me. I could be as happy anywhere else in Barsoom with—with a friend.”

We were now close above the outer wall of the city and our conversation was interrupted by the appearance of a flier, evidently a patrol, bearing down upon us. She was sounding an alarm—the shrill screaming of her horn shattering the silence of the early morning. Almost immediately the warning was taken up by gongs and shrieking sirens throughout the city. The patrol boat changed her course and rose swiftly above us, while from landing stages all about rose scores of fighting planes until we were entirely surrounded.

I tried to hail the nearer of them, but the infernal din of the warning signals drowned my voice. Hundreds of guns covered us, their crews standing ready to hurl destruction upon us.

“Does Tjanath always receive visitors in this hostile manner?” I inquired of Tavia.

She shook her head. “I do not know,” she replied. “Had we approached in a strange ship of war, I might understand it; but why this little scout flier should attract half the navy of Tjanath is—Wait!” she exclaimed suddenly. “The design and color of our flier mark its origin as Jahar. The people of Tjanath have seen this color before and they fear it; yet if that is true, why is it that they have not fired upon us?”

I do not know why they did not fire upon us at first,” I replied, “but it is obvious why they do not now. Their ships are so thick about us that they could not fire without endangering their own craft and men.”

“Can’t you make them understand that we are friends?” she asked.

Immediately I made the signs of friendship and of surrender, but the ships seemed afraid to approach. The alarms had ceased and the ships were circling silently about us.

Again I hailed a nearby ship. “Do not fire,” I shouted; “we are friends.”

“Friends do not come to Tjanath in the blue death ships of Jahar,” replied an officer upon the deck of the ship I had hailed.

“Let us come alongside,” I insisted, “and at least I can prove to you that we are harmless.”

“You will not come alongside my ship,” he replied. “If you are friends you can prove it by doing as I instruct you.”

“What are your wishes?” I asked.

“Come about and take your flier beyond the city walls. Ground her at least a haad beyond the east gate and then, with your companion, walk toward the city.”

“Can you promise that we will be well received?” I asked.

“You will be questioned,” he replied, “and if you are all right, you have nothing to fear.”

“Very well,” I replied, “we will do as you say. Signal your other ships to make way for us,” and then, through the lane that they opened, we passed slowly back above the walls of Tjanath and came to the ground about a haad beyond the east gate.

As we approached the city the gates swung open and a detachment of warriors marched out to meet us. It was evident that they were very suspicious and fearful of us. The padwar in charge of them ordered us to halt while there were yet fully a hundred sofads between us.

“Throw down your weapons,” he commanded, “and then come forward.”

“But we are not enemies,” I replied. “Do not the people of Tjanath know how to receive friends?”

“Do as you are told or we will destroy you both,” was his only reply.

I could not refrain a shrug of disgust as I divested myself of my weapons, while Tavia threw down the short sword that I had loaned her. Unarmed we advanced toward the warriors, but even then the padwar was not entirely satisfied, for he searched our harness carefully before he finally conducted us into the city, keeping us well surrounded by warriors.

As the east gate of Tjanath closed behind us I realized that we were prisoners rather than the guests that we had hoped to be, but Tavia tried to reassure me by insisting that when they had heard our story we would be set at liberty and accorded the hospitality that she insisted was our due.

Our guards conducted us to a building that stood upon the opposite side of the avenue, facing the east gate, and presently we found ourselves upon a broad landing stage upon the roof of the building. Here a patrol flier awaited us and our padwar turned us over to the officer in charge, whose attitude toward us was marked by ill-concealed hatred and distrust.

As soon as we had been received on board the patrol flier rose and proceeded toward the center of the city.

Below us lay Tjanath, giving the impression of a city that had not kept abreast of modem improvements. It was marked by signs of antiquity; the buildings reflected the architecture of the ancients and many of them were in a state of disrepair, though much of the city’s ugliness was hidden or softened by the foliage of great trees and climbing vines, so that on the whole the aspect was more pleasing than otherwise. Toward the center of the city was a large plaza, entirely surrounded by imposing public buildings, including the palace of the Jed. It was upon the roof of one of these buildings that the flier landed.