Llana of Gathol (Barsoom #10)

Page 17

BOOK III. — ESCAPE ON MARS

WITH ORIGINAL ILLUSTRATIONS FROM “AMAZING STORIES”

CHAPTER I

There were four of us aboard the flier I had stolen from the hangar at Kamtol to effect our escape from The Valley of the First Born: Llana of Gathol; Pan Dan Chee of Horz; Jad-han, the brother of Janai of Amhor; and I, John Carter, Prince of Helium and Warlord of Barsoom.

It was one of those startlingly gorgeous Martian nights that fairly take one’s breath away. In the thin air of the dying planet, every star stands out in scintillant magnificence against the velvet blackness of the firmament in splendor inconceivable to an inhabitant of Earth.

As we rose above the great rift valley, both of Mars’ moons were visible, and Earth and Venus were in conjunction, affording us a spectacle of incomparable beauty. Cluros, the farther moon, moved in stately dignity across the vault of heaven but fourteen thousand miles away, while Thuria, but four thousand miles distant, hurtled through the night from horizon to horizon in less than four hours, casting ever changing shadows on the ground below us which produced the illusion of constant movement, as though the surface of Mars was covered by countless myriads of creeping, crawling things. I wish that I might convey to you some conception of the weird and startling strangeness of the scene and of its beauty; but, unfortunately, my powers of description are wholly inadequate.

But perhaps some day you, too, will visit Mars.

As we rose above the rim of the mighty escarpment which bounds the valley, I set our course for Gathol and opened the throttle wide, for I anticipated possible pursuit; but, knowing the possibilities for speed of this type of flier, I was confident that, with the start we had, nothing in Kamtol could overhaul us if we had no bad luck.

Gathol is supposed by many to be the oldest inhabited city on Mars, and is one of the few that has retained its freedom; and that despite the fact that its ancient diamond mines are the richest known and, unlike practically all the other diamond fields, are today apparently as inexhaustible as ever.

In ancient times the city was built upon an island in Throxeus, mightiest of the five oceans of old Barsoom. As the ocean receded, Gathol crept down the sides of the mountain, the summit of which was the island on which she had been built, until today she covers the slopes from summit to base, while the bowels of the great hill are honeycombed with the galleries of her mines.

Entirely surrounding Gathol is a great salt marsh, which protects it from invasion by land, while the rugged and ofttimes vertical topography of the mountain renders the landing of hostile airships a precarious undertaking.

Gahan, the father of Llana, is jed of Gathol, which is very much more than just a single city, comprising, as it does, some one hundred forty thousand square miles, much of which is fine grazing land where run their great herds of thoats and zitidars. It was to return Llana to her father and mother, Tara of Helium, that we had passed through so many harrowing adventures since we had left Horz.

And now Llana was almost home; and I should soon be on my way to Helium and my incomparable Dejah Thoris, who must long since have given me up for dead.

Jad-han sat beside me at the controls, Llana slept, and Pan Dan Chee moped.

Moping seems to be the natural state of all lovers. I felt sorry for Pan Dan Chee; and I could have relieved his depression by telling him that Llana’s first words after I had rescued her from the tower of Nastor’s palace had been of him—inquiring as to his welfare—but I didn’t. I wished the man who won Llana of Gathol to win her by himself. If he gave up in despair while they both lived and she remained unmated; then he did not deserve her; so I let poor Pan Dan Chee suffer from the latest rebuff that Llana had inflicted upon him.

We approached Gathol shortly before dawn. Neither moon was in the sky, and it was comparatively dark. The city was dark, too; I saw not a single light. That was strange, and might forebode ill; for Martian cities are not ordinarily darkened except in times of war when they may be threatened by an enemy.

Llana came out of the tiny cabin and crouched on the deck beside me. “That looks ominous,” she said.

“It does to me, too,” I agreed; “and I’m going to stand off until daylight. I want to see what’s going on before I attempt to land.”

“Look over there,” said Llana, pointing to the right of the black mass of the mountain; “see all those lights.”

“The camp fires of the herdsmen, possibly,” I suggested.

“There are too many of them,” said Llana.

“They might also be the camp fires of warriors,” said Jad-han.

