“We fly mostly at night,” he replied, “so that our enemies cannot see where we take off from, nor where we land. Those that you saw coming in a few minutes ago were visitors from Dor. That may mean that we are going to war, and I hope so. We haven’t raided any cities for a long time. If it’s to be a big raid, those from Dor and from Kamtol band together.”
Some Black Pirates from the Valley Dor! Now, indeed, I might be recognized.
As I walked away from the hangar building, I turned and looked back, studying every detail of the architecture; then I walked around the entire building, which covered a whole square, with avenues on all four sides. Like nearly all Martian buildings, this one was highly ornamented with deep carvings. It stood in a rather poor section of the city, although not far from the palace; and was surrounded by small and modest homes. They were probably the homes of the artisans employed around the hangar. A little farther from the hangar a section of small shops began; and as I passed along, looking at the wares displayed, I saw something which brought me to a sudden stop, for it suggested a new accessory to my rapidly formulating plans for escape from the Valley of the First Born—from which none ever escaped. It is sometimes well not to be too greatly constrained by precedent.
I entered the shop and asked the proprietor the price of the article I wished.
It was only three teepi, the equivalent of about thirty cents in United States money; but with the information came the realization that I had none of the money of the First Born.
The medium of exchange upon Mars is not dissimilar to our own, except that the coins are oval; and there are only three; the pi, pronounced pi; worth about one cent; the teepi, ten cents; and the tanpi, one dollar. These coins are oval; one of bronze, one of silver, and one of gold. Paper money is issued by individuals, much as we write a check, and is redeemed by the individual twice yearly. If a man issues more than he can redeem, the government pays his creditors in full; and the debtor works out the amount upon the farms, or in the mines, which are government owned.
I had with me money of Helium to the value of some fifty tanpi, and I asked the proprietor if he would accept a larger amount than the value of the article in foreign coin. As the value of the metal is equal to the value of the coin, he gladly accepted one dollar in gold for what was worth thirty cents in silver; and I placed my purchase in my pocket pouch and departed.
As I approached the palace, I saw a white-skinned man ahead of me carrying a heavy burden on his back. Now, as far as I knew, there was only one other white-skinned man in Kamtol; and that was Pan Dan Chee; so I hastened to overtake him.
Sure enough, it was the Orovar from Horz; and when I came up behind him and called him by name, he almost dropped his burden, so surprised was he.
“John Carter!” he exclaimed.
“Hush!” I cautioned; “my name is Dotar Sojat. If the First Born knew that John Carter was in Kamtol I hate to think what would happen to him. Tell me about yourself. What has happened to you since I last saw you?”
“I was purchased by Dator Nastor, who has the reputation of being the hardest master in Kamtol. He is also the meanest; he bought me only because he could buy me cheap, and he made them throw in Jad-han for good measure. He works us day and night, and feeds us very little—and poor food at that. Since he lost a hundred thousand tanpi to Xaxak, it has been almost like working for a maniac.
“By my first ancestor!” he exclaimed suddenly; “so it was you who defeated Nolat and caused Nastor to lose all that money! I didn’t realize it until just now. They said the slave who won the contest was named Dotar Sojat, and that meant nothing to me until now—and I was a little slow in getting it, at that.”
“Have you seen Llana of Gathol?” I asked him. “She was in Nastor’s loge at the Games; so I, presume she was purchased by him.”
“Yes, but I have not seen her,” replied Pan Dan Chee; “however, I have heard gossip in the slaves’ quarters; and I am much worried by what is being whispered about the palace.”
“What have you heard? I felt that she was in danger when I saw her in Nastor’s loge. She is too beautiful to be safe.”
“She was safe enough at first,” said Pan Dan Chee, “as she was originally purchased by Nastor’s principal wife. Everything was comparatively well for her until Nastor got a good look at her at the Games; then he tried to buy her from his wife. But she, Van-tija, refused to sell. Nastor was furious, and told Van-tija that he would take Llana anyway, so Van-tija has locked her in an apartment at the top of the tower of her own part of the palace, and has placed her personal guards at the only entrance. There is the tower, there,” he said, pointing; “perhaps Llana of Gathol is looking down at us now.”
