Llana of Gathol (Barsoom #10)

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I must have walked fully a haad inside the lines away from my point of entry before I felt that it would be safe to stop and mix with the warriors. Finally I saw a lone warrior sitting beside a fire, and approached him.

“Kaor!” I said, using the universal greeting of Barsoom.

“Kaor!” he replied. “Sit down. I am a stranger here and have no friends in this dar.” A dar is a unit of a thousand men, analogous to our Earthly regiment. “I just came down today with a fresh contingent from Pankor. It is good to move about and see the world again, after having been frozen in for fifty years.”

“You haven’t been away from Pankor for fifty years!” I exclaimed, guessing that Pankor was the name of the Arctic city from which he hailed, and hoping that I was guessing right.

“No,” he said; “and you! How long were you frozen in?”

“I have never been to Pankor,” I said; “I am a panthan who has just joined up with Hin Abtol’s forces since they came south.” I thought this the safest position to take, since I should be sure to arouse suspicion were I to claim familiarity with Pankor, when I had never been there.

“Well,” said my companion, “you must be crazy.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Nobody but a crazy man would put himself in the power of Hin Abtol. Well, you’ve done it; and now you’ll be taken to Pankor after this war is over, unless you’re lucky enough to be killed; and you’ll be frozen in there until Hin Abtol needs you for another campaign. What’s your name?”

“Dotor Sojat,” I replied, falling back on that old time name the green Martian horde of Thark had given me so many years before.

“Mine is Em-tar; I am from Kobol.”

“I thought you said you were from Pankor.”

“I’m a Kobolian by birth,” he explained. “Where are you from?”

“We panthans have no country,” I reminded him.

“But you must have been born somewhere,” he insisted.

“Perhaps the less said about that the better,” I said, attempting a sly wink.

He laughed. “Sorry I asked,” he said.

Sometimes, when a man has committed a political crime, a huge reward is offered for information concerning his whereabouts; so, as well as changing his name, he never divulges the name of his country. I let Em-tar think that I was a fugitive from justice.

“How do you think this campaign is going?” I asked.

“If Hin Abtol can starve them out, he may win,” replied Em-tar; “but from what I have heard he could never take the city by storm. These Gatholians are great fighters, which is more than can be said for those who fight under Hin Abtol—our hearts aren’t in it; we have no feeling of loyalty for Hin Abtol; but these Gatholians now, they’re fighting for their homes and their jed; and they love ’em both. They say that Gahan’s Princess is a daughter of The Warlord of Barsoom. Say, if he hears about this and brings a fleet and an army from Helium, we might just as well start digging our graves.”

“Are we taking many prisoners?” I asked.

“Not many. Three were taken this morning; one of them was the daughter of Gahan, the Jed of Gathol; the other two were men.”

“That’s interesting,” I said; “I wonder what Hin Abtol will do with the daughter of Gahan.”

“That I wouldn’t know,” replied Em-tar, “but they say he’s sent her off to Pankor already. You hear a lot of rumors in an army, though; and most of them are wrong.”

“I suppose Hin Abtol has a big fleet of fliers,” I said.

“He’s got a lot of old junk, and not many men capable of flying what he has got.”

“I’m a flier,” I said.

“You’d better not let ’em know it, or they’ll have you on board some old wreck,” advised Em-tar.

“Where’s their landing field here?”

“Down that way about a haad;” he pointed in the direction I had been going when I stopped to talk with him.

“Well, goodby, Em-tar,” I said, rising.

“Where are you going?”

“To fly for Hin Abtol of Pankor,” I said.

 

CHAPTER V

I made my way through the camp to where a number of fliers were lined up; it was an extremely ragged, unmilitary line, suggesting inefficiency; and the ships were the most surprising aggregation of obsolete relics I have ever seen; most of them were museum pieces.

Some warriors were sitting around fires nearby; and, assuming that they were attached to the flying service, I approached them.

“Where is the flying officer in command?” I asked.

“Over there,” said one of the men, pointing at the largest ship on the line.

“Why—do you want to see him?”

“Yes.”

“Well, he’s probably drunk.”

“He is drunk,” said another.

“What’s his name?” I asked.

“Odwar Phor San,” replied my informant. Odwar is about the same as general, or brigadier general. He commands ten thousand men in the army and a fleet in the navy.

“Thanks,” I said; “I’ll go over and see him.”

“You wouldn’t, if you knew him; he’s as mean as an ulsio.”

I walked over to the big ship. It was battered and weatherbeaten, and must have been at least fifty years old. A boarding ladder hung down amidships, and at its foot stood a warrior with drawn sword.