“Here comes a flier,” said Pan Dan Chee; “they have discovered us.”

From below, a flier was approaching us rapidly. “A patrol flier doubtless,” I said, but I opened the throttle and turned the flier’s nose in the opposite direction. I didn’t like the looks of things, and I wasn’t going to let any ship approach until I could see its insigne. Then came a hail: “Who are you?”

“Who are you?” I demanded in return.

“Stop!” came the order, but I didn’t stop; I was pulling away from him rapidly, as my ship was much the faster.

He fired then, but the shot went wide. Jad-han was at the stern gun. “Shall I let him have it?” he asked.

“No,” I replied; “he may be Gatholian. Turn the searchlight on him, Pan Dan Chee; let’s see if we can see his insigne.”

Pan Dan Chee had never been on a ship before, nor ever seen a searchlight. The little remnant of the almost extinct race of Orovars, of which he was one, that hides away in ancient Horz, has neither ships nor searchlights; so Llana of Gathol came to his rescue, and presently the bow of the pursuing flier was brightly illuminated.

“I can’t make out the insigne,” said Llana, “but that is no ship of Gathol.”

Another shot went wide of us, and I told Jad-han that he might fire. He did and missed. The enemy fired again; and I felt the projectile strike us, but it didn’t explode. He had our range, so I started to zig zag, and his next two shots missed us. Jad-Han’s also missed, and then we were struck again.

“Take the controls,” I said to Llana, and I went back to the gun. “Hold her just as she is, Llana,” I called, as I took careful aim. I was firing an explosive shell detonated by impact. It struck her full in the bow entered the hull, and exploded. It tore open the whole front of the ship, which burst into flame and commenced to go down by the bow. At first she went slowly; and then she took the last long, swift dive—a flaming meteor that crashed into the salt marsh and was extinguished.

“That’s that,” said Llana of Gathol.

“I don’t think it’s all of that as far as we are concerned,” I retorted; “we are losing altitude rapidly; one of his shots must have ripped open a buoyancy tank.”

I took the controls and tried to keep her up; as, with throttle wide open, I sought to pass that ring of camp fires before we were finally forced down.

 

CHAPTER II

That was a good little ship—staunch and swift, as are all the ships of The Black Pirates of Barsoom—and it carried us past the farthest camp fires before it finally settled to the ground just at dawn. We were close to a small forest of sorapus trees, and I thought it best to take shelter there until we could reconnoiter a bit.

“What luck”‘ exclaimed Llana, disgustedly, “and just when I was so sure that we were practically safe and sound in Gathol.”

“What do we do now?” asked Pan Dan Chee.

“Our fate is in the hands of our ancestors,” said Jad-han.

“But we won’t leave it there,” I assured them; “I feel that I am much more competent to direct my own fate than are my ancestors, who have been dead for many years. Furthermore, I am much more interested in it than they.”

“I think perhaps you are on the right track there,” said Llana, laughing, “although I wouldn’t mind leaving my fate in the hands of my living ancestors—and now, just what is one of them going to do about it?”

“First I am going to find something to eat,” I replied, “and then I am going to try to find out who were warming themselves at those fires last night; they might be friends, you know.”

“I doubt it,” said Llana; “but if they are friends, then Gathol is in the hands of enemies.”

“We should know very shortly; and now you three remain here while I go and see if anything edible grows in this forest. Keep a good lookout.”

I walked into the forest, looking for roots or herbs and that life giving plant, the mantalia, the milklike sap of which has saved me from death by thirst or starvation on many an occasion. But that forest seemed to be peculiarly barren of all forms of edible things, and I passed all the way through it and out upon the other side without finding anything that even a starving man would try to eat.

Beyond the forest, I saw some low hills; and that gave me renewed hope, as in some little ravine, where moisture might be held longest, I should doubtless find something worth taking back to my companions.

I had crossed about half the distance from the forest to the hills when I heard the unmistakable clank of metal and creaking of leather behind me; and, turning, saw some twenty red men mounted on riding thoats approaching me at a gallop, the nailless, padded feet of their mounts making no sound on the soft vegetation which covered the ground.

Facing them, I drew my sword; and they drew rein a few yards from me. “Are you men of Gathol?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied one of them.

