Llana of Gathol (Barsoom #10)

Page 24

Well, the officer did tap me on the shoulder as he passed; and I fell in behind him with fifteen or twenty other slaves. He led us out of the market place and along an avenue of poorer shops, to the city wall. Here, beside a small gate, was a shed in which was a stock of apt-fur suits. After we had each donned one of these, in accordance with the officer’s instructions, he unlocked the small gate and led us out of the city into the bitter cold of the Arctic, where such a sight met my eyes as I hope I may never see again. On row after row of racks which extended as far as I could see hung frozen human corpses, thousands upon thousands of them hanging by their feet, swinging in the biting wind.

Each corpse was encased in ice, a transparent shroud through which their dead eyes stared pleadingly, reproachfully, accusingly, horribly. Some faces wore frozen grins, mocking Fate with bared teeth.

The officer had us cut down twenty of the bodies, and the thought of the purpose for which they seemed obviously intended almost nauseated me. As I looked upon those endless lines of corpses hanging heads down, I was reminded of winter scenes before the butcher shops of northern cities in my native country, where the bodies of ox and bear and deer hung, frozen, for the gourmet to inspect.

It took the combined strength of two red men to lift and carry one of these ice encrusted bodies; and as the officer had tapped an odd number of slaves, I was left without a partner to carry a corpse with me; so I waited for orders.

The officer saw me standing idle, and called to me. “Hey, you!” he cried; “don’t loaf around doing nothing; drag one of them over to the gate.”

I stooped and lifted one of the bodies to my shoulder, carrying it alone to the gate. I could see that the officer was astounded, for what I had done would have been an impossible feat of strength for a Martian. As a matter of fact, it was not at all remarkable that I was able to do it; because my unusually great strength, combined with the lesser gravity of Mars, made it relatively easy for me.

All the time I was carrying my grisly burden, I was thinking of the roast we had had at the meal I had eaten at Gordon’s house—and wondering! Was it possible that civilized human beings could be so depraved? It seemed incredible of such people as Gordon and his family. His sister was a really beautiful girl. Could she-? I shuddered at the implication.

We carried the corpses into a large building across the avenue from the little gate. Here were row upon row and tier upon tier of ersite topped tables; and when, at the officer’s direction, we laid the bodies upon some of them, the place looked like a morgue.

Presently a number of men entered the room; they carried heavy knives. These are the butchers, I thought. They attached hoses to hydrants, and each one of them stood over a corpse and sprayed it with warm water, at the same time chipping away the ice with his knife. It took some little time.

When the first corpse was entirely released from its icy winding sheet I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t—I was fascinated by the horror of it as I waited to see the butcher wield his knife; but he didn’t. Instead, he kept on spraying the body with warm water, occasionally massaging it. Finally, he took a hypodermic syringe from his pocket pouch and injected something into the arm of the cadaver; then the most horrifying thing of all occurred: the corpse rolled its head to and fro and opened its eyes!

“Stand by, slaves!” commanded the officer; “some of them may be a little wild at first—be ready to seize them.”

The first corpse sat up and looked around, as others of them showed signs of life. Soon they were all either sitting up or standing staring about them in a confused sort of way. Now they were each given the harness of a slave; and when a detachment of warriors came to take charge of them, we other slaves were dismissed. Now I recalled and understood that oft repeated reference of the warriors of Hin Abtol to being “frozen in.” I had thought that they merely meant being confined in an Arctic city surrounded by ice and snow.

As I was leaving the building, the officer accosted me. “Who are you, slave?” he demanded.

“I am the slave and bodyguard of Padwar Gor-don,” I replied.

“You are a very strong man,” he said; “what country are you from?”

“Virginia,” I replied.

“I never heard of it; where is it?”

“Just south of Maryland.”

“Well, never mind—let’s see how strong you are; can you lift one end of that ersite table alone?”

“I don’t know.”

“Try it,” he ordered.

I picked up the entire table and held it above my head. “Incredible!” exclaimed the officer. The warriors were standing looking at me in open mouthed astonishment.

“What is your name?” demanded the officer.

“Dotor Sojat.”

“Very good,” he said; “you may go now.”

When I returned to Gor-don’s home, he told me that he had become apprehensive because of my long absence. “Where have you been all this time?” he asked. “I was worried.”

“Thawing out corpses,” I told him, laughing. “Before I saw them start coming to life, I thought you Panars ate them. Tell me; what is the idea?”

“It is a part of Hin Abtol’s mad scheme to conquer all of Barsoom and make himself Jeddak of Jeddaks and Warlord of Barsoom. He has heard of the famous John Carter, who holds these titles; and he is envious. He has been at the preserving of human beings by freezing for fully a hundred years. At first it was only a plan by which he might have great numbers of slaves available at any time without the expense of feeding them while they were idle. After he heard of John Carter and the enormous wealth of Helium and several other empires, this grandiose scheme of conquest commenced taking form.

“He had to have a fleet; and as no one in Pankor knew how to build airships, he had to acquire them by trickery and theft. A few crossed the ice barrier from some of the northern cities; these were lured to land by signals of friendship and welcome; then their crews were captured and all but one or two of them frozen in. Those who were not had promised to train Panars in the handling of the ships. It has been a very slow process of acquiring a navy; but he has supplemented it by visiting several of the northern cities, pretending friendship, and then stealing a ship or two, just as he pretended friendship for Gahan of Gathol and then stole his daughter.

“His present attack on Gathol is merely a practice campaign to give his officers and warriors experience and perhaps at the same time acquire a few more ships.”

“How many of those frozen men has he?” I asked.

