“They seemed very contented to serve under me immediately after our engagement with your three ships,” I said; “I wonder what could have changed them.”
“Fear of Hin Abtol as the ship drew nearer to Pankor,” replied Gor-don; “they are terrified at the thought that they might be frozen in there again for years.”
“Pankor must be a terrible place,” I said.
“For them, it would be,” he replied.
I saw to it that he was armed, and then I told him to follow me on deck. There would be at least four of us, and I hoped that some of the crew might be loyal.
Tan Hadron of Hastor and I could give a good account of ourselves; as to Fo-nar and Gor-don, I did not know.
“Come,” I said to the Panar, and then I opened my cabin door and stepped into the arms of a dozen men, waiting there, who fell upon me and bore me to the deck before I could strike a blow in defense; they disarmed both the Panar and me and bound our hands behind our backs. It was all done very expeditiously and quietly; the plan had been admirably worked out, and it won my approbation—anyone who can take John Carter as easily as that deserves praise.
They took us on deck, and I could not but notice that many of them still treated me with deference. Those who immediately surrounded me were all panthans. On deck, I saw that both Fo-nar and Tan Hadron were prisoners.
The men surrounded us, and discussed our fate. “Overboard with the four of them!” cried an assassin, “Don’t be a fool,” said one of the panthans; “we can’t navigate the ship without at least one of them.”
“Keep one of them, then; and throw the others over the rail—over with the dwar first!”
“No!” said another panthan; “he is a great fighting man, a good commander who led us to victory; I will fight before I will see him killed.”
“And I!” shouted several others in unison.
“What do you want to do with them, then?” demanded still another assassin. “Do you want to take them along so that we’ll all have our heads lopped off at the first city we stop at where they can report us to the authorities?”
“Keep two to pilot the ship,” said a man who had not spoken before; “and ground the other two, if you don’t want to kill them.”
Several of the assassins were still for killing us; but the others prevailed, and they had Tan Hadron bring the Dusar to ground. Here, as they put us off the ship, Gor-don and I, they gave us back our weapons over the protest of several of the assassins.
As I stood there on the snow and ice of the Arctic and saw the Dusar rise in the air and head toward the south, I thought that it might have been kinder had they killed us.
North of us rose a range of rocky hills, their wind swept granite summits, flecked with patches of snow and ice, showed above their snow covered slopes like the backbone of some dead monster. To the south stretched rough, snow covered terrain as far as the eye could reach—to the north, a frozen wilderness and death; to the south, a frozen wilderness and death. There seemed no alternative.
But it was the south that called me. I could struggle on until death claimed me, but I would never give up while life remained.
“I suppose we might as well be moving,” I said to Gordon, as I started toward the south.
“Where are you going?” he asked; “only death lies in that direction for a man on foot.”
“I know that,” I replied; “death lies in any direction we may go.”
The Panar smiled. “Pankor lies just beyond those hills,” he said. “I have hunted here many times on this side of them; we can be in Pankor in a couple of hours.”
I shrugged. “It doesn’t make much difference to me,” I said, “as I shall probably be killed in Pankor;” and I started off again, but this time toward the north.
“You can come into Pankor safely,” said Gor-don, “but you will have to come as my slave. It is not as I would have it, sir; but it is the only way in which you will be safe.”
“I understand,” I said, “and I thank you.”
“We shall have to say that I took you prisoner; that the crew of my ship mutinied and grounded us,” he explained.
“It is a good story, and at least founded on fact,” I said. “But, tell me: will I ever be able to escape from Pankor?”
“If I get another ship, you will,” he promised. “I am allowed a slave on board, and I’ll take you along; the rest we shall have to leave to fate; though I can assure you that it is no easy thing to escape from Hin Abtol’s navy.”
“You are being very generous,” I said.
“I owe you my life, sir.”
Life is strange. How could I have guessed a few hours before that my life would be in the hands of one of Hin Abtol’s officers, and safe? If ever a man was quickly rewarded for a good deed, it was I now for the rescuing of those poor devils from the burning ship.
Gor-don led the way with confidence over that trackless waste to a narrow gorge that split the hills. One unfamiliar with its location could have passed along the foot of the hills within a hundred yards of its mouth without ever seeing it, for its ice—and snow-covered walls blended with the surrounding snow to hide it most effectively.
It was rough going in that gorge. Snow covered broken ice and rocks, so that we were constantly stumbling and often falling. Transverse fissures crossing the gorge formed a labyrinth of corridors in which a man might be quickly lost.
Gor-don told me this was the only pass through the hills, and that if an enemy ever got into it he would freeze to death before he found his way out again.
We had plodded on for about half an hour, when, at a turn, our way was blocked by one of the most terrible creatures that inhabit Mars. It was an apt, a huge, white furred creature with six limbs, four of which short and heavy, carry it swiftly over the snow and ice; while the other two, growing forward from its shoulders on either side of its long, powerful neck, terminate in white, hairless hands, with which it seizes and holds its prey.
Its head and mouth are more nearly similar in appearance to those of a hippopotamus than to any other earthly animal, except that from the sides of the upper jawbone two mighty horns curve slightly downward toward the front.
Its two huge eyes inspire one’s greatest curiosity. They extend in two vast oval patches from the center of the top of the cranium down either side of the head to below the roots of the horns, so that these weapons really protrude from the lower part of the eyes, which are composed of several thousand ocelli each.