“Then I am a friend,” I said.

The fellow laughed. “No Black Pirate of Barsoom is any friend of ours,” he shot back.

For the moment I had forgotten the black pigment with which I had covered every inch of my face and body as a disguise to assist me in effecting my escape from The Black Pirates of the Valley of the First Born.

“I am not a Black Pirate,” I said.

“Oh, no!” he cried; “then I suppose you are a white ape.” At that they all laughed. “Come on now, sheathe your sword and come along with us. We’ll let Gan Hor decide what is to be done with you, and I can tell you right now that Gan Hor doesn’t like Black Pirates.”

“Don’t be a fool,” I said; “I tell you I am no Black Pirate—this is just a disguise.”

“Well,” said the fellow, who thought he was something of a wit, “isn’t it strange that you and I should meet?—I’m really a Black Pirate disguised as a red man.” This simply convulsed his companions. When he could stop laughing at his own joke, he said, “Come on now, no more foolishness! Or do you want us to come and take you?”

“Come and take me!” I replied. In that, I made a mistake; but I was a little sore at being laughed at by these stupid fools.

They started circling me at a gallop; and as they did so, they uncoiled the ropes they use to catch thoats. They were whirling them about their heads now and shouting. Suddenly a dozen loops spun through the air at me simultaneously.

It was a beautiful demonstration of roping, but I didn’t really appreciate it at the moment. Those nooses settled around me from my neck to my heels, rendering me absolutely helpless as they yanked them taut; then the dozen whose ropes had ensnared me rode away all in the same direction, jerking me to the ground; nor did they stop there—they kept on going, dragging me along the ground.

My body rolled over and over in the soft ocher vegetation, and my captors kept riding faster and faster until their mounts were at a full run. It was a most undignified situation for a fighting man; it is like me that I thought first of the injury to my pride, rather than to the injury to my body— or the fact that much more of this would leave me but a bloody corpse at the ends of twelve rawhide ropes.

They must have dragged me half a mile before they finally stopped, and only the fact that the mosslike vegetation which carpets most of Mars is soft found me alive at the end of that experience.

The leader rode back to me, followed by the others. He took one look at me, and his eyes were wide. “By my first ancestor!” he exclaimed; “he is no Black Pirate—the black has rubbed off!”

I glanced at myself; sure enough, much of the pigment had been rubbed off against the vegetation through which I had been dragged, and my skin was now a mixture of black and white streaks smeared with blood.

The man dismounted; and, after disarming me, took the nooses from about me. “He isn’t a Black Pirate and isn’t even a red man,” he said to his companions; “he’s white and he has gray eyes. By my first ancestor, I don’t believe he’s a man at all. Can you stand up?”

I came to my feet. I was a little bit groggy, but I could stand. “I can stand,”

I said, “and if you want to find out whether or not I’m a man, give me back my sword and draw yours,” and with that I slapped him in the face so hard that he fell down. I was so mad that I didn’t care whether he killed me or not. He came to his feet cursing like a true pirate from the Spanish main.

“Give him his sword!” he shouted. “I was going to take him back to Gan Hor alive, but now I’ll leave him here dead.”

“You’d better take him back alive, Kor-an,” advised one of his fellows. “We may have captured a spy; and if you kill him before Gan Hor can question him, it won’t go so well for you.”

“No man can strike me and live,” shouted Kor-an; “where is his sword?”

One of them handed me my long sword, and I faced Kor-an. “To the death?” I asked.

“To the death!” replied Kor-an.

“I shall not kill you, Kor-an,” I said; “and you cannot kill me, but I shall teach you a lesson that you will not soon forget.” I spoke in a loud tone of voice, that the others might hear.

One of them laughed, and said, “You don’t know who you’re talking to, fellow. Kor-an is one of the finest swordsmen in Gathol. You will be dead in five minutes.”

“In one,” said Kor-an, and came for me.

I went to work on Kor-an then, after trying to estimate roughly how many bleeding cuts and scratches I had on my body. He was a furious but clumsy fighter. In the first second I drew blood from his right breast; then I cut a long gash in his right thigh. Again and again I touched him, drawing blood from cuts or scratches. I could have killed him at any time, and he could touch me nowhere.