Llana of Gathol (Barsoom #10)

Page 32

CHAPTER XI

I turned and bowed to Ptantus, now having no sword with which to salute him. He should have acknowledged this customary courtesy but he did nothing of the sort, he merely glared at me and stood up. The jeddara arose too; and, with the trumpeters before them and the courtiers behind, the two stalked out of the throne room, making a wide detour to avoid the blood and the two corpses.

After they had left, the warrior who had brought me from the courtyard came and touched me on the arm. “Come,” he said. “All you get out of this is to be chained to your tree again.”

“I got a great deal more than that out of it,” I replied, as I accompanied him across the throne room; “I had the satisfaction of avenging a cowardly kick.”

As we crossed towards the doorway, someone started cheering and then practically the entire audience took it up. “That is an unusual demonstration,” said the warrior, “but you deserve it. No one on Barsoom ever saw such swordplay as you showed us tonight—and I thought you were boasting!” He laughed.

I knew that it would be necessary for us to cross a couple of courtyards before we reached the one in which I had been confined; and I realized that if I suddenly disappeared before the warrior’s eyes, he would know that I had obtained invisibility spheres; and while of course he couldn’t have found me, it would certainly have started an investigation and would have upset our plans for escape. If they knew that I was at large and invisible, one of the first things that they would most naturally have done would have been to place a guard over my flier.

If, however, they merely thought that I had escaped, and was not invisible, they would feel that they need only search for me to find me very quickly. Of course, they might still place a guard over the flier; but such a guard would not be so on the alert, and we still might board the ship and get away before they were aware of our presence.

As we approached the first courtyard, I suddenly broke away from my guard and ran ahead with all my earthly speed. The warrior shouted for me to halt, and broke into a run. As I reached the entrance to the courtyard I pretended to dodge around the corner, which would of course have hidden me from him.

I must confess that in that short sprint my heart had been in my mouth, for of course I could not know whether or not I should become invisible.

However, the moment that I left the lighted corridor I absolutely disappeared; I could not see any part of my body—it was the strangest sensation that I have ever experienced.

I had made my plans, and now I ran to the far end of the courtyard and leaped lightly to the roof of the city.

I could hear the warrior guard rushing about calling to me; my disappearance must certainly have mystified him, for having no idea that I could become invisible, there was really no way in which he could account for it except on the theory that I had run into the entrance to another street. However, he was probably confident that I did not have time to do this.

Well, I did not bother much about him or what he was thinking; instead I took off across the roof in search of the courtyard where Ptor Fak was awaiting me and where I expected to meet Rojas at midnight; and it was pretty close to what we call midnight then, the Barsoomian midnight occurring twenty-five xats after the eighth zode.

A Martian day is divided into ten zodes, there being four tals to a xat, or two hundred to a zode. The dials of their clocks are marked with four concentric circles; between the inner circle and the next outer one the Zodes are marked from one to ten; in the next circle, the xats are marked from one to fifty between each two zodes; and in the outer circle two hundred tals are marked between the radii which pass through the zode numbers and extend to the outer periphery of the dial. Their clock has three different colored and different length hands, one indicating the zode, the second one the xat, and the longest one the tal.

(Editor’s note: I have before me the diagram of the dial of a Martian clock drawn for me by John Carter many years ago.) I had no difficulty in finding the courtyard in which I had been confined; and when I reached it I whistled, and Ptor Fak answered. I dropped down into it and whistled again, and when Ptor Fak answered I groped around until I bumped into him.

“How well you look,” he said, and we both laughed. “It took you much longer to dispose of Motus than I had anticipated,” he continued.

“I had to drag it out so that I would be sure to be invisible when I had returned here,” I explained.

“And now what?” asked Ptor Fak.

I found his head and placed my lips close to one of his ears. “After Rojas comes,” I whispered, “we’ll cross the roof to the quarters of the slave women and get Llana of Gathol. In the meantime, you climb this tree which overhangs the roof and wait for us up there.”

“Whistle when you come up,” he said, and left me.

Invisibility I discovered was most disconcerting; I could see no part of my body; I was only a voice without visible substance—a voice standing in an apparently deserted courtyard which might be filled with enemies, as far as I knew. I couldn’t even have heard them had there been any there, for the Invaks have taken the precaution of covering all the metal parts of their accouterments so that there is not the usual clank of metal upon metal when they move about.

Knowing as I did that a search for me must have been instituted, I felt positive that there must be Invak warriors in the courtyard, notwithstanding the fact that I neither heard nor saw anyone.

As I waited for Rojas, I took the precaution of not moving about lest I inadvertently bump into someone who might require me to identify myself; but I could not prevent someone from bumping into me, and that is exactly what happened. Hands were laid upon me and a gruff voice demanded, “Who are you?”

Here was a pretty kettle of fish. What was I to do? I doubted that I could pass myself off as an Invak—I knew too little about them to do that successfully; so, I did the next best thing that occurred to me.

“I am the ghost of Motus,” I said, in a sepulchral voice. “I am searching for the man who killed me, but he is not here.”

The hands relinquished their hold upon me; I could almost feel the fellow shrink away from me, and then another voice said, “Ghost of Motus nothing—I recognize that voice—it is the voice of the slave who killed Motus. Seize him!”

I jumped to one side but I jumped into the arms of another voice, and it seized me. “I have him!” cried the voice. “How did you achieve the secrets of invisibility, slave?”

With my left hand I groped for the hilt of the fellow’s sword; and when I found it, I said, “You have made a mistake,” and drove his sword through the heart of the voice.

There was a single piercing scream, and I was free. Holding my sword point breast high, I turned and ran for the tree by which Ptor Fak had mounted to the roof. One of my shoulders brushed a body, but I reached the tree in safety.

