I should have killed him and gone on about my business, but suddenly a spirit of bravado possessed me. I would face them all, let them see once more the greatest swordsman of two worlds, and let them realize, when I had escaped them, that I was greater in all ways than the greatest of the First Born. I knew it was foolish; but now I was following the warrior toward the banquet hall; the die was cast, and it was too late to turn back.
No one paid any attention to me as I entered the great room—I was only a slave. Four tables, forming a hollow square, were filled with men and women, gorgeously trapped. They were talking and laughing; and wine was flowing, and a small army of slaves was bearing more food and more wine. Some of the guests were already a little bit high, and it was evident that Doxus was holding his own with the best of them. He had his arm about his wife, on one side; but he was kissing another man’s wife on the other.
The warrior who had fetched me went and whispered in the jeddak’s ear, and Doxus banged a huge gong for silence. When they had quieted down, he spoke to them:
“For long the First Born of the Valley Dor have boasted of their swordsmanship; and, in contests, I admit that they have proved that they possess some slight superiority over us; but I have in my palace a slave, a common slave, who can best the best swordsman from Dor. He is here now to give an exhibition of his marvellous ability in a contest with one of my nobles; not to the death, but for first blood only—unless there be one from Dor who believes that he can best this slave of mine.”
A noble arose. “It is a challenge,” he said. “Dator Zithad is the best swordsman here from Dor tonight; but if he will not meet a slave, I will for the honor of Dor. We have heard of this slave since we arrived in Kamtol, how he bested your best swordsmen; and I for one shall be glad to draw his blood.”
Then Zithad arose, haughty and arrogant. “I have never sullied my sword with the blood of a slave,” he said, “but I shall be glad to expunge the shame of Kamtol. Where is the knave?”
Zithad! He had been Dator of the Guards of Issus at the time of the revolt of the slaves and the overthrow of Issus. He had good reason to remember me and to hate me.
When we faced each other in the center of that hollow square in the banquet hall of Doxus, Jeddak of the First Born of Kamtol, he looked puzzled for a moment, and then stepped back. He opened his mouth to speak.
“So, you are afraid to meet a slave!” I taunted him. “Come! they want to see you spill my blood; let’s not disappoint them.” I touched him lightly with my point.
“Calot!” he growled, and came for me.
He was a better swordsman than Nolat, but I made a monkey of him. I backed him around the square, keeping him always on the defensive; but I drew no blood—yet. He was furious—and he was afraid. The audience sat in breathless silence.
Suddenly he screamed: “Fools! Don’t you know who this slave is? He is—” Then I ran him through the heart.
Instantly pandemonium reigned. A hundred swords sprang from their scabbards, but I waited to see no more—I’d seen plenty! With drawn sword, I ran straight for the center of one of the tables; a woman screamed. In a single bound I cleared the table and the diners, and bolted through the door behind them into the garden.
Of course, they were after me instantly; but I dodged into the shrubbery, and made my way to a point beneath my window at the lower end of the garden. It was scarcely a fifteen foot jump to the sill; and a second later I had passed through my room and down a ramp to the floor below.
It was dark, but I knew every inch of the way to my goal. I had prepared for just some such eventuality. I reached the room in which Doxus had first interviewed me, and passed through the doorway behind the desk and down the ramp to the secret chamber below.
I knew that no one would guess where I had gone; and as Myr-lo was doubtless at the banquet, I should be able to accomplish with ease that which I had come here to do.
As I opened the door into the larger room, Myr-lo arose from the couch and faced me.
“What are you doing here, slave?” he demanded.
Here was a pretty pass! Everything seemed to be going wrong; first, the summons to the banquet hall; then Zithad; and now Myr-lo. I hated to do it, but there was no other way.
“Draw!” I said. I am no murderer; so I couldn’t kill him unless he had a sword in his hand; but Myr-lo was not so ethical—he reached for the radium pistol at his hip. Fatal error! I crossed the intervening space in a single bound; and ran Myr-lo, the inventor of Kamtol, through the heart.
Without even waiting to wipe the blood from my blade, I ran into the smaller room. There was the master mechanism that held two hundred thousand souls in thrall, the hideous invention that had strewn the rim of the great rift with mouldering skeletons.
I looked about and found a heavy piece of metal; then I went for that insensate monster with all the strength and enthusiasm that I possess. In a few minutes it was an indescribable jumble of bent and broken parts—a total wreck.
Quickly I ran back into the next room, stripped Myr-lo’s harness and weapons from his corpse and removed my own; then from my pocket pouch I took the article that I had purchased in the little shop. It was a jar of the ebony black cream with which the women of the First Born are wont to conceal the blemishes upon their glossy skins.
In ten minutes I was as black as the blackest Black Pirate that ever broke a shell. I donned Myr-lo’s harness and weapons; and, except for my gray eyes, I was a noble of the First Born. I was glad now that Myr-lo. had not been at the banquet, for his harness would help to pass me through the palace and out of it, an ordeal that I had not been looking forward to with much relish; for I had been wearing the harness of the commonest of common warriors, and I very much doubted that they passed in and out of the palace late at night without being questioned—and I had no answers.
