John Carter of Mars (Barsoom #11)

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At last there came a break in the deadly monotony of our lives: a new prisoner was thrown into the cell with us. And he was a Morgor I The situation was embarrassing. Had our numbers been reversed, had there been three Morgors and one of us, there would have been no doubt as to the treatment that one would have received. He would have been ostracized, imposed upon, and very possibly abused. The Morgor expected this fate. He went into a far corner of the cell and awaited what he had every reason to expect. U Dan, Zan Dar, and I discussed the situation in whispers. That must have been a trying time for the Morgor. We three finally decided to treat the creature simply as a fellow prisoner until such time as his own conduct should be our eventual guide. Zan Dar was the first to break the ice. In a friendly manner he asked what mischance bad brought the fellow to this pass.

“I killed one who had an influential relative in the palace of Bandolian,” he replied, and as he spoke he came over closer to us. “For that I shall die, probably in the graduating exercises of the next class. We shall doubtless all die together,” he added with a hollow laugh. He paused. “Unless we escape,” he concluded.

“Then we shall die,” said Zan Dar.

“Perhaps,” said the Morgor.

“One does not escape from the prisons of the Morgors,” said Zan Dar.

I was interested in that one word “perhaps”. It seemed to me fraught with intentional weaning. I determined to cultivate this animated skeleton. It could do no harm and might lead to good. I told him my name and the names of my companions; then I asked his.

“Vorion,” he replied; “but I need no introduction to you, John Carter. We have met before. Don’t you recognize me?” I had to admit that I did not. Vorion laughed. “I slapped your face and you knocked me across the ship. It was a noble blow. For a long time they thought that I was dead.”

“Oh,” I said, “you were one of my instructors. It may please you to know that I am going to die for that blow.”

“Perhaps not,” said Vorion. There was that “perhaps” again. What did the fellow mean?

Much to our surprise, Vorion proved not at all a bad companion. Toward Bandolian and the powerful forces that had condemned him to death and thrown him into prison he was extremely bitter. I learned from him that the apparent veneration and loyalty accorded Bandolian by his people was wholly a matter of disciplined regimentation. At heart, Vorion loathed the man as a monster of cruelty and tyranny. “Fear and generations of training hold our apparent loyalty,” he said.

After he had been with us for some time, he said to me, “You three have been very decent to me. You could have made my life miserable here; and I could not have blamed you had you done so, for you must hate us Morgors.”

“We are all in the same boat,” I said. “We could gain nothing by fighting among ourselves. If we work together, perhaps…” I used his own perhaps.

Vorion nodded. “I have been thinking that we might work together,” he said.

“To what end?” I asked.

“Escape.”

“Is that possible?”

“Perhaps.”

U Dan and Zan Dar were eager listeners. Vorion turned to the latter.

“If we should escape,” he said, “you three have a country to which you might go with every assurance of finding asylum, while I could expect only death in any country upon the face of Eurobus. If you could promise me safety in your country.”

He paused, evidently awaiting Zan Dar’s reaction.

“I could only promise to do my best for you,” said Zan Dar; “but I am confident that if you were the means of my liberation and return to Zanor, you would be permitted to remain there in safety.”

Our plotting was interrupted by the arrival of the detail of warriors. The officer in command singled me out and ordered me from the cell. If I were to be separated from my companions, I saw, the fabric of my dream of escape dissolve before my eyes.

They led me from the building and across the plaza to the palace of Bandolian, and after some delay I found myself again in the audience chamber. From behind his desk, the hollow eyes of the tyrant stared at me from their grinning skull. “I am giving you your last chance,” said Bandolian; then he turned to one of his officers. “Bring in the other,” he said. There was a short wait, and then a door at my right opened and a guard of warriors brought in the “other”. It was Dejah Thoris! My incomparable Dejah Thoris!

What a lovely creature she was as she crossed the floor surrounded by hideous Morgors. What majestic dignity, what fearlessness distinguished her carriage and her mien! That such as she should be sacrificed even for a world! They halted her scarce two paces from me. She gave me a brave smile, and whispered, “Courage! I know now why I am here. Do not weaken. Better death than dishonor.”

“What is she saying?” demanded Bandolian.

I thought quickly. I knew that the chances were that not one of them there understood the language of Barsoom. In their stupid arrogance they would not deign to master the tongue of a lower order.

“She but pleads with me to save her,” I said. I saw Dejah Thoris smile. Evidently they had taught her the language of the Morgors on the long voyage from Mars.

“And you will be wise to do so,” said Bandolian, “otherwise she will be given to Multis Par and afterward tortured and mutilated many times before she is permitted to die.”

I shuddered in contemplation of such a fate for my princess, and in that moment I weakened once again. “If I aid you, will she be returned unharmed to Helium?” I asked.

“Both of you will—after I have conquered Garobus,” replied Bandolian.

“No! No!” whispered Dejah Thoris. “I should rather die than return to Helium with a traitor. No, John Carter, you could never be that even to save my life.”

“But the torture! The mutilation! I would be a traitor a thousand times over to save you from that, and I can promise you that no odium would be attached to you: I should never return to Barsoom.”

“I shall be neither tortured nor mutilated,” she said. “Sewn into my harness is a long, thin blade.”

I understood and I was relieved. “Very well,” I said. “If we are to die for Barsoom, it is not more than thousands of her brave warriors have done in the past; but we are not dead yet. Remember that, my princess; and do not use that long, thin blade upon yourself until hope is absolutely dead.”

“While you live, hope will live,” she said.

“Come, come,” said Bandolian. “I have listened long enough to your silly jabbering. Do you accept my proposition?”

