Llana of Gathol (Barsoom #10)

Page 30

“You didn’t give me a chance,” I said; “you just ran out on me without giving me a chance to explain.”

“I am sorry,” said the voice, “and I am sorry for the harm I have done Llana of Gathol; and now I have condemned you to death.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Ptantus has commanded Motus to fight you and kill you.”

I threw my arms around Rojas and kissed her. I couldn’t help it, I was so happy.

“Good!” I exclaimed. “Though neither of us realized it at the time, you have done me a great favor.”

“What do you mean?” she demanded.

“You have given me the chance to meet Motus in a fair fight; and now I know that Llana of Gathol will be safe—as far as Motus is concerned.”

“Motus will kill you,” insisted Rojas.

“Will you be there to see the duel?” I asked.

“I do not wish to see you killed,” she said, and clung to me tightly.

“You haven’t a thing to worry about, I shall not be killed; and Motus will never have Llana of Gathol or any other woman.”

“You can tell his friends to start digging his grave immediately,” said Ptor Fak.

“You are that sure?” said Rojas.

“We have the princess,” said Ptor Fak, which is the same as saying in America “It is in the bag.” The expression derives from the Barsoomian chess game, jetan, in which the taking of a princess decides the winner and ends the game.

“I hope you are right,” said Rojas. “At least you have encouraged me to believe, and it is not so difficult to believe anything of Dotar Sojat.”

“Do you know when I am to fight Motus?” I asked.

“This evening,” replied Rojas, “before the whole Court in the throne room of the palace.”

“And after I have killed him?” I asked.

“That is to be feared, too,” said Rojas, “for Ptantus will be furious. He will not only have lost a fighting man but all the money he has wagered on the duel.”

“But it will soon be time,” she added, “and I must go now.” I saw her open my pocket pouch and drop something into it, and then she was gone.

I knew from the surreptitious manner in which she had done it that she did not wish anyone to know what she had put in my pocket pouch, or in fact that she had put anything into it; and so I did not investigate immediately, fearing that someone may have been watching and had their suspicions aroused. The constant strain of feeling that unseen eyes may be upon you, and that unseen ears may be listening to your every word was commencing to tell upon me; and I was becoming as nervous as a cat with seven kittens.

After a long silence Ptor Fak said, “What are you going to do with her?”

I knew what he meant; because the same question had been worrying me. “If we succeed in getting out of this,” I said, “I am going to take her back to Helium with me and let Dejah Thoris convince her that there are a great many more charming men that I there.” I had had other women fall in love with me and this would not be the first time that Dejah Thoris had unscrambled things for me. For she knew that no matter how many women loved me, she was the only woman whom I loved.

“You are a brave man,” said Ptor Fak.

“You say that because you do not know Dejah Thoris,” I replied; “it is not that I am a brave man, it is that she is a wise woman.”

That started me off again thinking about her, although I must confess that she is seldom absent from my thoughts. I could picture her now in our marble palace in Helium, surrounded by the brilliant men and women who crowd her salons. I could feel her hand in mine as we trod the stately Barsoomian dances she loves so well. I could see her as though she were standing before me this minute, and I could see Thuvia of Ptarth, and Carthoris, and Tara of Helium, and Gahan of Gathol. That magnificent coterie of handsome men and beautiful women bound together by ties of love and marriage. What memories they evoked!

A soft hand caressed my cheek and a voice, tense with nervousness said, “Live! Live for me! I shall return at midnight and you must be here;” then she was gone.

For some reason or other which I cannot explain, her words quieted my nerves.

They gave me confidence that at midnight I should be free. Her presence reminded me that she had dropped something into my pocket pouch and I opened it casually and put my hand into it. My fingers came in contact with a number of spheres, about the size of marbles, and I knew that the secret of invisibility was mine.

I moved close to Ptor Fak; and once again with the remaining bit of wire I picked the lock of his shackle, and then I handed him one of the spheres that Rojas had given me.

I leaned very close to his ear. “Take this,” I whispered; “in an hour you will be invisible. Go to the far end of the courtyard and wait. When I return I too shall be invisible and when I whistle thus, answer me.” I whistled a few of the opening notes of the national anthem of Helium, a signal that Dejah Thoris and I had often used.

“I understand,” said Ptor Fak.

“What do you understand?” demanded a voice.

Doggonit! There was that invisibility nemesis again and now all our plans might be knocked into a cocked hat. How much had the fellow heard? What had he seen? I trembled inwardly, fearing the answer. Then I felt hands at my ankle and saw my shackle fall open.

“Well,” repeated the voice peremptorily, “what was it that you understood?”

“I was just telling Ptor Fak,” I said, “how I was going to kill Motus, and he said he understood perfectly.”

“So you think you are going to kill Motus, do you?” demanded the voice. “Well, you are going to be very much surprised for a few minutes, and after that you will be dead. Come along with me; the duel is about to take place.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. The fellow had evidently seen or heard nothing of any importance.

“I’ll see you later, Ptor Fak,” I said.

“Good-by and good luck,” he replied. And then, accompanied by the warrior, I entered a city street on my way to the throne room of Ptantus, jeddak of Invak.

