Llana of Gathol (Barsoom #10)

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This, I thought, is the end, as the great carnivore came racing at me. As suddenly as he had entered the room, he came to a stop a few feet from me, and so instantly that he was thrown to the floor at my feet. It was then that I saw that he was secured by a chain just a little too short to permit him to reach me. I had had all the sensations of impending death—a most refined form of torture. However, if that had been their purpose they had failed, for I do not fear death.

The banth was dragged out of the apartment by his chain and the door closed; then the examining board re-entered smiling at me in the most kindly way.

“That is all,” said the officer in charge; “the examination is over.”

 

CHAPTER V

After the paraphernalia had been removed from me, I was turned over to my guard and taken to the pits, such as are to be found in every Martian city, ancient or modern. These labyrinthine corridors and chambers are used for storage purposes and for the incarceration of prisoners, their only other tenants being the repulsive ulsio.

I was chained to the wall in a large cell in which there was another prisoner, a red Martian; and it was not long until Llana of Gathol and Pan Dan Chee were brought in and chained near me.

“I see you survived the examination,” I said.

“What in the world do they expect to learn from such an examination as that?” demanded Llana. “It was stupid and silly.”

“Perhaps they wanted to find out if they could scare us to death,” suggested Pan Dan Chee.

“I wonder how long they will keep us in these pits,” said Llana.

“I have been here a year,” said the red man. “Occasionally I have been taken out and put to work with other slaves belonging to the jeddak, but until someone buys me I shall remain here.”

“Buys you! What do you mean?” asked Pan Dan Chee.

“All prisoners belong to the jeddak,” replied the red man, “but his nobles or officers may buy them if they wish another slave. I think he is holding me at too high a price, for a number of nobles have looked at me and said that they would like to have me.”

He was silent for a moment and then he said, “You will pardon my curiosity, but two of you do not look like Barsoomians at all, and I am wondering from what part of the world you come. Only the woman is typical of Barsoom; both you men have white skin and one of you black hair and the other yellow.”

“You have heard of the Orovars?” I asked.

“Certainly,” he replied, “but they have been extinct for ages.

“Nevertheless, Pan Dan Chee here is an Orovar. There is a small colony of them that has survived in a deserted Orovar city.”

And you?” he asked; “you are no Orovar, with that black hair.”

“No,” I said, “I am from another world—Jasoom.”

“Oh,” he exclaimed, “can it be that you are John Carter?”

“Yes; and you?”

“My name is Jad-han. I am from Amhor.”

“Amhor?” I said. “I know a girl from Amhor. Her name is Janai.”

“What do you know of Janai?” he demanded.

“You knew her?” I asked.

“She was my sister; she has been dead for years. While I was out of the country on a long trip, Jal Had, Prince of Amhor, employed Ganturn Gur, the assassin, to kill my father because he objected to Jal Had as a suitor for Janai’s hand. Then I returned to Amhor, Janai had fled; and later I learned of her death. In order to escape assassination myself, I was forced to leave the city; and after wandering about for some time I was captured by the First Born. But tell me, what did you know of Janai?”

“I know that she is not dead,” I replied. “She is mated with one of my most trusted officers and is safe in Helium.”

Jad-han was overcome with happiness when he learned that his sister still lived.

“Now,” he said, “if I could escape from here and return to Amhor to avenge my father, I would die happy.”

“Your father has been avenged,” I told him. “Jal Had is dead.”

“I am sorry that it was not given to me to kill him,” said Jad-han.

“You have been here a year,” I said, “and you must know something of the customs of the people. Can you tell us what fate may lie in store for us?”

“There are several possibilities,” he replied. “You may be worked as slaves, in which event you will be treated badly, but may be permitted to live for years; or you may be saved solely for the games which are held in a great stadium. There you will fight with men or beasts for the edification of the First Born. On the other hand, you may be summarily executed at any moment. All depends upon the mental vagaries of Doxus, Jeddak of The First Born, who I think is a little mad.”

“If the silly examination they gave us is any criterion,” said Llana, “they are all mad.”

“Don’t be too sure of that,” Jad-han advised. “If you realized the purpose of that examination, you would understand that it was never devised by any unsound mind. Did you see the dead men as you entered the valley?”

“Yes, but what have they to do with the examination?”

“They took that same examination; that is why they lie dead out there.”

“I do not understand,” I said. “Please explain.”

“The machines to which you were connected recorded hundreds of your reflexes; and automatically recorded your own individual nerve index, which is unlike that of any other creature in the world.

“The master machine, which you did not see and never will, generates short wave vibrations which can be keyed exactly to your individual nerve index. When that is done you have such a severe paralytic stroke that you die almost instantly.”

“But why all that just to destroy a few slaves?” demanded Pan Dan Chee.

“It is not for that alone,” explained Jad-han. “Perhaps that was one of the initial purposes to prevent prisoners from escaping and spreading word of this beautiful valley on a dying planet. You can imagine that almost any country would wish to possess it. But it has another purpose; it keeps Doxus supreme.