I got through the palace without encountering anyone, and when I approached the gate I commenced to stagger. I wanted them to think that a slightly inebriated guest was leaving early. I held my breath as I approached the warriors on guard; but they only saluted me respectfully, and I passed out into the avenues of Kamtol.
My plan had been to climb the facade of the hangar building, which I could have done because of the deep carving of its ornamentation; but that would probably have meant a fight with the guard on the roof as I clambered over the cornice.
Now, I determined to try another, if no less hazardous, plan.
I walked straight to the entrance. There was but a single warrior on guard there. I paid no attention to him, but strode in. He hesitated; then he saluted, and I passed on and up the ramp. He had been impressed by the gorgeous trappings of Myr-lo, the noble.
My greatest obstacle to overcome now was the guard on the roof, where I had no doubt but that I should find several warriors. It might be difficult to convince them that even a noble would go flying alone at this time of night, but when I reached the roof there was not a single warrior in sight.
It took me but a moment to find the flier I had selected for the adventure when I had been there before, and but another moment to climb to its controls and start the smooth, silent motor.
The night was dark; neither moon was in the sky, and for that I was thankful. I rose in a steep spiral until I was high above the city; then I headed for the tower of Nastor’s palace where Llana of Gathol was imprisoned.
The black hull of the flier rendered me invisible, I was sure, from the avenues below on a dark night such as this; and I came to the tower with every assurance that my whole plan had worked out with amazing success, even in spite of the untoward incidents that had seemed about to wreck it in its initial stages.
As I drew slowly closer to the windows of Llana’s apartment, I heard a woman’s muffled scream and a man’s voice raised in anger. A moment later the prow of my ship touched the wall just below the window; and, seizing the bow line, I leaped across the sill into the chamber, Myr-lo’s sword in my hand.
Across the room, a man was forcing Llana of Gathol back upon a couch. She was striking at him, and he was cursing her.
“Enough!” I cried, and the man dropped Llana and turned toward me. It was Nastor, the dator.
“Who are you?” he demanded. “What are you doing here?”
“I am John Carter, Prince of Helium,” I replied; “and I am here to kill you.”
He had already drawn, and our swords crossed even as I spoke.
“Perhaps you will recall me better as Dotar Sojat, the slave who cost you one hundred thousand tanpi,” I said; “the prince who is going to cost you your life.”
He commenced to shout for the guard, and I heard the sound of running footsteps which seemed to be coming up a ramp outside the door. I saw that I must finish Nastor quickly; but he proved a better swordsman than I had expected, although the encounter quickly developed into a foot race about the chamber.
The guard was coming closer when Llana darted to the door and pushed a heavy bolt into place; and not a moment too soon, for almost immediately I heard pounding on the door and the shouts of the warriors outside; and then I tripped upon a fur that had fallen from the couch during the struggle between Llana and Nastor, and I went down upon my back. Instantly Nastor leaped for me to run me through the heart. My sword was pointed up toward him, but he had all the advantage. I was about to die.
Only Llana’s quick wit saved me. She leaped for Nastor from the rear and seized him about the ankles. He pitched forward on top of me, and my sword went through his heart, two feet of the blade protruding from his back. It took all my strength to wrest it free.
“Come, Llana!” I said.
“Where to?” she asked. “The corridor is full of warriors.”
“The window,” I said. “Come!”
As I turned toward the window, I saw the end of my line, that I had dropped during the fight, disappear over the edge of the sill. My ship had drifted away, and we were trapped.
I ran to the window. Twenty-five feet away, and a few feet below the level of the sill, floated escape and freedom, floated life for Llana of Gathol, for Pan Dan Chee, for Jad-han, and for me.
There was but a single hope. I stepped to the sill, measured the distance again with my eyes—and jumped. That I am narrating this adventure must assure you that I landed on the deck of that flier. A moment later it was beside the sill again, and Llana was aboard.
“Pan Dan Chee!” she said. “What has become of him? It seems cruel to abandon him to his fate.”
Pan Dan Chee would have been the happiest man in the world could he have known that her first thought was for him, but I knew that the chances were that she would snub or insult him the first opportunity she had—women are peculiar that way.
I dropped swiftly toward the plaza. “Where are you going?” demanded Llana.
“Aren’t you afraid we’ll be captured down there?”
“I am going for Pan Dan Chee,” I said, and a moment later I landed close to Nastor’s palace, and two men dashed from the shadows toward the ship. They were Pan Dan Chee and Jad-han.
As soon as they were aboard, I rose swiftly; and headed for Gathol. I could feel Pan Dan Chee looking at me. Finally he could contain himself no longer. “Who are you?” he demanded; “and where is John Carter?”
“I am now Myr-lo, the inventor,” I said; “a short time ago I was Dotar Sojat the slave; but always I am John Carter.”
“We are all together again,” he said, “and alive; but for how long? Have you forgotten the skeletons on the rim of the rift?”
“You need not worry,” I assured him. “The mechanism that laid them there has been destroyed.”
He turned to Llana. “Llana of Gathol,” he said, “we have been through much together; and there is no telling what the future holds for us. Once again I lay my heart at your feet.”
“You may pick it up,” said Llana of Gathol; “I am tired and wish to sleep.”