“What do you want?” he demanded

“I have a message for Odwar Phor San,” I said.

“Who is it from?”

“That is none of your business,” I told him’, “send word to the odwar that Dotor Sojat wishes to see him on an important matter.”

The fellow saluted with mock elaborateness. “I didn’t know we had a jedwar among us,” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Now, jedwar is the highest rank in a Barsoomian army or navy, other than that of jed or jeddak or Warlord, a rank created especially for me by the jeddaks of five empires. That warrior would have been surprised could he have known that he had conferred upon me a title far inferior to my own.

I laughed at his little joke, and said, “One never knows whom one is entertaining.”

“If you really have a message for the old ulsio, I’ll call the deck watch; but, by Issus, you’d better have a message of importance.”

“I have,” I assured him; and I spoke the truth, for it was of tremendous importance to me; so he hailed the deck watch and told him to tell the odwar that Dotor Sojat had come with an important message for him.

I waited about five minutes, and then I was summoned aboard and conducted to one of the cabins. A gross, slovenly man sat before a table on which was a large tankard and several heavy, metal goblets. He looked at me scowlingly out of bleary eyes.

“What does that son of a calot want now?” he demanded.

I guessed that he referred to a superior officer, and probably to Hin Abtol.

Well, if he thought I bore a message from Hin Abtol, so much the better.

“I am to report to you as an experienced flier,” I said.

“He sent you at this time of night to report to me as a flier?” he almost shouted at me.

“You have few experienced fliers,” I said. “I am a panthan who has flown every type of ship in the navy of Helium. I gathered that you would be glad to get me before some other commander snapped me up. I am a navigator, and familiar with all modern instruments, but if you don’t want me I shall then be free to attach myself elsewhere.”

He was befuddled by strong drink, or I’d probably never have gotten away with such a bluff. He pretended to be considering the matter seriously; and while he considered it, he poured himself another drink, which he swallowed in two or three gulps—what didn’t run down his front. Then he filled another goblet and pushed it across the table toward me, slopping most of its contents on the table top.

“Have drink!” he said.

“Not now,” I said; “I never drink when I am on duty.”

“You’re not on duty.”

“I am always on duty; I may have to take a ship up at any moment.”

He pondered this for several minutes with the assistance of another drink; then he filled another goblet and pushed it across the table toward me. “Have drink,” he said.

I now had two full goblets in front of me; it was evident that Phor San had not noticed that I had failed to drink the first one.

“What ship shall I command?” I asked; I was promoting myself rapidly. Phor San paid no attention to my question, being engaged in what was now becoming a delicate and difficult operation—the pouring of another drink; most of it went on the table, from where it ran down into his lap.

“What ship did you say I was to command?” I demanded.

He looked bewildered for a moment; then he tried to draw himself together with military dignity. “You will command the Dusar, Dwar,” he said; then he filled another goblet and pushed it toward me. “Have drink, Dwar,” he said. My promotion was confirmed.

I walked over to a desk covered with an untidy litter of papers, and searched until I found an official blank; on it I wrote:

 

To Dwar Dotor Sojat:

You will immediately take over command of ship Dusar.

By order of Odwar Commanding

 

After finding a cloth and wiping the liquor from the table in front of him, I laid the order down and handed him a pen.

“You forgot to sign this, Odwar,” I said. He was commencing to weave, and I saw that I must hurry.

“Sign what?” he demanded, reaching for the tankard.

I pushed it away from him, took his hand, and placed the pen point at the right place on the order blank. “Sign here,” I ordered.

“Sign here,” he repeated, and laboriously scrawled his name; then he fell forward on the table, asleep. I had been just in time.

I went on deck; both moons were now in the sky, Cluros just above the horizon, Thuria a little higher; by the time Cluros approached zenith, Thuria would have completed her orbit around Barsoom and passed him, so swift her flight through the heavens.

The deck watch approached me. “Where lies the Dusar?” I asked.

He pointed down the line. “About the fifth or sixth ship, I think,” he said.

I went overside; and as I reached the ground, the sentry there asked, “Was the old ulsio as drunk as ever?”

“He was perfectly sober,” I replied.

“Then some one had better send for the doctor,” he said, “for he must be sick.”.

I walked along the line, and at the fifth ship I approached the sentry at the foot of its ladder. “Is this the Dusar?” I asked.

“Can’t you read?” he demanded, impudently.

I look up then at the insigne on the ship’s bow; it was the Dusar. “Can you read?” I asked, and held the order up in front of him.

He snapped to attention and saluted. “I couldn’t tell by your metal,” he said, sullenly. He was quite right; I was wearing the metal of a common warrior.