Llana of Gathol (Barsoom #10)

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“What do you make of these skeletons and bodies?” asked Pan Dan Chee.

“I am puzzled,” I replied; “there must be a great many more who died on the trail than those whose remains we have seen here. You will note that these all lie on ledges where the bodies could have lodged when they fell. Many more must have pitched to the foot of the cliff.”

“But how do you suppose they met their death?” asked Llana.

“There might have been an epidemic of disease in the valley,” suggested Pan Dan Chee, “and these poor devils died while trying to escape.”

“I am sure I haven’t the slightest idea of what the explanation can be,” I replied. “You see the remains of harness on most of them, but no weapons. I am inclined to think that Pan Dan Chee is right in assuming that they were trying to escape, but whether from an epidemic of sickness or something else we may never know.”

From our dizzy footing on that precarious trail we had an excellent view of the valley below. It was level and well watered and the monotony of the scarlet grass which grows on Mars where there is water, was broken by forests, the whole making an amazing sight for one familiar with this dying planet.

There are crops and trees and other vegetation along the canals; there are lawns and gardens in the cities where irrigation is available; but never have I seen a sight like this except in the Valley Dor at the South Pole, where lies the Lost Sea of Korus. For here there was not only a vast expanse of fertile valley but there were rivers and at least one lake which I could see in the distance; and then Llana called our attention to a city, gleaming white, with lofty towers.

“What a beautiful city,” she said. “I wonder what sort of people live there?”

“Probably somebody who would love nothing better than to slit our throats,” I said.

“We Orovars are not like that,” said Pan Dan Chee, “we hate to kill people. Why do all the other races on Mars hate each other so?”

“I don’t think that it is hate that makes them want to kill each other,” I said.

“It is that is has become a custom. Since the drying up of the seas ages ago, survival has become more and more difficult; and in all those ages they have become so accustomed to battling for existence that now it has become second nature to kill all aliens.”

“I’d still like to see the inside of that city,” said Llana of Gathol.

“Your curiosity will probably never be satisfied,” I said.

We stood for some time on a ledge looking down upon that beautiful valley, probably one of the most beautiful sights on all of Mars. We saw several herds of the small thoats used by the red Martians as riding animals and for food.

There is a little difference in the saddle and butchering species, but at this distance we could not tell which these were. We saw game animals down there, too, and we who had been so long without good meat were tempted.

“Let’s go down,” said Llana; “we haven’t seen any human beings and we don’t need to go near the city; it is a long way off. I should like so much to see the beauties of that valley closer.”

“And I would like to get some good red meat,” I said.

“And I, too,” said Pan Dan Chee.

“My better judgment tells me it would be a foolish thing to do,” I said, “but if I had followed my better judgment always, my life would have been a very dull one.”

“Anyway,” said Llana, “we don’t know that it is any more dangerous down on the floor of the valley than it was up on the edge of the rim. We certainly barely missed a lot of trouble up there, and it may still be hanging around.”

I didn’t think so; although I have known green Martians to hunt a couple of red men for days at a time. Anyway, the outcome of our discussion was that we continued on down to the floor of the valley.

Around the foot of the cliff, where the trail ended, there was a jumble of human bones and a couple of badly mangled bodies—poor devils who had either died on the trail above or fallen to their death here at the bottom. I wondered how and why.

Fortunately for us, the city was at such a distance that I was sure that no one could have seen us from there; and, knowing Martian customs, we had no intention of approaching it; nor would we have particularly cared to had it been safe, for the floor of the valley was so entrancingly beautiful in its natural state that the sights and sounds of a city would have proved a discordant note.

A short distance from us was a little river; and, beyond it, a forest came down to its edge. We crossed to the river on the scarlet sward, close-cropped by grazing herds and starred by many flowers of unearthly beauty.

A short distance down the river a herd of thoats was grazing. They were the beef variety, which is exceptionally good eating; and Pan Dan Chee suggested that we cross the river so that he could take advantage of the concealment of the forest to approach close enough to make a kill.

The river was simply alive with fish, and as we waded across I speared several with my long sword.

“At least we shall have fish for dinner,” I said, “and if Pan Dan Chee is lucky, we shall have a steak.”

“And in the forest I see fruits and nuts,” said Llana. “What a banquet we shall have!”

“Wish me luck,” said Pan Dan Chee, as he entered the forest to work his way down toward the thoats.

Llana and I were watching, but we did not see the young Orovaran again until he leaped from the forest and hurled something at the nearest thoat, a young bull.

The beast screamed, ran a few feet, staggered and fell, while the rest of the herd galloped off.

“How did he do that?” asked Llana.

“I don’t know,” I said, “he did it so quickly that I couldn’t see what it was he threw. It was certainly not a spear because he hasn’t one, and if it had been his sword we could have seen it.”

“It looked like a little stick,” said Llana.

We saw Pan Dan Chee cutting steaks from his kill; and presently he was back with us, carrying enough meat for a dozen men.

“How did you kill that thoat?” demanded Llana.

“With my dagger,” replied Pan Dan Chee.

“It was marvellous,” I said, “but where did you learn it?”

“Dagger throwing is a form of sport in Horz. We are all good at it, but I happen to have won the Jeddak’s trophy for the last three years; so I was pretty sure of my ground when I offered to get you a thoat, although I had never before used it to kill game. Very, very rarely is there a duel in Horz; and when there is, the contestants usually choose daggers, unless one of them is far more proficient than the other.”

While Pan Dan Chee and I were making fire and cooking the fish and steaks, Llana gathered fruits and nuts; so that we had a delicious meal, and when night came we lay down on the soft sward and slept.