“I am considering it,” I said, “but I must have a few more words with my mate.”

“Let them be few,” snapped the Morgor.

I turned to Dejah Thoris. “Where are you imprisoned?” I asked.

“On the top floor of a tower at the rear of this building at the corner nearest the great volcano. There is another Barsoomian with me, a girl from Zor. Her name is Vaja.”

Bandolian was becoming impatient. He drummed nervously on his desk with his knuckles and snapped his grinning jaws together like castanets. “Enough of this!” he growled. “What is your decision?”

“The matter is one of vast importance to me,” I replied. “I cannot decide it in a moment. Return me to my cell so that I may think it over and discuss it with U Dan, who also has much at stake.”

“Take it back to its cell,” ordered Bandolian; and then, to me: “You shall have time, but not much. My patience is exhausted.”

 

6.ESCAPE

I had no plan. I was practically without hope, yet I had gained at least a brief reprieve for Dejah Thoris. Perhaps a means of escape might offer itself. Upon such unsubstantial fare I fed the shred of hope to which I clung.

My cell mates were both surprised and relieved when I was returned to them. I told them briefly of what had occurred in the audience chamber of Bandolian. U Dan showed real grief when he learned that Dejah Thoris was in the clutches of the Morgors, and cursed himself for the part he had taken in bringing her and me to a situation in which we faced the alternatives of death or dishonor.

“Vain regrets never got anyone anywhere,” I said. “They won’t get us out of this cell. They won’t get Dejah Thoris and Vaja out of Bandolian’s tower. Forget them. We have other things to think about.” I turned to Vorion. “You have spoken of the possibility of escape. Explain yourself.”

He was not accustomed to being spoken to thus peremptorily by one of the lower orders, as the Morgors considered us; but he laughed, taking it in good part. The Morgors cannot smile. From birth to death they wear their death’s head grin—frozen, unchangeable.

“There is just a chance,” he said. “It is just barely a chance. Slender would be an optimistic description of it, but if it fails we shall be no worse off than we are now.”

“Tell us what it is,” I said.

“I can pick the lock of our cell door,” he explained. “If luck is with us, we can escape from this building. I know a way that is little used, for I was for long one of the prison guard.”

“What chance would we have once we were in the streets of the city?” demanded U Dan. “We three, at least, would be picked up immediately.”

“Not necessarily,” said Vorion. “There are many slaves on the avenues who look exactly like Zan Dar. Of course, the color of the skin of you men from Garobus might attract attention; but that is a chance we shall have to take.”

“And after we are in the streets?” asked Zan Dar. “What then?”

“I shall pretend that I am in charge of you. I shall treat you as slaves are so often treated that it will arouse no comment nor attract any undue attention. I shall have to be rough with you, but you will understand. I shall herd you to a field where there are many ships. There I shall tell the guard that I have orders to bring you to clean a certain ship. In this field are only the private ships of the rich and powerful among us, and I well know a certain ship that belongs to one who seldom uses it. If we can reach this ship and board it, nothing can prevent us from escaping. In an hour from now, we shall be on our way to Zanor—if all goes well.”

“And if we can take Vaja and Dejah Thoris with us,” I added.

“I had forgotten them,” said Vorion. “You would risk your lives for two females?”

“Certainly,” said U Dan.

Vorion shrugged. “You are strange creatures,” he said.

“We Morgors would not risk a little finger for a score of them. The only reason that we tolerate them at all is that they are needed to replenish the supply of warriors. To attempt to rescue two of you is may easily end in disaster for us all.”

“However, we shall make the attempt,” He said. “Are you with us, Zan Dar?” I asked the Savator.

“To the end,” he said, “whatever it may be.”

Again Vorion shrugged. “As you will,” he said, but not with much enthusiasm; then he set to work on the lock, and in a very short time the door swung open and we stepped out into the corridor. Vorion closed the door and relocked it. “This is going to give them food for speculation,” he remarked.

He led us along the corridor in the opposite direction from that in which we had been brought to it and from which all those had come who had approached our cell since our incarceration. The corridor became dark and dusty the farther we traversed it. Evidently it was little used. At its very end was a door, the lock to which Vorion quickly picked; and a moment later we stepped out into a narrow alleyway.

So simple had been our escape up to now that I immediately apprehended the worst: such luck could not last. Even the alley which we had entered was deserted: no one had seen us emerge from the prison. But when we reached the end of the alley and turned into a broad avenue, the situation was very different. Here were many people—Morgors upon the sidewalks, slaves in the gutters, strange beasts of burden carrying their loads of passengers upon the pavement.

Now, Vorion began to berate and cuff us as we walked in the gutter and he upon the sidewalk. He directed us away from the central plaza and finally into less frequented avenues, yet we still passed too many Morgors to suit me. At any minute one of them might notice the unusual coloration of U Dan’s skin and mine. I glanced at Zan Dar to note if the difference between his coloration and ours was at all startling, and I got a shock. Zan Dar’s skin had been blue. Now it was purple!

It tools me a moment to realize that the change was due to the rosy light of the volcano’s flames turning Zan Dar’s natural blue to purple.

We had covered quite a little distance in safety, when a Morgor, passing, eyed us suspiciously. He let us go by him; then he wheeled and called to Vorion. “Who are those two?” he demanded. “They are not Savators.”

“They have been ill,” said Vorion, “and their color has changed.” I was surprised that the fellow could think so quickly.

“Well, who are you?” asked the fellow, “and what are you doing in charge of slaves while unarmed?”

Vorion looked down at his sides in simulated surprise. “Why, I must have forgotten them,” he said.