Llana of Gathol (Barsoom #10)

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The situation was becoming embarrassing. Even Ptor Fak was embarrassed and there were no soft invisible arms about his neck. I knew that he was embarrassed because he had moved away from us the full length of his chain. Of course he couldn’t see Rojas any more than I could but he must have heard her words; and, being a gentleman, he had removed himself as far as possible; and now he sat there with his back toward us. Being made love to by a beautiful girl in a moonlit garden may be romantic, but if the girl is wholly invisible it is like being made love to by a ghost; though I can assure you that Rojas didn’t feel like a ghost at all.

“You have not answered me, Dotar Sojat,” she said.

I have never loved but one woman—my incomparable Dejah Thoris; nor do I, like some men, run around pretending love for other women. So, as you say in America, I was on the spot. They say that all is fair in love and war; and as far as I was concerned I, personally, was definitely at war with Invak. Here was an enemy girl whose loyalty I could win or whose bitter hatred I could incur by my reply.

Had I had only myself to consider I should not have hesitated; but the fate of Llana of Gathol outweighed all other considerations, and so I temporized.

“No matter how much I should like to be with you always, Rojas,” I said, “I know that is impossible. I shall be here only subject to the whims of your jeddak and then death will separate us forever.”

“Oh, no, Dotar Sojat,” she cried, drawing my cheek close to hers, “you must not die—for I love you.”

“But Rojas,” I expostulated, “how can you love a man whom you have known for only a few hours and seen but for a few minutes?”

“I knew that I loved you the moment that I set eyes upon you,” she replied, “and I’ve seen you for a great many more than a few minutes. I have been almost constantly in the courtyard since I first saw you, watching you. I know every changing expression of your face. I have seen the light of anger, and of humor, and of friendship in your eyes. Had I known you all my life I could not know you better. Kiss me, Dotar Sojat,” she concluded. And, then I did something for which I shall probably always be ashamed. I took Rojas in my arms and kissed her.

Did you ever hold a ghost in your arms and kiss her? It humiliates me to admit that it was not an unpleasant experience. But Rojas clung to me so tightly and for so long that I was covered with confusion and embarrassment.

“Oh, that we could be always thus,” sighed Rojas.

Personally I thought that however pleasant, it might be a little inconvenient.

However, I said, “Perhaps you will come often again, Rojas, before I die.”

“Oh, don’t speak of death,” she cried.

“But you know yourself that Ptantus will have me killed—unless I escape.”

“Escape!” She scarcely breathed the word.

“But I suppose there will be no escape for me,” I added, and I tried not to sound too hopeful.

“Escape,” she said again, “Escape! ah if I could but go with you.”

“Why not?” I asked. I had gone this far and I felt that I might as well go all the way if by so doing I could release Llana of Gathol from captivity.

“Yes, why not?” repeated Rojas, “but how?”

“If I could become invisible,” I suggested.

She thought that over for a moment and then said, “It would be treason. It would mean death, a horrible death, were I apprehended.”

“I couldn’t ask that of you,” I said, and I felt like a hypocrite for that I knew that I could ask it of her if I thought that she would do it. I would willingly have sacrificed the life of every person in Invak, including my own, if thereby I could have liberated Llana of Gathol. I was desperate, and when a man is desperate he will resort to any means to win his point.

“I am most unhappy here,” said Rojas, in a quite natural and human attempt at self-justification. “Of course, if we were successful,” continued Rojas, “it wouldn’t make any difference who knew what I had done because they could never find us again. We would both be invisible, and together we could make our way to your country.” She was planning it all out splendidly.

“Do you know where the flier is that brought the girl prisoner?” I asked.

“Yes, it was landed on the roof of the city.”

“That will simplify matters greatly,” I said. “If we all become invisible we can reach it and escape with ease.”

“What do you mean ‘all’?” she demanded.

“Why I want to take Ptor Fak with me,” I said, “and Llana of Gathol who was captured the same time I was.”

Rojas froze instantly and her arms dropped from about me. “Not the girl,” she said.

“But, Rojas, I must save her,” I insisted. There was no reply. I waited a moment and then I said, “Rojas!” but she did not answer, and a moment later I saw her slim back materialize in the entrance to one of the streets opposite me. A slim back surmounted by a defiantly held head. That back radiated feminine fury.

 

CHAPTER VII

After Rojas left I was plunged almost into the depths of despair. Had she but waited I could have explained everything and the four of us might have escaped.

I will admit that I have never been able to fathom the ways of women, but I felt that Rojas would never return. I presume that my conviction was influenced by those lines from The Mourning Bride, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”

However, I did not give up hope entirely—I never do. Instead of repining, I went to work on the lock of my shackle with the bit of wire that Kandus had brought me. Ptor Fak moved over to watch me. I sat facing my tree, close to it, and bending over my work; and Ptor Fak leaned close and bent over it too. We were trying to hide from preying eyes the thing that I was attempting to do; and as it was now late at night we hoped that there would be no one in the courtyard other than ourselves.

At last I found the combination and after that it took me only a few seconds to unlock Ptor Fak’s shackle. Then a voice behind us spoke.

“What are you doing?” it demanded; “why are you not asleep?”

“How can we sleep with people constantly annoying us?” I asked, hiding the wire beneath me.

“Stand up,” said the voice, and as we stood up the shackles fell away from our ankles.