As I climbed carefully to a lower branch so as not to reveal my presence by the shaking of the foliage, I heard a low whistle. It was Rojas.

“Who whistled?” demanded a voice somewhere in the courtyard. There was no reply.

Rojas could not have come at a worse time; I did not answer her; I did not know what to do, but Ptor Fak evidently thought that he did, for he answered the whistle. He must have thought that it was I who was signaling to him.

“They’re on the roof!” cried a voice. “Quick! up that tree!”

Now the only tree that overhung the roof was the one that I was in, and if I remained there I was sure to be discovered. There was only one thing for me to do and that was to go up on the roof myself, and I did so as quickly as I could.

I hadn’t taken half a dozen steps after I arrived, before I bumped into someone.

“Zodanga?” I whispered. I didn’t wish to speak Ptor Fak’s name, but I knew that he would understand if I spoke the name of the country from which he came.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Find the flier and stay near it until I come.” He pressed my arm to show that he understood, and was gone.

I could see the tree up which I had come shaking violently; so I knew that a number of warriors were climbing up in pursuit of me, though how in the world they expected to find me, I don’t know.

It was a most amazing situation; there must have been at least a dozen men on the roof and possibly still others down in the courtyard where I knew Rojas to be, yet both the roof and the courtyard were apparently deserted – neither the eye nor the ear could perceive any living thing; only when someone spoke was the illusion dispelled, and presently I heard a voice a short distance away. “He has probably gone this way—the city wall lies nearest in this direction. Spread out and comb the roof right to the city wall.”

“It’s a waste of time,” said another voice. “If someone has given him the secret of invisibility, we can never find him.”

“I do not think it was he, anyway,” said a third voice; “there is no way in which he could have become invisible—it was unquestionably the ghost of Motus that spoke.”

By this time the voices were dwindling in the distance, and I felt that it was safe to assume that all the warriors had gone in search of me; so I walked to the edge of the roof and jumped down into the courtyard. I stood there a moment concentrating all my mental powers in an endeavor to sense the presence of others near me, as Kandus had said that he was able to do, but I got no reaction. This might mean either that I failed to sense the presence of others or that there was no one there—at least near me; so I took the chance and whistled again. An answer came from the other side of the courtyard; I waited.

Presently I heard a low whistle much nearer, and I replied—a moment later Rojas’ hand touched mine.

I did not speak again for fear of attracting other pursuers, but I led her to the tree and helped her to clamber to the roof.

“Where is my flier?” I whispered.

She took me by the arm and led me in a direction at right angles to that which my pursuers had taken. The outlook appeared brighter immediately.

Rojas and I walked hand in hand so as not to lose one another. Presently I saw my flier standing there in the light of the farther moon, and it certainly looked good to me.

“The quarters of the slave women are near by, are they not?” I asked in a whisper.

“Right there,” she said, and I suppose she pointed; then she led me to the edge of the roof overlooking a courtyard.

 

CHAPTER XII

Rojas and I stood hand in hand at the edge of the roof looking down into a seemingly deserted courtyard. “You gave Llana of Gathol the invisibility sphere?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied Rojas, “and she must be invisible by this time.” She pressed my hand. “You fought magnificently,” she whispered. “Everyone knew that you could have killed Motus whenever you wished; but only I guessed why you did not kill him sooner. Ptantus is furious; he has ordered that you be destroyed immediately.”

“Rojas,” I said, “don’t you think that you should reconsider your decision to come with me? All of your friends and relatives are here in Invak, and you might be lonesome and unhappy among my people.”

“Wherever you are, I shall be happy,” she said. “If you do not take me with you I shall kill myself.”

So that was that. I had involved myself in a triangle which bid fair to prove exceedingly embarrassing and perhaps tragic. I felt sorry for Rojas, and I was annoyed and humiliated by the part that I was forced to play. However, there had been no other way; it had been a question of Rojas’ happiness or of Llana’s life, and the lives of Ptor Fak and myself. I knew that I had chosen wisely, but I was still most unhappy.

Motivated by the habits of a lifetime, I strained my eyes in search of Llana of Gathol, who perhaps was down there somewhere in the courtyard; and then, realizing the futility of looking for her, I whistled. There was an immediate response from below and I sprang down from the roof. It did not take us long to locate one another; and as we were not challenged, I assumed that we were fortunate enough to be alone.

Llana touched my hand. “I thought that you would never come,” she said. “Rojas told me about the duel that you were to fight; and while I had no doubts about your swordsmanship, I realized that there is always the danger of an accident or trickery. But at last you are here; how strange it is not to be able to see you. I was really quite frightened when I stepped out here into the courtyard and discovered that I could not even see myself.”

“It is the miracle of invisibility that will save us,” I said, “And only a miracle could have saved us. Now I must get you to the roof.”

There was no overhanging tree in this courtyard, and the roof was fifteen feet above the ground. “You are about to have an experience, Llana,” I said.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“I am going to toss you up onto the roof,” I told her, “and I hope you land on your feet.”

“I am ready,” she said.

I could see the roof all right, but I couldn’t see Llana; all I could do was pray that my aim would be true. “Keep your whole body perfectly rigid,” I said, “until I release you; then draw your feet up beneath you and relax. You may get a bad fall, but I don’t think that it can hurt you much; the roof is heavily padded with vines.”

“Let’s get it over,” said Llana.

I grasped one of her legs at the knee with my right hand and cradled her body on my left forearm; then I swung her back and forth a couple of times, and tossed her high into the air.

Llana of Gathol may have been invisible, but she was also definitely corporeal.