 

CHAPTER IV

We slept late, for we had been very tired the night before. I speared some fresh fish, and we had fish and steaks and fruit and nuts again for breakfast. Then we started toward the trail that leads out of the valley.

“It is going to be an awful climb,” said Pan Dan Chee.

“Oh, I wish we didn’t have to make it,” said Llana; “I hate to leave this beautiful spot.”

My attention was suddenly attracted toward the lower end of the valley.

“Maybe you won’t have to leave it, Llana,” I said. “Look!”

Both she and Pan Dan Chee turned and looked in the direction I had indicated, to see two hundred warriors mounted on thoats. The men were ebony black, and I wondered if they could be the notorious Black Pirates of Barsoom that I had first met and fought many years ago at the South Pole—the people who called themselves the First Born.

They galloped up and surrounded us; their spears couched, ready for any emergency.

“Who are you?” demanded their leader. “What are you doing in the Valley of the First Born?”

“We came down the trail to avoid a horde of green men,” I replied. “We were just leaving. We came in peace; we do not want war, but we are still three swords ready to give a good account of ourselves.”

“You will have to come to Kamtol with us,” said the leader.

“The city?” I asked. He nodded.

I whipped my sword from its scabbard.

“Stop!” he said. “We are two hundred; you are three. If you come to the city there would be at least a chance that you won’t be killed; if you stay here and fight you will be killed.”

I shrugged. “It is immaterial to me,” I said. “Llana of Gathol wishes to see the city, and I would just as leave fight. Pan Dan Chee, what do you and Llana say?”

“I would like to see the city,” said Llana, “but I will fight if you fight. Perhaps,” she added, “they will not be unkind to us.”

“You will have to give up your arms,” said the leader.

I didn’t like that and I hesitated.

“It is that or death,” said the leader. “Come! I can’t stand here all day.”

Well, resistance was futile; and it seemed foolish to sacrifice our lives if there were the remotest hope that we might be well received in Kamtol, and so we were taken on the backs of three thoats behind their riders and started for the beautiful white city.

The ride to the city was uneventful, but it gave me an excellent opportunity to examine our captors more closely. They were unquestionably of the same race as Xodar, Dator of the First Born of Barsoom, to give him his full title, who had been first my enemy and then my friend during my strange adventures among the Holy Therns. They are an exceptionally handsome race, clean-limbed and powerful, with intelligent faces and features of such exquisite chiseling that Adonis himself might have envied them. I am a Virginian; and it may seem strange for me to say so, but their black skins, resembling polished ebony, add greatly to their beauty. The harness and metal of our captors was identical with that worn by the Black Pirates whose acquaintance I had made upon the Golden Cliffs above the Valley Dor.

My admiration of these people did not blind me to the fact that they are a cruel and ruthless race and that our life expectancy was reduced to a minimum by our capture.

Kamtol did not belie its promise. It was as beautiful on closer inspection as it had been at a distance. Its pure white outer wall is elaborately carved, as are the facades on many of its buildings. Graceful towers rise above its broad avenues, which, when we entered the city, were filled with people. Among the blacks, we saw a number of red men performing menial tasks. It was evident that they were slaves, and their presence suggested the fate which might await us.

I cannot say that I looked forward with any great amount of enthusiasm to the possibility that John Carter, Prince of Helium, Warlord of Mars, might become a street cleaner or a garbage collector. One thing that I noticed particularly in Kamtol was that the residences could not be raised on cylindrical columns, as is the case in most modern Martian cities, where assassination has been developed to a fine art and where assassins’ guilds flourish openly, and their members swagger through the streets like gangsters once did in Chicago.

Heavily guarded, we were taken to a large building and there we were separated.

I was taken to an apartment and seated in a chair with my back toward a strange looking machine, the face of which was covered with innumerable dials. A number of heavily insulated cables ran from various parts of the apparatus; metal bands at the ends of these cables were clamped about my wrists, my ankles, and my neck, the latter clamp pressing against the base of my skull; then something like a strait-jacket was buckled tightly around me, and I had a sensation as of countless needles touching my spine for almost its full length. I thought that I was to be electrocuted, but it seemed to me that they took a great deal of unnecessary pains to destroy me. A simple sword thrust would have done it much more quickly.

An officer, who was evidently in charge of the proceedings, came and stood in front of me. “You are about to be examined,” he said, “you will answer all questions truthfully;” then he signaled to an attendant who threw a switch on the apparatus.

So I was not to be electrocuted, but examined. For what, I could not imagine. I felt a very gentle tingling throughout my entire body, and then they commenced to hurl questions at me.

There were six men. Sometimes they questioned me singly and sometimes all at once. At such times, of course, I could not answer very intelligently because I could not hear the questions fully. Sometimes they spoke soothingly to me, and again they shouted at me angrily; often they heaped insults upon me. They let me rest for a few moments, and then a slave entered the apartment with a tray of very tempting food which he offered to me. As I was about to take it, it was snatched away; and my tormentors laughed at me. They jabbed me with sharp instruments until the blood flowed, and then they rubbed the wounds with a burning caustic, after which they applied a salve that instantly relieved the pain. Again I rested and again food was offered me. When I made no move to attempt to take it, they insisted; and, much to my surprise, let me eat it.

By this time I had come to the conclusion that we had been captured by a race of sadistic maniacs, and what happened next assured me that I was right, My torturers all left the apartment. I sat there for several minutes wondering at the whole procedure and why they couldn’t have tortured me without attaching me to that amazing contraption. I was facing a door in the opposite wall, and suddenly the door flew open and a huge banth leaped into the room with a horrid roar.