Llana of Gathol (Barsoom #10)

Page 31

“I find him very interesting,” said the woman.

“So do I,” said Rojas.

“Well, enjoy it while you may,” said the man, “for in a few minutes he will be dead.”

“Have you laid a wager on that?” I asked.

“I couldn’t find anyone to bet against Motus,” he growled. “Kandus was the only fool to do that and the jeddak covered his entire wager.”

“That is too bad,” I said; “someone is losing an opportunity to make some money.”

“Do you think you will win?” asked Rojas, trying to conceal the eagerness in her voice.

“Of course I shall win,” I replied. “I always do. You look like a very intelligent girl,” I said, “if I may speak to you alone I will tell you a little secret.”

She saw that I had something that I wished to say to her in private, but I will admit that I had put her in rather an embarrassing position. However, the other woman helped me out.”

“Go ahead, Rojas,” she urged. “I think it would be fun to hear what he has to say.”

Thus encouraged Rojas took me to one side. “What is it?” she asked.

“Llana of Gathol,” I said. “How are we to get her?”

She caught her breath. “I never thought of that,” she said.

“Could you get one of those invisibility spheres to her right away?” I asked.

“For you, yes,” she said. “For you I would do anything.”

“Good; and tell her to come out into the courtyard by the quarters of the slave women. A little after midnight she will hear me whistle. She will recognize the air. She must answer and then wait for me. Will you do that for me, Rojas?”

“Yes, but what excuse am I to make for leaving my friends?”

“Tell them you are going to get some money to wager on me,” I said.

Rojas smiled. “That is a splendid idea,” she said. And a moment later she had made her explanations to her friends and I saw her leave the throne room.

 

CHAPTER X

The crowd was growing restless waiting for the jeddak, but I was more than pleased by this delay as it would shorten the time that I should have to wait before I could achieve invisibility.

It seemed now that everything had been nicely arranged; and when I saw Rojas return to the throne room and she gave me a quick fleeting smile, I was convinced that almost the last of my worries were over. There was really only one doubt remaining in my mind, and that was as to what might happen to me after I had killed Motus. I had no doubt but that Ptantus would be furious; and being a tyrant with the reactions of a tyrant, he might order my immediate death.

Anticipating this, however, I had decided to make a run for the nearest courtyard; and if sufficient time had elapsed since I had taken the invisibility sphere, I would only have to step out into the open to elude them. And, once in one of the courtyards, and invisible, I knew that I could escape.

Suddenly trumpets blared and the people fell back to each side of the throne room. Then, preceded by the trumpeters, Ptantus and his jeddara entered the throne room accompanied by a band of gorgeously trapped courtiers.

I glanced at the great clock on the wall. It was exactly the 8th zode which is the equivalent of 10:48 P.M. Earth time. By midnight Llana of Gathol would have achieved invisibility—if Rojas had given her the sphere. That was the question. Yet I felt that Rojas had not failed me. I firmly believed that she had done her part.

The royal pair made their way slowly across the room to the dais and seated themselves upon their thrones, whereat the nobles and their women found their places on the benches.

From somewhere Motus had appeared; and he, and a noble who accompanied him, and I, and my warrior guard, were alone upon the floor. A fifth man then appeared who I later discovered was what you might call a referee, or umpire. He summoned me forward, and the five of us advanced and stopped before the throne.

“I bring you the noble Motus,” he said addressing Ptantus, “and Dotar Sojat, the Sultan of Swat, who are to duel to the death with long-swords.”

The jeddak nodded. “Let them fight,” he said, “and see that you fight fair,” he added, glaring directly at me.

“And, I suppose that Motus does not have to fight fair,” I said; “but that is immaterial to me. I shall kill him however he fights.”

The referee was almost beside himself with embarrassment. “Silence, slave!” he whispered. He carried an extra sword which he handed to me and then motioned us to cross swords.

Instead of adhering to this honorable custom, Motus lunged for my heart.

“That was unwise, Motus,” I said, as I parried the thrust; “I am going to make you suffer a little more for that.”

“Silence, slave,” demanded the referee.

“Silence yourself, calot,” I replied, “and get out of my way. I am not supposed to be fighting two men,” I pricked Motus on the right breast and brought blood, “but I shall be glad too if you will draw.”

Motus came at me again, but he was wary and he was a good swordsman.

“Your face is all black and swollen, Motus,” I said; “it looks as if someone had hit you, for that is what a son-of-a-calot is apt to get when he kicks a blind man.”

“Silence,” screamed the referee.

I fought on the defensive at first with one eye on the great clock. It had been over half an hour since I had taken the invisibility sphere, and I planned on letting Motus live another half hour so as to be quite sure that I had gained potential invisibility before I finished him off.

By fighting on the defensive, I compelled Motus to do all the work; and by repeatedly side-stepping his most vicious lunges, letting them slip off my blade so that he had to leap quickly back, I subjected him to considerable nervous as well as physical strain, so that presently the sweat was streaming down his body. And, now I commenced to touch him here and there; and blood mixed with the sweat until he was a sorry looking spectacle, although nowhere had he received a severe wound.

The crowd was all on Motus’s side; that is, all who were vocal. I knew of two at least who hoped that I would win, and I guess that there were many others who disliked Motus but who dared not cheer on an alien and a slave.