As I looked up at the tower, I saw that it rose above a palace which stood directly across the large central plaza from that of the jeddak; and I saw something else—I saw the windows of Llana’s apartments were not barred.
“Do you think that Llana is in any immediate danger?” asked.
“Yes,” he replied, “I do. It is rumored in the palace that Nastor is going to lead warriors to Van-tija’s section of the palace and attempt to take the tower by storm.”
“Then we have no time to lose, Pan Dan Chee. We must act tonight.”
“But what can we two slaves do?” he demanded. “Even if we succeeded in getting Llana out of the tower, we could never escape from the Valley of the First Born. Do not forget the skeletons, John Carter.”
“Trust me,” I said, “and don’t call me John Carter. Can you get out of the palace of Nastor after dark?”
“I think so; they are very lax; because assassination and theft are practically unknown here, and the secret machine of the jeddak makes escape from the valley impossible. I am quite sure that I can get out. In fact, I have been sent out on errands every night since I was purchased.”
“Good!” I said. “Now listen carefully: Come out of the palace and loiter in the shadows near Nastor’s palace at about twenty-five xats after the eighth zode (midnight, Earth time). Bring Jad-han with you, if he wishes to escape. If my plan succeeds, a flier will land here in the plaza near you; run for it and climb aboard. It will be piloted by a Black Pirate, but don’t let that deter you. If you and Jad-han can arm yourselves, do so; there may be fighting. If the flier does not come, you will know that I have failed; and you can go back to your quarters and be no worse off. If I do not come, it will be because I am dead, or about to die.”
“And Llana?” he asked. “What of her?”
“My plans all center around the rescue of Llana of Gathol,” I assured him. “If I fail in that, I fail in all; for I will not leave without her.”
“I wish you could tell me how you expect to accomplish the impossible,” he said.
“I should feel very much surer of the outcome, I know, if you would tell me at least something of your plans.”
“Certainly,” I said. “In the first place—”
“What are you two slaves doing loitering here?” demanded a gruff voice behind us. I turned to see a burly warrior at my shoulder. For answer, I showed him my pass from the jeddak.
Even after he read it, he looked as though he didn’t believe it; but presently he handed it back to me and said, “That’s all right for you, but how about this other one? Has he got a pass from the jeddak, too?”
“The fault is mine,” I said. “I knew him before we were captured, and I stopped him to ask how he was faring. I am sure that if the jeddak knew, he would say that it was all right for me to talk with a friend. The jeddak has been very kind to me.” I was trying to impress the fellow with the fact that his jeddak was very kindly disposed toward me. I think that I succeeded.
“Very well,” he said, “but get on your way now—the Great Plaza is no place for slaves to visit with one another.”
Pan Dan Chee picked up his burden and departed, and I was about to leave when the warrior detained me. “I saw you defeat Nolat and Ban-tor at the Games,” he said. “We were talking about it a little while ago with some of our friends from the Valley Dor. They said that there was once a warrior came there who was just such a marvellous swordsman. His name was John Carter, and he had a white skin and gray eyes! Could your name, by any chance, be John Carter?”
“My name is Dotar Sojat,” I replied.
“Our friends from the Valley Dor would like to get hold of John Carter,” he said; and then, with a rather nasty little smile, he turned on his heel and left me.
Now indeed was the occasion for haste increased a hundredfold. If one man in Kamtol suspected that I might be John Carter, Prince of Helium, I should be lost by the morrow at the latest—perhaps before the morrow. Even as I entered the palace I feared arrest, but I reached my room without incident. Presently Man-lat came in; and at sight of him I expected the worst, for he had never visited me before. My sword was ready to leap from its scabbard, for I had determined to die fighting rather than let them arrest and disarm me. Even now, if Man-lat made a false move, I could kill him; and there might still be a chance that my plan could move on to successful fruition.
