Llana of Gathol (Barsoom #10)

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“Whatever trouble it gets me into, it was worth it,” I said. “Think of kicking a blind man, and that’s what it amounted to. The girl was as mad about it as I; she must be a good sort. Rojas—that’s rather a pretty name.”

“The name of a noblewoman,” said Ptor Fak.

“You know her?” I asked.

“No, but you can tell by the endings of their names whether or not they are noble and by the beginnings and endings of their names if they’re royal. The names of the noblemen end in us and the names of noblewomen in as. The names of royalty end the same way but always begin with two consonants, like Pnoxus and Ptantus.”

“Then Motus is a nobleman,” I said.

“Yes; that is what is going to make it bad for you.”

“Tell me,” I said; “how do they make themselves invisible?”

“They have developed something that gives them invisibility for perhaps a day; it is something they take internally—a large pill. I understand that they take one every morning, so as to be sure that they will be invisible if they have to go outside the city. You see it takes about an hour for the stuff to work, and if the city were attacked by an enemy they’d be in a bad way if they had to go out and fight while visible.”

“What enemies can they have around here?” I asked. “Kandus told me that even the green men are afraid of them.

“There is another city in the forest inhabited by an offshoot of this tribe,” explained Ptor Fak; “it is called Onvak, and its people also possess the secret of invisibility. Occasionally the Onvaks come and attack Invak, or lie in wait for the Invak hunting parties when they go out into the forest.”

“I should think it might be rather difficult to fight a battle in which one could see neither foe nor friend,” I suggested.

“Yes; I understand that there’s never very much damage done, though occasionally they capture a prisoner. The last battle they had the Invaks took two prisoners, and when they got them into the city they discovered that they were both their own men. The never know how many of their own people they kill; they just go slashing about them with their swords, and Issus help whoever gets in the way.”

Just as Ptor Fak finished speaking I felt hands doing something to the shackles about my ankles and presently they were unlocked and removed.

“Come, slave,” said the voice. Then someone took me by the arm and led me toward the entrance to one of the streets.

The moment we entered I could see a warrior at my side and there were others in front and behind me. They conducted me along this street through two other courtyards in which, of course, they immediately became invisible and I seemed to be walking alone with only the pressure of a hand upon my arm to indicate that I was not. They took me to a large room in which a number of people were standing about in front of and on either side of a desk at which there sat a scowling, fierce visaged man.

I was led up to the desk and halted there and the man behind it surveyed me in silence for several seconds. His harness was extremely elaborate, the leather being beautifully carved and studded with precious stones. The hilt of his sword which I could just see above the desk was apparently of gold and it too was studded with those rare and beautiful gems of Barsoom which defy description in words of earthly origin. Encircling his brow was a diadem of carved leather upon the front of which the Barsoomian hieroglyphs which spelled jeddak were emblazoned in precious stones. So this was Ptantus, jeddak of Invak. I felt that Llana and I could not have fallen into much worse hands.

 

CHAPTER V

Ptantus looked at me so ferociously that I was sure he was attempting to frighten me. It seems to be a way that tyrants and bullies have of attempting to break down the morale of a victim before they destroy him; but I was not greatly impressed; and, impelled by a rather foolish desire to annoy him, I stopped looking at him. I guess that got his goat for he thumped the desk with his fist and leaned forward across it.

“Slave!” he almost roared at me, “pay attention to me.”

“You haven’t said anything yet,” I reminded him. “When you say anything worth listening to I shall listen, but you don’t have to yell at me.”

He turned angrily to an officer. “Don’t ever dare to bring a prisoner before me again,” he said, “until he has been instructed how to behave in the presence of a jeddak.”

“I know how to behave in the presence of a jeddak,” I told him, “I have been in the presence of some of the greatest jeddaks on Barsoom, and I treat a jeddak just as I treat any other man—as he deserves. If he is a nobleman at heart he has my deference, if he is a boor he does not.”

The inference was clear, and Ptantus colored. “Enough of your insolence,” he said. “I understand that you are a troublesome fellow, that you gave Pnoxus, the prince, a great deal of trouble after your capture and that you struck and badly injured one of my nobles.”

“That man may have a title,” I said, “but he is no noble; he kicked me while he was invisible—it was the same as kicking a blind man.”

“That is right,” said a girlish voice a little way behind me and at one side. I turned and looked. It was Rojas.

“You saw this thing done, Rojas?” demanded Ptantus.

“Yes, Motus insulted me; and this man, Dotar Sojat, berated him for it. Then Motus kicked him.”

“Is this true, Motus?” asked Ptantus, turning his head and looking past me on the other side. I turned and glanced in that direction and saw Motus with his face swathed in bandages; he was a sorry looking sight.

“I gave the slave what he deserves,” he growled; “he is an insolent fellow.”

“I quite agree with you,” said Ptantus, “and he shall die when the time comes. But I did not summon him here to conduct a trial. I, the jeddak, reach my decisions without testimony or advice. I sent for him because an officer said he could leap thirty feet into the air; and if he can do that it may be worth keeping him a while for my amusement.”

I couldn’t help but smile a little at that for it had been my ability to jump that had probably preserved my life upon my advent to Barsoom so many years ago, when I had been captured by the green hordes of Thark, and Tars Tarkas had ordered me to sak for the edification of Lorquas Ptomel, the jed, and now it was going to give me at least a short reprieve from death.

