He took me out to the center of an expanse of well kept lawn, facing a number of people who had gathered beside the building. There were both men and women, and more were coming from the palace. At last there was a fanfare of trumpets; and the Jeddak came, accompanied by courtiers and women.
In the meantime, a large man had come out on the lawn beside me; he was a warrior wearing metal that denoted him a member of Hin Abtol’s bodyguard.
“The Jeddak has heard tales of your great strength,” said the officer who had brought me there, “and he wishes to see a demonstration of it. Rab-zov, here, is supposed to be the strongest man in Pankor—”
“I am the strongest man in Pankor, sir,” interrupted Rab-zov; “I am the strongest man on Barsoom.”
“He must be pretty strong,” I said. “What is he going to do to me?”
“You are going to wrestle to amuse the Jeddak and his court. Rab-zov will demonstrate how easily he can throw you to the ground and hold you there. Are you ready, Rab-zov?”
Rab-zov said he was ready, and the officer signed us to start. Rab-zov swaggered toward me, taking occasional quick glances at the audience to see if all were looking at him. They were; looking at him and admiring his great bulk.
“Come on, fellow!” said Rab-zov; “put up the best fight you can; I want to make it interesting for the Jeddak,”
“I shall hope to make it interesting for you, Rab-zov,” I said.
He laughed loudly at that. “You won’t feel so much like joking when I’m through with you,” he said.
“Come on, wind bag!” I cried; “you talk too much.”
He was leaning forward, reaching for a hold, when I seized one of his wrists, turned quickly and threw him over my shoulder. I purposely let him fall hard, and he was still a little groggy when he came to his feet. I was waiting, very close; and I seized him by the harness and lifted him over my head; then I commenced to whirl with him. He was absolutely helpless; and when I thought he was befuddled enough, I carried him over and threw him down heavily in front of Hin Abtol. Rab-zov was down—and out.
“Have you no strong men in Pankor?” I asked him, and then I saw Llana of Gathol standing beside the Jeddak. Almost with the suddenness of a revelation a mad scheme came to me.
“Perhaps I had better send two men against you,” said Hin Abtol, rather good-naturedly; he had evidently enjoyed the spectacle.
“Why not a swordsman?” I asked. “I am quite good with a sword,” and I wanted a sword very much right then—I needed a sword to carry out my plan.
“Do you want to be killed, slave?” demanded Hin Abtol; “I have the best swordsmen in the world in my guard.”
“Bring out your best, then,” I said; “I may surprise him—and somebody else,” and I looked straight at Llana of Gathol, and winked. Then, for the first time, she recognized me through my disguise.
“Who were you winking at?” demanded Hin Abtol, looking around.
“Something got in my eye,” I said.
Hin Abtol spoke to an officer standing near him. “Who is the best swordsman in the guard?” he asked.
“There is none better than Ul-to,” replied the officer.
So! I was to cross swords with my old friend, Ul-to. That would please him—for a few moments.
They brought Ul-to; and when he found that he was to fight me, he beamed all over. “Now, slave,” he said, “I will teach you that lesson that I promised you.”
“Again?” I asked.
“It will be different this time,” he said.
We crossed swords.
“To the death!” I said.
“To the death, slave!” replied Ul-to.
I fought on the defensive mostly at first, seeking to work my man around in the position in which I wanted him; and when I had him there, I pressed him; and he fell back. I kept backing him toward the audience, and to make him more amenable to my directions, I started carving him—just a little. I wanted him to acquire respect for my point and my ability. Soon he was covered with blood, and I was forcing him to go wherever I wished him.
I backed him into the crowd, which fell back; and then I caught Llana’s eye, and motioned her with my head to step to one side; then I pressed close to her. “At the kill,” I whispered, “run for the flier and start the engine.”
I backed Ul-to away from the crowd then, and I saw Llana following, as though she was so much interested in the duel that she did not realize what she was doing.
“Now! Llana!” I whispered, and I saw her walking slowly backward toward the flier.
In order to attract the crowd’s attention from Llana, I pressed Ul-to to one side with such an exhibition of swordplay as I knew would hold every eye; then I turned him around and had him almost running backward, carrying me nearer my ship.
Suddenly I heard Hin Abtol cry, “The girl! Get her! She’s gone aboard that flier!”
As they started forward, I ran Ul-to through the heart and turned and ran for my ship. At my heels came a dozen warriors with drawn swords. The one who started first, and who was faster than the others, overtook me just as I had to pause a moment at the side of the flier to make assurance doubly sure that she was not moored in any way. I wheeled and parried a vicious cut; my blade moved once more with the swiftness of light, and the warrior’s head rolled from his shoulders.
“Let her go!” I cried to Llana, as I leaped to the deck.
As the ship rose, I hastened to the controls, and took over.
“Where are we going, John Carter?” asked Llana.
“To Gathol,” I replied.
She looked up at the dome above us. “How-?” she started, but she saw that I had turned the nose of the flier upward at an angle of forty-five degrees and opened the throttle—that was her answer.
The little ship, as sweet and fast a flier as I have ever flown, was streaking through the warm air of Pankor at tremendous speed. We both huddled close to the deck of the little cockpit—and hoped.
The flier shuddered to the terrific impact; broken glass showered in every direction—and then we were out in the cold, clear air of the Arctic.
I leveled off then, and headed for Gathol at full speed; there was danger of our freezing to death if we didn’t get into a warmer climate soon, for we had no furs.