“You are tiring, Motus,” I said to him; “hadn’t you better finish me off now before you become wholly exhausted?”

“I’ll finish you off all right, slave,” he came back, “if you’ll stand still and fight.”

“It is not time to kill you yet, Motus,” I said, glancing up at the clock, “when the hand points to eleven xats past the 8th zode, I shall kill you.”

“Silence,” screeched the referee.

“What is the slave saying?” demanded Ptantus in stentorian tones.

“I said,” I shouted back at him, “that I should kill Motus at exactly 8 zodes, 11 xats. Watch the clock, Ptantus, for at that instant you are going to lose your wager, and Motus his life.”

“Silence,” commanded the jeddak.

“Now, Motus,” I whispered, “I am going to show you how easily I can kill you when the time comes,” and with that I disarmed him and, sent his sword clattering across the floor.

A mighty gasp arose from the audience, for now under the rules of a duel of this nature, I was at liberty to run Motus through the heart; but instead I rested my point upon the floor and turned to the referee.

“Go and fetch Motus’s sword,” I said, “and return it to him.”

Motus was trembling a little. I could see his knees shake though almost imperceptibly. I knew then what I had suspected before—Motus was yellow.

While the referee was retrieving Motus’ sword, a little ripple of applause ran through the stands. But Ptantus only sat and scowled more fiercely; I fear that Ptantus did not like me.

When Motus’ sword was returned to him, he came for me furiously; and I knew perfectly well what was in his mind; he was going to finish me off immediately.

I disarmed him again; and again I lowered my point, while the referee without waiting to be told ran after the blade.

Now Motus was more wary. I could see that he was trying to work me around to some position in which he wished to have me. I noticed presently that the referee was not within my range of vision, and a quick glance told me he was standing directly behind me; it was not intuition that told me why, for I had seen that trick played before by crooked swordsmen with an accomplice. I heard a few groans from the stands; and then I knew that I was right, for no honorable person could witness such a thing without voicing his disapproval.

When Motus next lunged, hoping to force me back, the referee would “accidentally” be close behind me; I would bump into him, and Motus would have me at his mercy. It is a despicable trick; and Ptantus must have seen it coming, but he made no move to prevent it.

I watched Motus’ eyes and they telegraphed his intention to me an instant before he lunged, throwing all his weight behind it. I had slightly crouched in anticipation of this and my earthly muscles carried me to one side, and Motus’s sword drove to the hilt through the body of the referee.

For a moment pandemonium reigned in the throne room. The entire audience stood up in the stands and there were cheers and groans, and something told me that the cheers were for me and the groans for Motus and the referee.

Motus was a terribly unstrung and rattled man as he jerked his blade from the body of the dead man, but now I gave him no respite. I went after him in earnest, though not yet for the kill. I cut a deep gash across his swollen jaw.

“You will not make a good looking corpse now, Motus,” I said, “and before I am through with you, you are going to look a great deal worse.”

“Calot!” he snapped, and then he rushed me, cutting and thrusting violently. I parried every cut and thrust and wove a net of steel around him, and every time he missed I brought blood from some new spot on his body.

“You have three xats to live, Motus,” I said; “you had better make the best of them.”

He rushed at me like a madman; but I sidestepped him and as he turned I took off one of his ears as neatly as a surgeon could have done it—I thought he was going to faint, for his knees seemed to give beneath him and he staggered about for a moment.

I waited for him to recover control of himself, and then I went to work on him again. I tried to carve my initials on his breast, but by this time there was not a whole place large enough; from the waist up he looked like a plate of raw hamburger.

The floor was covered with his blood by now; and as he rushed me again furiously, he slipped and fell. He lay there for a moment glaring at me, for I am sure he expected that I would finish him off then; but instead I said, “You have a xat and a half to live yet, Motus.”

He staggered to his feet and tried to throw himself upon me, screaming imprecations as he came. I think that by this time Motus had gone quite mad from pain and terror. I felt no sympathy for him—he was a rat; and now he was fighting like a cornered rat.

“The floor is too slippery here,” I said to him; “lets go over by the jeddak’s throne—I am sure that he would like to see the finish.”

I maneuvered him around into position and backed him across the floor until we stood directly in front of Ptantus.

It is seldom that I have ever punished a man as I punished Motus; but I felt that he deserved it, and I was the plaintiff, prosecuting attorney, jury, and judge; I was also the executioner.

Motus was gibbering now and making futile passes at me with his blade. Ptantus was glaring at me, and the audience was tense with breathless expectancy. I saw many an eye glance quickly at the clock.

“One more tal, Motus,” I said. A tal is about eight tenths of an earthly second.

At that Motus turned suddenly and ran screaming toward the great doorway that led from the throne room; and again the audience rose to its feet, and there were groans and cries of “Coward!”

The fight was to have been to the death and Ptantus had wagered that I would not kill Motus. If I did not kill him, I feared that Ptantus would then claim the money; so I risked everything on an art I had often practiced for my own amusement. I carried my sword hand far behind my right shoulder and then brought it forward with all my strength, releasing the blade point first. It flew like a sped arrow and drove through Motus’ body below the left shoulder blade at exactly 11 xats past the 8th zode.