“Why do you smile?” demanded Ptantus. “Do you see anything funny in that? Now jump, and be quick about it.”

I looked up at the ceiling. It was only about fifteen feet from the floor. “That would be only a hop,” I said.

“Well hop then,” said Ptantus.

I turned and looked behind me. For about twenty feet between me and the doorway men and women were crowded thickly together. Thanking my great agility and the lesser gravity of Mars, I easily jumped completely over them. I could have made a bolt for the door then, leaped to the roof of the city and made my escape; and I should have done it had it not been that Llana, of Gathol was still a prisoner here.

Exclamations of surprise filled the room at this, to them, marvelous feat of agility; and when I leaped back again there was almost a ripple of applause.

“What else can you do?” demanded Ptantus.

“I can make a fool out of Motus with a sword,” I said, “as well as with my fists, if he will meet me under the lights where I can see him.”

Ptantus actually laughed. “I think I shall let you do that sometime when I am through with you,” he said, “for Motus will most certainly kill you. There is probably not a better swordsman on all Barsoom than the noble Motus.”

“I shall be delighted to let him try it,” I said, “and I can promise you that I shall still be able to jump after I have killed Motus. But, if you really want to see some jumping,” I continued, “take me and the girl who was captured with me out into the forest, and we will show you something worthwhile.” If I could only get outside the gates with Llana I knew that we should be able to get away, for I could outdistance any of them even if I had to carry her.

“Take him back and lock him up,” said Ptantus; “I have seen and heard enough for today;” so they took me back into the courtyard and chained me to my tree.

“Well,” said Ptor Fak, after he thought the guards had left, “how did you get along?”

I told him all that had transpired in the jeddak’s presence; and he said he hoped that I would get a chance to meet Motus, as Ptor Fak well knew my reputation as a swordsman.

After dark that night, a voice came out and sat down beside me. It was Kandus.

“It’s a good thing you jumped for Ptantus today,” he said, “the old devil thought Pnoxus had been lying to him and after it had been demonstrated that you could not jump Ptantus was going to have you destroyed immediately in a very unpleasant way he has of dealing with those who have aroused his anger or resentment.”

“I hope I can keep on amusing him for a while,” I said.

“The end will be the same eventually,” said Kandus, “but if there is anything I can do to make your captivity easier for you I shall be glad to do it.”

“It would relieve my mind if you could tell me what has become of the girl who was captured at the same time that I was.

“She is confined in the quarters of the female slaves. It’s over on that side of the city beyond the palace,” and he nodded in that direction.

“What do you think is going to happen to her?” I asked.

“Ptantus and Pnoxus are quarreling about her,” he replied; “they are always quarreling about something; they hate each other. Because Pnoxus wants her Ptantus doesn’t want him to have her; and so, for the time being at least, she is safe. I must go now,” he added a moment later, and I could tell from the direction of his voice that he had arisen. “If there is anything I can do for you be sure to let me know.”

“If you could bring me a piece of wire,” I said, “I would appreciate it.”

“What do you want of wire?” he asked.

“Just to pass the time,” I said; “I bend them around in different shapes and make little figures of them to amuse myself. I am not accustomed to being chained to a tree, and time is going to hang very heavy on my hands.”

“Certainly,” he said, “I’ll be glad to bring you a piece of wire; I’ll be back with it in just a moment, and until then good-by.”

“You are fortunate to have made a friend here,” said Ptor Fak; “I’ve been here several months and I haven’t made one.”

“I think it was my jumping,” I said; “it has served me in good stead before and in many ways.”

It was not long before Kandus returned with the wire. I thanked him and he left immediately.

It was night now and both moons were in the sky. Their soft light illuminated the courtyard, while the swift flight of Thuria across the vault of heaven swept the shadows of the trees into constantly changing movement across the scarlet sward, turned purple now in the moonlight.

Ptor Fak’s chain and mine were sufficiently long to just permit us to sit side by side, and I could see that his curiosity was aroused by my request for a piece of wire by the fact that he kept watching it in my hand. Finally he could contain himself no longer. “What are you going to do with that wire?” he asked.

“You’d be surprised,” I said; and then I paused for I felt a presence near me, “at the clever things one may do with a piece of wire.”

 

CHAPTER VI

Were I to live here in Invak the rest of my life I am sure I could never accustom myself to these uncanny presences, or to the knowledge that someone might always be standing close to me listening to everything that I said to Ptor Fak.

Presently I felt a soft hand upon my arm, and then that same sweet voice that I had heard before said, “It is Rojas.”

“I am glad that you came,” I said. “I wished an opportunity to thank you for the testimony you gave in my behalf before Ptantus today.”

“I’m afraid it didn’t do you much good,” she replied; “Ptantus doesn’t like me.”

“Why should he dislike you?” I asked.

“Pnoxus wanted me as his mate and I refused him; so, though Ptantus doesn’t like Pnoxus, his pride was hurt; and he has been venting his spleen on my family ever since.” She moved closer to me, I could feel the warmth of her arm against mine as she leaned against me. “Dotar Sojat,” she said, “I wish that you were an Invak so that you might remain here forever in safety.”

“That is very sweet of you, Rojas,” I said, “but I am afraid that Fate has ordained it otherwise.”

The soft arm stole up around my shoulders. The delicate perfume which had first announced her presence to me that afternoon, filled my nostrils and I could feel her warm breath upon my cheek. “Would you like to stay here, Dotar Sojat,” she paused, “—with me?”