“I thought so,” said the voice. Then I saw the piece of wire rise from the ground and disappear. “You are very clever, but I don’t think Ptantus will appreciate your cleverness when he hears about this. I shall set a guard to watch you two constantly hereafter.”

“Everything is going wrong,” I said to Ptor Fak a moment later, after I saw a warrior enter one of the streets, hoping that it was he who had spoken to us and that there were no others around.

“It seems hopeless, doesn’t it?” said Ptor Fak.

“No,” I snapped, “not while I still live.”

The following afternoon Kandus’ voice came and sat down beside me. “How goes it?” he asked.

“Terrible,” I said.

“How is that?” he asked.

“I can’t tell you,” I said, “because there is probably a guard standing right here listening to everything that I say.”

“There is no one here but us,” said Kandus.

“How do you know?” I asked; “your people are as invisible to you as they are to me.”

“We learn to sense the presence of others,” he explained; “just how, I can’t tell you.”

“How you do it is immaterial,” I said, “as long as you are sure there is no one here listening to us. I will be perfectly frank with you, I succeeded in removing Ptor Fak’s shackle and my own. Someone caught me at it and took the piece of wire away from me.” I did not tell Kandus that I had broken the wire he had given me in two and that I still had the other half of it in my pocket pouch. There is no use in telling even a friend everything that you know.

“How in the world could you have hoped to escape even if you could remove your shackles?” he asked.

“It was only the first step,” I told him. “We really had no plan, but we knew that we certainly could not escape as long as we were shackled.”

Kandus laughed. “There is something in that,” he said, and then he was silent for a moment. “The girl who was captured with you,” he said presently.

“What of her?” I asked.

“Ptantus has given her to Motus,” he replies; “it was all done very suddenly. Why, no one seems to know, because Ptantus hasn’t any particular love for Motus.”

If Kandus didn’t know why, I thought that I did. I saw Rojas’s hand and a green-eyed devil in it—jealousy is a heartless monster. “Will you do something more for me, Kandus?” I asked.

“Gladly, if I can,” he replied.

“It may seem like a very silly request,” I said, “but please don’t ask me to explain. I want you to go to Rojas and tell her that Llana of Gathol, the girl that Ptantus has given to Motus, is the daughter of my daughter.” It may seem strange to you denizens of earth that Rojas could have become infatuated with a grandfather, but you must remember that Mars is not Earth and that I am unlike all other Earth-men. I do not know how old I am. I recall no childhood. It seems to me that have just always been, and I have always been the same. I look now as I did when I fought with the Confederate army during the Civil War—a man of about thirty. And here on Barsoom, where the natural span of life is around a thousand years and people do not commence to show the ravages of old age until just shortly before dissolution, differences in age do not count. You might fall in love with a beautiful girl on Barsoom; and, as far as appearances were concerned, she might be seventeen or she might be seven hundred.

“Of course I don’t understand,” said Kandus, “but I’ll do what you ask.”

“And now another favor,” I said. “Ptantus half promised me that he would let me duel with Motus and he assured me that Motus would kill me. Is there any possible way of arranging for that duel to be fought today?”

“He will kill you,” said Kandus.

“That is not what I asked,” I said.

“I don’t know how it could be done,” said Kandus.

“Now if Ptantus has any sporting blood,” I suggested, “and likes to lay a wager now and then, you bet him that if Motus will fight me while Motus is still visible, that he cannot kill me but that I can kill him whenever I choose.”

“But you can’t do it,” said Kandus. “Motus is the best swordsman on Barsoom. You would be killed and I should lose my money.”

“How can I convince you?” I said. “I know that I can kill Motus in a fight. If I had anything of value, I would give it to you as security for your wager.”

“I have something of value,” said Ptor Fak, “and I would wager it and everything that I could scrape together on Dotar Sojat.” He reached into his pocket pouch and drew froth a gorgeous jeweled medallion. “This,” he said to Kandus, “is worth a jeddak’s ransom—take it as security and place its value on Dotar Sojat.”

A second later the medallion disappeared in thin air, and we knew that Kandus had reached out his hand and taken it.

“I’ll have to go inside and examine it,” said Kandus’ voice, “for of course I cannot see it now that it has become invisible. I’ll not be gone long.”

“That is very decent of you, Ptor Fak,” I said, “that medallion must be almost invaluable.”

“One of my remote ancestors was a jeddak,” explained Ptor Fak; “that medallion belonged to him, and it has been in the family for thousands of years.”

“You must be quite certain of my swordsmanship,” I said.

“I am,” he replied; “but even had I been less certain, I should have done the same.”

“That is friendship,” I said, “and I appreciate it.”

“It is priceless,” said a voice at my side, and I knew that Kandus had returned.

“I will go at once and see what can be done about the duel.”

“Don’t forget what I asked you to tell Rojas,” I reminded him.

 

CHAPTER VIII

After Kandus left us, time dragged heavily. The afternoon wore on and it became so late that I was positive that he had failed in his mission. I was sitting dejectedly thinking of the fate that was so soon to overtake Llana of Gathol. I knew that she would destroy herself, and I was helpless to avert the tragedy.

And, while I was thus sunk in the depths of despair, a hand was placed on mine.

A soft hand; and a voice said, “Why didn’t you tell me?”