“Every adult in the valley has had his nerve index recorded, and is at the mercy of his jeddak. You don’t have to leave the valley to be exterminated. An enemy of the jeddak might be sitting in his own home some day, when the thing would find him out and destroy him. Doxus is the only adult in Kamtol whose index has not been recorded; and he and one other man, Myr-lo, are the only ones who know exactly where the master machine is located, or how to operate it. It is said to be very delicate and that it can be irreparably damaged in an instant—and can never be replaced.”

“Why couldn’t it be replaced?” asked Llana.

“The inventor of it is dead,” replied Jad-han. “It is said that he hated Doxus because of the purpose to which the jeddak had put his invention and that Doxus had him assassinated through fear of him. Myr-lo, who succeeded him, has not the genius to design another such machine.”

 

CHAPTER VI

That night, after Llana had fallen asleep, Jad-han, Pan Dan Chee, and I were conversing in whispers; so as not to disturb her.

“It is too bad,” said Jad-han, who had been looking at the sleeping girl; “it is too bad that she is so beautiful.”

“What do you mean?” asked Pan Dan Chee.

“This afternoon you asked me what your fate might be; and I told you what the possibilities might be, but those were the possibilities for you two men. For the girl—” He looked sorrowfully at Llana and shook his head; he did not need to say more.

The next day a number of the First Born came down into our cell to examine us, as one might examine cattle that one purposed buying. Among them was one of the jeddak’s officers, upon whom developed the duty of selling prisoners into slavery for the highest amounts he could obtain.

One of the nobles immediately took a fancy to Llana and made an offer for her.

They haggled over the price for some time, but in the end the noble got her.

Pan Dan Chee and I were grief-stricken as they led Llana of Gathol away, for we knew that we should never see her again. Although her father is Jed of Gathol, in her veins flows the blood of Helium; and the women of Helium know how to act when an unkind Providence reserves for them the fate for which we knew Llana of Gathol was intended.

“Oh! to be chained to a wall and without a sword when a thing like this happens,” exclaimed Pan Dan Chee.

“I know how you feel,” I said; “but we are not dead yet, Pan Dan Chee; and our chance may come yet.”

“If it does, we will make them pay,” he said.

Two nobles were bidding for me, and at last I was knocked down to a dator named Xaxak. My fetters were removed, and the jeddak’s agent warned me to be a good and docile slave.

Xaxak had a couple of warriors with him, and they walked on either side of me as we left the pits. I was the object of considerable curiosity, as we made our way toward Xaxak’s palace, which stood near that of the jeddak. My white skin and gray eyes always arouse comment in cities where I am not known. Of course, I am bronzed by exposure to the sun, but even so my skin is not the copper red of the red men of Barsoom.

Before I was to be taken to the slaves’ quarters of the palace, Xaxak questioned me. “What is your name?” he asked.

“Dotar Sojat,” I replied. It is the name given me by the green Martians who captured me when I first came to Mars, being the names of the first two green Martians I had killed in duels; and is in the nature of an honorable title. A man with one name, an o-mad, is not considered very highly. I was always glad that they stopped with two names, for had I had to assume the name of every green Martian warrior I had killed in a duel it would have taken an hour to pronounce them all.

“Did you say dator?” asked Xaxak. “Don’t tell me that you are a prince!”

“I said Dotar,” I replied. I hadn’t given my real name; because I had reason to believe that it was well known to the First Born, who had good reason to hate me for what I had done to them in the Valley Dor.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“I have no country,” I said; “I am a panthan.”

As these soldiers of fortune have no fixed abode, wandering about from city to city offering their services and their swords to whomever will employ them, they are the only men who can go with impunity into almost any Martian city.

“Oh, a panthan,” he said. “I suppose you think you are pretty good with a sword.”

“I have met worse,” I replied.

“If I thought you were any good, I would enter you in the lesser games,” he said; but you cost me a lot of money, and I’d hate to take the chance of your being killed.”

“I don’t think you need worry about that,” I told him.

“You are pretty sure of yourself,” he said. “Well, let’s see what you can do. Take him out into the garden,” he directed the two warriors. Xaxak followed us out to an open patch of sand.

“Give him your sword,” he said to one of the warriors; and, to the other, “Engage him, Ptang; but not to the death;” then he turned to me. “It is not to the death, slave, you understand. I merely wish to see how good you are. Either one of you may draw blood, but don’t kill.”

Ptang, like all the other Black Pirates of Barsoom whom I have met, was an excellent swordsman—cool, quick, and deadly. He came toward me with a faint, supercilious smile on his lips.

“It is scarcely fair, my prince,” he said to Xaxak, “to pit him against one of the best swordsmen in Kamtol.”

“That is the only way in which I can tell whether he is any good at all, or not,” replied Xaxak. “If he extends you, he will certainly be good enough to enter in the Lesser Games. He might even win his price back for me.”

“We shall see,” said Ptang, crossing swords with me.

Before he realized what was happening, I had pricked him in the shoulder. He looked very much surprised, and the smile left his lips.

“An accident,” he said; “it will not occur again;” and then I pinked him in the other shoulder. Now, he made a fatal mistake; he became angry. While anger may stiffen a man’s offense, it weakens his defense. I have seen it happen a thousand times, and when I am anxious to dispatch an antagonist quickly I always try to make him angry.

“Come, come! Ptang,” said Xaxak; “can’t you make a better showing than that against a slave?”