“He has accumulated fully a million in the last hundred years,” replied Gor-don; “a very formidable army, if he had the ships to transport them.”

On this dying planet, the population of which has been steadily decreasing for probably a million years, an army of a million warriors would indeed be formidable; but led by Hin Abtol and officered by Panars, two million disloyal warriors would be no great menace to such a power as Helium.

“I am afraid Hin Abtol’s dream will never come true,” I said.

“I hope not. Very few Panars are in sympathy with it. Life here is easy, and we are content to be left alone and leave others alone. By the way, did you learn anything about the whereabouts of Llana of Gathol while you were away?”

“Not a thing; did you?”

“No,” he replied; “But I haven’t made any direct inquiries yet. I am waiting until I can talk with some of my friends who are stationed in the palace. I do know, however, that Hin Abtol has returned from Gathol and is in his palace.”

As we talked, a slave came to announce that an officer had come from the Jeddak and wished to speak to Gor-don.

“Bring him here,” said my master; and a moment later a gorgeously trapped man entered the room, by which time I was standing behind Gor-don’s chair, as a well trained slave and bodyguard should do.

The two men greeted each other by name and title; and then the visitor said, “You have a slave named Dotor Sojat?”

“Yes,” replied Gor-don; “my personal bodyguard, here.”

The officer looked at me. “You are the slave who lifted the ersite table alone today in the resuscitating house?” he inquired.

“Yes.”

He turned again to Gor-don. “The Jeddak will honor you by accepting this slave as a gift,” he said.

Gor-don bowed. “It is a great pleasure as well as an honor to present the slave, Dotor Sojat, to my jeddak,” he said; and then, as the officer looked away from him to glance again at me, Gor-don winked at me. He knew how anxious I had been to get into the palace of Hin Abtol.

Like a dutiful slave, I left the home of Gor-don, the padwar, and followed the jeddak’s officer to the palace of the jeddak.

 

CHAPTER XIII

A high wall encloses the grounds where stands the palace of Hin Abtol in the city of Pankor at the top of the world, and guards pace this wall night and day.

At the gates are a full utan of a hundred men; and within, at the grand entrance to the palace itself, is another utan. No wonder that it has been difficult to assassinate Hin Abtol, self-styled Jeddak of Jeddaks of the North.

At one side of the palace, on an open scarlet sward, I saw something which made me start with astonishment—it was my own flier! It was the flier that Hin Abtol had stolen from me in the deserted city of Horz; and now, as I learned later, he had it on exhibition here as proof of his great courage and ability.

He bragged that he had taken it single handed from The Warlord of Barsoom after defeating him in a duel. The fact that there could be no doubt but that it was my personal flier lent color to the story; my insigne was there for everyone to read, plain upon the bow. They must have towed it through one of the gates; and then flown it to its present resting place; as, of course, no airship could land inside Pankor’s great dome.

I was left in the guardroom just inside the entrance to the palace, where some of the warriors of the guard were loafing; two of them were playing Jetan, the Martian chess game, while others played Yano. They had all risen when the officer entered the room with me; and when he left I sat down on a bench at one side, as the others seated themselves and resumed their games.

One of them looked over at me, and scowled. “Stand up, slave!” he ordered.

“Don’t you know better than to sit in the presence of Panar warriors?”

“If you can prove that you are a better man than I,” I said, “I’ll stand.” I was in no mood to take anything like that meekly; as a matter of fact, I was pretty well fed up an being a slave.

The warrior leaped to his feet. “Oh, insolent, too!” he said; “well, I’ll teach you a lesson.”

“You’d better go slow there, Ul-to,” warned one of his companions; “I think this fellow was sent for by the jeddak. If you muss him up, Hin Abtol may not like it.”

“Well, he’s got to be taught a lesson,” snarled Ul-to; “if there’s one thing I can’t stand, its an impudent slave,” and he came toward me. I did not rise, and he grabbed me by the harness and attempted to drag me to my feet; at the same time, he struck at me.

I parried his blow, and seized hold of his harness; then I stood up and lifted him above my head. I held him there for a moment, and then I tossed him across the room. “That will teach you,” I called to him, “to be more respectful to your betters.”

Some of the other guardsmen were scowling at me angrily; but many were laughing at Ul-to, who now scrambled to his feet, whipped out his long-sword, and came for me. They had not yet disarmed me; and I drew mine; but before we could engage, a couple of Ul-to’s companions seized him and held him. He was cursing and struggling to free himself and get at me, when the officer of the guard, evidently attracted by the disturbance, entered the room.

When he heard what had happened, he turned angrily on me. “You ought to be flogged,” he said, “for insulting and attacking a Panar warrior.”

“Perhaps you would like to try to flog me,” I said.

At that, he turned purple and almost jumped up and down, he was so furious.

“Seize him!” he shouted to the warriors, “and give him a good beating.”

They all started toward me, and I drew my sword. I was standing with my back to a wall, and there would have been several dead Panars scattered about that room in a few minutes if the officer who had brought me there had not come in just then.

“What’s the meaning of this?” he demanded.

The guard officer explained, making me appear wholly in the wrong.

“He lies,” I said to the officer; “I was attacked without provocation.”

He turned to the guard officer. “I don’t know who started this,” he said, “but it’s a good thing for your neck that nothing happened to this man;” then he disarmed me and told me to follow him.

He led me out of the palace again and to the side of the building where my flier stood. I noticed that it was not moored, there being no danger of winds beneath that great dome; and I wished that it were out in the open so that I could fly it away if I were able to find Llana of Gathol; it would have been a Heaven sent opportunity for escape had it not been for that enclosing dome.