But Man-lat was in a friendly, almost jovial mood. “It is too bad that you are a slave,” he said, “for there are going to be great doings in the palace tonight. Doxus is entertaining the visitors from Dor. There will be much to eat and much to drink, and there will be entertainment. Doxus will probably have you give an exhibition of sword play with one of our best swordsmen – not to the death, you understand, but just for first blood. Then there will be dancing by slave girls; the nobles will enter their most beautiful. Doxus has commanded Nastor to bring a new purchase of his whose beauty has been the talk of Kamtol since the last games. Yes, it is too bad that you are not a First Born; so that you might enjoy the evening to the full.”
“I am sure I shall enjoy the evening,” I said.
“How’s that?” he demanded.
“Didn’t you say that I was going to be there?”
“Oh, yes; but only, as an entertainer. You will not eat nor drink with us, and you will not see the slave girls. It is really too bad that you are not a First Born; you would have been a credit to us.”
“I feel that I am quite the equal of any of the First Born,” I said, for I was pretty well fed up with their arrogance and conceit.
Man-lat looked at me in pained surprise. “You are presumptuous, slave,” he said.
“Do you not know that the First Born of Barsoom, sometimes known to you lesser creatures as The Black Pirates of Barsoom, are of the oldest race on the planet. We trace our lineage, unbroken, direct to the Tree of Life which flourished in the Valley Dor twenty-three million years ago.
“For countless ages the fruit of this tree underwent the gradual changes of evolution, passing by degrees from the true plant life to a combination of plant and animal. In the first stages of this phase, the fruit of the tree possessed only the power of independent muscular action, while the stem remained attached to the parent plant; later, a brain developed in the fruit; so that, hanging there by their long stems, they thought and moved as individuals.
“Then, with the development of perceptions, came a comparison of them; judgments were reached and compared, and thus reason and the power to reason were born upon Barsoom.
“Ages passed. Many forms of life came and went upon the Tree of Life, but still all were attached to the parent plant by stems of varying lengths. In time the fruit upon the tree consisted of tiny plant men, such as we now see reproduced in such huge dimensions in the Valley Dor; but still hanging to the limbs and branches of the Tree by the stems which grew from the tops of their heads.
“The buds from which the plant men blossomed resembled large nuts about a sofad (11.17 Earth inches) in diameter, divided by double partition walls into four sections. In one section grew the plant man; in another a sixteen-legged worm; in the third the progenitor of the white ape; and in the fourth, the primeval black man of Barsoom.”
“When the bud burst, the plant man remained dangling at the end of his stem; but the three other sections fell to the ground, where the efforts of their imprisoned occupants to escape sent them hopping about in all directions.
“Thus, as time went on, all Barsoom, was covered by these imprisoned creatures. For countless ages they lived their long lives within their hard shells, hopping and skipping about the broad planet; falling into rivers, takes, and seas to be still farther spread about the surface of the new world.
“Countless billions died before the first black man broke through his prison walls into the light of day. Prompted by curiosity, he broke open other shells; and the peopling of Barsoom commenced.
“The pure strain of the blood of this first black man has remained untainted by admixture with that of other creatures; but from the sixteen legged worm, the first white ape, and renegade black men has sprung every other form of life upon Barsoom.”
I hoped he was through, for I had beard all this many times before; but, of course, I didn’t dare tell him so. I wished he would go away—not that I could do anything until after dark, but I just wanted to be alone and re-plan every minutest detail of the night’s work that lay before me.
At last he went; and at long last night came, but I must still remain inactive until about two hours before the time that I had told Pan Dan Chee to be prepared to climb aboard a flier piloted by a Black Pirate. I was betting that he was still puzzling over that.
The evening wore on. I heard sounds of revelry coming from the first floor of the palace through the garden upon which my window opened—the jeddak’s banquet was in full swing. The zero hour was approaching—and then malign Fate struck.
A warrior came, summoning me to the banquet hall!