This eye structure has always seemed remarkable to me in a beast whose haunts were on a glaring field of ice and snow, and though I found upon minute examination of the eyes of several that Thuvan Dihn and I killed, that time that we passed through the carrion caves, that each ocellus is furnished with its own lid, and that the animal can, at will, close as many of the facets of its huge eyes as it wishes, yet I am sure that nature has thus equipped him because much of his life is spent in dark, subterranean recesses.
The moment that the creature saw us, it charged; and Gordon and I whipped out our radium pistols simultaneously, and commenced firing. We could hear the bullets exploding in its carcass and see great chunks of flesh and bone being torn away, but still it came on. One of my bullets found a thousand faceted eye and exploded there, tearing the eye away. For just a moment the creature hesitated and wavered; then it came on again. It was right on top of us now, and our bullets were tearing into its vitals. How it could continue to live, I cannot understand; but it did, and it reached out and seized Gor-don with its two horrible, white, hairless hands and dragged him toward its massive jaws.
I was on its blind side; and realizing that our bullets would not bring death in time to save Gor-don, I drew my longsword; and, grasping the hilt in both hands, swung it from low behind my right shoulder and brought the keen blade down onto the beast’s long neck. Just as the jaws were about to close on Gor-don, the apt’s head rolled upon the icy floor of the gorge; but its mighty fingers still clung to the Panar, and I had to hack them off with my short sword before the man was freed.
“That was a close call,” I said.
“Once again you have saved my life,” said Gor-don; “how can I ever repay you?”
“By helping me find Llana of Gathol, if she is in Pankor,” I told him.
“If she is in Pankor, I’ll not only help you find her; but I’ll help you get her away, if it is humanly possible to do so,” he replied. “I am an officer in Hin Abtol’s navy,” he continued, “but I feel no loyalty toward him. He is a tyrant, hated by all; how he has been able to rule us for more than a hundred years, without being found by the assassin’s dagger or poison, is a miracle.”
As we talked, we continued on through the gorge; and presently came out upon a snow covered plain upon which rose one of those amazing, glass covered, hot-house cities of Barsoom’s North Polar region.
“Pankor,” said Gor-don; presently he turned and looked at me and commenced to laugh.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Your metal,” he said; “you are wearing the insigne of a dwar in Hin Abtol’s service; it might appear strange that you, a dwar, are the prisoner and slave of a padwar.”
“That might be difficult to explain,” I said, as I removed the insigne and threw it aside.
At the city gate, it was our good fortune to find one of Gor-don’s acquaintances in command of the guard. He heard Gor-don’s story with interest and permitted us to enter, paying no attention whatever to me.
Pankor was much like Kadabra, the capital city of Okar, only much smaller.
Though the country around it and up to its walls was clothed in snow and ice, none lay upon the great crystal dome which roofed the entire city; and beneath the dome a pleasant, springlike atmosphere prevailed. Its avenues were covered with the sod of the mosslike ocher vegetation which clothes the dead sea bottoms of the red planet, and bordered by well kept lawns of crimson Barsoomian grass.
Along these avenues sped the noiseless traffic of light and airy ground fliers with which I had become familiar in Marentina and Kadabra long years before.
The broad tires of these unique fliers are but rubberlike gas bags filled with the eighth Barsoomian ray, or ray of propulsion—that remarkable discovery of the Martians that has made possible the great fleets of mighty airships that render the red man of the outer world supreme. It is this ray which propels the inherent and reflected light of suns and planets off into space, and when confined gives to Martian craft their airy buoyancy.
Hailing a public flier, Gor-don and I were driven to his home, I sitting with the driver, as befitted a slave. Here he was warmly greeted by his mother, father, and sister; and I was conducted to the slaves’ quarters by a servant. It was not long, however, before Gor-don sent for me; and when the servant who had brought me had departed, Gor-don explained to me that he had told his parents and his sister that I had saved his life, and that they wished to express their gratitude. They were most appreciative.
“You shall be my son’s personal guard,” said the father, “and we shall not look upon you here in this home as a slave. He tells me that in your own country you are a noble.” Gor-don had either guessed at that, or made up the story for effect; as I certainly had told him nothing of my status at home. I wondered how much more he had told them; I did not wish too many people to know of my search for Llana. When next we were alone, I asked him; and he assured me that he had told them nothing.
“I trust them perfectly,” he said, “but the affair is not mine to speak of.” At least there was one decent Panar; I presume that I had come to judge them all by Hin Abtol.
Gor-don furnished me with harness and insignia which definitely marked me as a slave of his household and rendered it safe for me to go about the city, which I was anxious to do on the chance that I might pick up some word regarding Llana; for Gor-don had told me that in the market place, where slaves gathered to buy and sell for their owners, all the gossip of the city was discussed daily.
“If it has happened or is going to happen, the market place knows it, is an old saying here,” he told me; and I found this to be true.
As Gor-don’s bodyguard, I was permitted to wear weapons, the insignia on my harness so denoting. I was glad of this, as I feel lost without arms – much as an Earth man would feel walking down the street without his pants.
The day after we arrived, I went alone to the market place.
I got into conversations with a number of slaves, but I didn’t learn anything of value to me; however, being there, put me in the way of learning something that was of value to me. I was talking with another slave, when we saw an officer coming through the market place, touching first one slave and then another, who immediately fell in behind him.
“If he touches you, don’t ask any questions; but go along,” said the slave with whom I was talking and whom I had told I was a newcomer to Pankor.