 

CHAPTER IX

“So you think you’re pretty good with the sword,” said the warrior walking at my side and who was now visible to me.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Well, you’re going to get a lesson in swordsmanship tonight. Of course it won’t do you much good because after it is all over you will be dead.”

“You are very encouraging,” I said, “but if you are fond of Motus, I suggest that you save your encouragement for him. He is going to need it.”

“I am not fond of Motus,” said the warrior; “no one is fond of Motus. He is a calot and I apologize to calots for the comparison. I hope that you kill him but of course you won’t. He always kills his man, but he is tricky. Watch out for that.”

“You mean he doesn’t fight fair?” I asked.

“No one ever taught him the word,” said the warrior.

“Well, thank you for warning me,” I said; “I hope you stay to see the fight, maybe you will be surprised.”

“I shall certainly stay to see it,” he said. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. But I am not going to be surprised; I know just what will happen. He will play with you for about five minutes and then he’ll run you through; and that won’t please Ptantus for he likes a long drawn out duel.”

“Oh, he does, does he?” I said. “Well, he shall have it.” That fitted in perfectly with my plans. I had swallowed one of the invisibility spheres just before the warrior unshackled me, and I knew that it would take about an hour for it to effect perfect invisibility. It might be difficult to drag the duel out for an hour, but I hoped to gain a little time by stalling up to the moment that we crossed swords. And I accomplished it now by walking slowly to kill as much time as possible, and twice I stopped to tighten the fastenings of my sandals.

“What’s the matter?” demanded the warrior. “Why do you walk so slow? Are you afraid?”

“Terrified,” I replied. “Everyone has told me how easily Motus is going to kill me. Do you think that a man wants to run to his death?”

“Well, I don’t blame you much,” said the warrior, “and I won’t hurry you.”

“A lot of you Invaks are pretty good fellows,” I remarked.

“Of course we are,” he said. “What made you think anything different?”

“Pnoxus, Motus, and Ptantus,” I replied.

The warrior grinned. “I guess you are a pretty shrewd fellow,” he said, “to have sized them up this quickly.”

“Everybody seems to hate them,” I said; “why don’t you get rid of them? I’ll start you off by getting rid of Motus tonight.”

“You may be a good swordsman,” said the warrior, “but you are bragging too much; I never knew a braggart yet who could ‘take the princess.'”

“I am not bragging,” I said; “I only state facts.” As a matter of fact, I often realize that in speaking of my swordsmanship, it may sound to others as though I were bragging but really I do not feel that I am bragging. I know that I am the greatest swordsman of two worlds. It would be foolish for me to simper, and suck my finger, and say that I was not. I am, and everyone who has seen me fight knows that I am. Is it braggadocio to state a simple fact? It has saved a number of lives, for it has kept no end of brash young men from challenging me.

Fighting has been, you might say, my life’s work. There is not a lethal weapon in the use of which I do not excel, but the sword is my favorite. I love a good blade and I love a good fight and I hoped that tonight I should have them both.

I hoped that Motus was all that they thought him. The thought might have obtruded on the consciousness of some men that perhaps he was, but no such idea ever entered my head. They say that overconfidence often leads to defeat, but I do not think that I am ever overconfident. I am merely wholly confident, and I maintain that there is all the difference in the world there.

At last we came to the throne room. It was not the same room in which I had first seen Ptantus; it was a much larger room, a more ornate room; and at one side of it was a raised dias on which were two thrones. They were empty now, for the jeddak and the jeddara had not yet appeared. The floor of the room was crowded with nobles and their women. Along three sides of the room were several tiers of benches, temporary affairs, which had evidently been brought in for the occasion. They were covered with gay cloths and cushions; but they were still empty, for, of course, no one could sit until the jeddak came and was seated.

As I was brought into the room, a number of people called attention to me and soon many eyes were upon me.

In my well-worn fighting harness, I looked rather drab in the midst of this brilliant company with their carved leather harness studded with jewels. The Invaks, like most of the red nations of Barsoom, are a handsome people and those in the throne room of this tiny nation, hidden away in the Forest of Lost Men, made a brave appearance beneath the strange and beautiful lights which gave them visibility.

I heard many comments concerning me. One woman said, “He does not look like a Barsoomian at all.”

“He is very handsome,” said a sweet voice, which I immediately recognized; and for the second time I looked Rojas in the face. As our eyes met I could see her tremble. She was a beautiful girl, by far the most beautiful of all the women in the room, I am sure.

“Let’s talk with him,” she said to a woman and two men standing with her.

“That would be interesting,” said the woman, and the four of them walked toward me.

Rojas looked me square in the eye. “What is your name?” she asked, without a flicker of recognition.

“Dotar Sojat,” I replied.

“The Sultan of Swat,” said one of the men, “whatever a sultan is and wherever Swat may be.” I could scarcely repress a smile.

“Where is Swat?” inquired the woman.

“In India,” I replied.

“I think the fellow is trying to make fools of us,” snapped one of the men. “He is just making up those names. There are no such places on Barsoom.”

“I didn’t say they were on Barsoom,” I retorted. “They are forty-three million miles from Barsoom.”

“If they’re not on Barsoom, where are they?” demanded the man.

“On Jasoom,” I replied.

“Come,” said the man, “I have had enough of this slave’s insolence.”