“What became of Pan Dan Chee and Jad-han?” I asked.
“I haven’t seen them since we were all captured in Gathol,” replied Llana. “Poor Pan Dan Chee; he fought for me, and he was badly wounded; I am afraid that I shall never see him again,” and there were tears in her voice.
I greatly deplored the probable fate of Pan Dan Chee and Jad-han, but at least Llana of Gathol was at last safe. Or was this a masterpiece of overstatement?
She was at least safe from Hin Abtol, but what lay in the future? Immediately she was in danger of freezing to death should any mishap delay our flight before we reached a warmer latitude, and there were innumerable other hazards in the crossing of the wastelands of this dying planet.
But, being an incorrigible optimist, I still felt that Llana was safe; and so did she. Perhaps because no conceivable danger could have been greater than that which had threatened her while she lay in the power of Hin Abtol.
Presently I noticed that she was laughing, and I asked her what amused her.
“More than any other man on Barsoom, Hin Abtol feared you,” she said, “and he had you in his power and did not know it. And he pitted against you, the greatest swordsman of two worlds, a clumsy oaf, when he might have loosed upon you a full utan and destroyed you. Though he would doubtless have lost half his utan. I only pray that some day he may know the opportunity he missed when he permitted John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom to escape him.”
“Yes,” I said, “it is amusing. So is that hole we left in the roof of his hothouse city; but I am afraid that Hin Abtol’s sense of humor will not be equal to the task of appreciating it.”
We sped swiftly toward the south and warmer climes, happy in our miraculous escape from the tyrant of Panar; and, fortunately, unaware of what lay in our future.
Llana of Gathol was safe—but for how long? When would we see Gathol again, or Helium?
BOOK IV. — INVISIBLE MEN OF MARS
Yes, Llana of Gathol was safe at last. I had brought her from captivity in the Arctic city of Pankor, stolen her from under the very nose of Hin Abtol, the self-styled Jeddak of Jeddaks of the North; and we were speeding through the thin air of dying Mars in my own fast flier toward Gathol. I was very contented with what I had achieved, but I was also very cold.
“You said that you were taking me to Gathol,” said Llana, after we had left Pankor far behind. “Nothing would make me happier than to return to my father, my mother, and my native city; but how may we hope to make a landing there while Gathol is surrounded by the warriors of Hin Abtol?”
“The Panars are a stupid, inefficient lot,” I replied; “most of Hin Abtol’s warriors are unwilling conscripts who have no heart in waging war for their tyrannical master. These poor frozen men only endure it because they know there is no escape and prefer life and consciousness to being returned to Pankor and frozen in again until Hin Abtol needs their swords for a future war.”
“‘Frozen men’!” ejaculated Llana; “what do you mean by that?”
“You heard nothing of them while you were a prisoner in Pankor?” I asked, surprised.
“Nothing,” Llana assured me; “tell me about them.”
“Just outside the walls of the hot-house city there are rows upon rows of racks in the biting cold and bitter wind of the North Polar region. On these racks, like beef in a cold storage warehouse, thousands of warriors hang by their feet, frozen solid and in a state of suspended animation. They are captives whom he had taken on numerous raids during a period of fully a hundred years. I have talked with some who had been frozen in over fifty years.
“I was in the resuscitating room when a number of them were thawed out; after a few minutes they don’t seem to be any worse for their experience, but the whole idea is revolting.”
“Why does he do it?” demanded Llana. “Why thousands of them?”
“Better say thousands upon thousands,” I said; “one slave told me that there were at least a million. Hin Abtol dreams of conquering all of Barsoom with them.”
“How grotesque!” exclaimed Llana.
“Were it not for the navy of Helium, he might go far along the road toward the goal of his grandiose ambition; and you may thank your revered ancestors, Llana, that there is a navy of Helium. After I return you to Gathol, I shall fly to Helium and organize an expedition to write finis to Hin Abtol’s dreams.”
“I wish that before you do that we might try to find out what has become of Pan Dan Chee and Jad-han,” said Llana; “the Panars separated us shortly after we were captured.”
“They may have been taken to Pankor and frozen in”, I suggested.
“Oh, no!” exclaimed Llana; “that would be too terrible.”
“You are very fond of Pan Dan Chee, aren’t you?” I asked.
“He has been a very good friend,” she replied, a little stiffly. The stubborn minx wouldn’t admit that she was in love with him—and possibly she wasn’t; you never can tell anything about a woman. She had treated him abominably when they were together; but when they were separated and he was in danger, she had evinced the greatest, concern for his safety.
“I don’t know how we can learn anything about his fate,” I said, “unless we can inquire directly of the Panars; and that might prove rather dangerous. I should like to know what has become of them and Tan Hadron of Hastor as well.”
“Tan Hadron of Hastor? Where is he?”
“The last I saw of him, he was on board the Dusar, the Panar ship I stole from their line outside Gathol; and he was the prisoner of the mutinous crew that took it from me. There were a lot of assassins among them, and these were determined to kill Tan Hadron as soon as he had taken the ship to whatever destination they had decided upon; you see, none of the crew knew anything about navigation.”
“Tan Hadron of Hastor,” said Llana again; “his mother was a royal princess of Gathol and Tan Hadron himself one of the greatest fighting men of Barsoom.”
“A splendid officer,” I added.
“Steps must be taken to save him, too.”