Llana of Gathol (Barsoom #10)

Page 33

I heard her land on the roof with anything but an invisible thud, and I breathed a sigh of relief. To spring lightly after her was nothing for my earthly muscles, and soon a low whistle brought the three of us together. I cautioned the girls to silence, and we walked hand in hand in the direction of the flier.

This was the moment that aroused my greatest apprehension, as I realized that the flier might be surrounded by invisible warriors; and, as far as I knew, the only sword among us was the one I had taken from the warrior I had killed in the courtyard; but perhaps Rojas had one.

“Have you a sword, Rojas?” I whispered.

“Yes,” she said; “I brought one.”

“Can you use it?” I asked.

“I never have used one,” she replied.

“Then give it to Llana of Gathol; she can use if it necessary, and very effectively too.”

We approached to within about a hundred feet of the flier and stopped. This was the crucial moment; I was almost afraid to whistle, but I did. There was an immediate answer from the vicinity of the flier. I listened a moment for voices that might betray the presence of the enemy, but there were none.

We advanced quickly then, and I helped the girls over the rail. “Where are you, Ptor Fak?” I asked. “Are you alone?”

“On deck,” he said, “and I don’t think there is anyone around.”

“All the warriors of Invak could be here now,” I said, as I reached the controls and started the motor.

A moment later the little ship rose gracefully into the air, and almost immediately from below us, we heard shouts and imprecations. The Invaks had seen the ship, but too late to prevent our escape. We were safe. We had accomplished what a few hours before would have seemed impossible, for then Ptor Fak and I were chained to trees and Llana of Gathol was a captive in another part of the city.

“We owe Rojas a great debt of gratitude,” I said.

“A debt,” she replied, “which it will be very easy, and I hope pleasant, for you to repay.”

I winced at that; I saw a bad time ahead for me. I would rather face a dozen men with my sword than one infuriated or heartbroken woman. Before we reached Helium, I would have to tell her; but I decided to wait until we had regained visibility.

Perhaps it would have been easier to tell her while we were both invisible, but it seemed a cowardly way to me.

“You are going on to Helium, John Carter?” asked Llana.

“Yes,” I said.

“What will they think of a flier coming in by itself with no one on board?” she asked.

“We will have to wait until we become visible before we approach the city,” I replied. “We must not take any more of the invisibility spheres.”

“Who is John Carter?” asked Rojas. “Is there another here of whom I did not know?”

“I am John Carter,” I replied. “Dotar Sojat is merely a name that I assumed temporarily.”

“Then you are not the Sultan of Swat?” demanded Rojas.

“No,” I replied, “I am not.”

“You have deceived me.”

“I am sorry, Rojas,” I said; “I was not trying to deceive you—about my name; as a matter of fact I never told you I was the Sultan of Swat; I told some warrior who questioned me.” If she were angry about my deceiving her concerning my name and status, how was she going to take the fact that I did not love her, and that I already had a mate! I was as unhappy as a live eel in a frying pan; then of a sudden I decided to take the bull by the horns and get the whole thing over with. “Rojas,” I began, “though I did not deceive you about my name, I did deceive you in a much more important matter.”

“What is that?” she asked.

“I used your—ah—friendship to gain freedom for Llana of Gathol. I pretended to love you when I did not; I already have a mate.”

I waited for the explosion, but no explosion came; instead there was a faint, tinkling, little laugh. I continued to wait; no one spoke; the silence became oppressive. Momentarily I expected a dagger to be slipped into me; or that Rojas would leap overboard; but neither of these things occurred, and I sat there at the controls wondering about that laugh. Perhaps the shock of my avowal had unbalanced Rojas’ mind. I wished that I could see her, and at the same time I was glad that I could not—and I was certainly glad that no one could see me, for I felt like a fool.

I couldn’t think of anything to say, and I thought the silence was going to last forever, but finally Llana of Gathol broke it. “How long will we remain invisible?” she asked.

“A little more than ten zodes from the time you took the sphere,” said Rojas. “I shall become visible first, and then probably either John Carter or Ptor Fak, as I imagine that they took the spheres about the same time; you will be the last to regain visibility.” Her voice was perfectly normal; there was no trace of nervousness nor bitterness in it. I couldn’t make the girl out.

Perhaps she was the type that would bide its time until it could wreak some terrible revenge. I’ll tell you that I had plenty to think about on that trip to Helium.

 

CHAPTER XIII

Shortly after dawn, I saw a most amazing phenomenon—I saw just a suggestion of the outline of a shadowy form beside me; it took shape slowly: Rojas was materializing! The effects of the invisibility compound were disappearing, and as they disappeared Rojas appeared. There she sat gazing out across the Martian landscape, the shadow of a happy smile upon her lips; somehow she reminded me of a cat which had just swallowed a canary.

“Kaor!” I said, which is the Barsoomian equivalent of Good Morning, Hello, or How do you do?—in other words, it is a Barsoomian greeting.

Rojas looked in my direction but of course she could not see me.

“Kaor,” she replied, smiling. “You must be very tired, John Carter; you have had no sleep all night.”

“When Llana of Gathol awakens, I shall sleep,” I replied; “she can handle the controls quite as well as I.”

“I have never been beyond the forests of Invak before,” said Rojas. “What a drab, lonely world this is.”

“You will find the twin cities of Helium very beautiful,” I said. “I hope that you will like it there, Rojas.”

“I am sure that I shall,” she said; “I am looking forward to being in Helium with you, John Carter.”

I wondered what she meant by that. The girl was an enigma; and I gave up trying to find a solution for her, and when Llana of Gathol spoke a moment later, and I knew that she was awake, I asked her to take the controls.

“We will cruise around outside of Helium,” I said, “until we have all regained visibility,” and then I lay down and fell asleep.

It was late that night before we had all regained visibility, and the next morning I approached Helium. A patrol boat came up to meet us, and recognizing my flier, it came alongside. The officer in command, and, in fact, the whole crew were overjoyed to see both Llana of Gathol and myself, alive and safe. The patrol boat escorted us to the hangar on the roof of my palace, where we received a tremendous welcome, as we had both been given up for dead long since.

Ptor Fak, Llana, and Rojas were behind me when I took Dejah Thoris in my arms; then I turned and presented Rojas and Ptor Fak to her.

“Had it not been for Rojas,” I told Dejah Thoris, “none of us would have been here,” and then I told her very briefly of our capture and incarceration in Invak.

I watched Rojas very closely as Dejah Thoris took both her hands in hers and kissed her on the forehead; and then, to my surprise, Rojas threw her arms about her and kissed her squarely on the mouth; the girl was absolutely bewildering.

After we had all breakfasted together Dejah Thoris asked me what my plans were now. “I shall see Tardos Mors immediately,” I replied, “and after I have arranged for the dispatch of a fleet for Gathol, I shall fly there myself, alone, to reconnoiter.”

“Why alone?” demanded Dejah Thoris; “But why should I ask? It has always been your way to do things alone.”

I saw Tardos Mors and made the necessary arrangements for the dispatch of a fleet to Gathol; and then I returned to my palace to bid Dejah Thoris good-bye; and as I passed through the garden, I saw Rojas sitting there alone.

“Come here a moment, John Carter,” she said; “I have something to say to you.”

Here it comes, I thought; well, it would have to be gotten over sooner or later, and it would be a relief to get it over at once.

“You deceived me, John Carter,” she said.

“I know I did,” I replied.

“I am so glad that you did,” she said, “for I deceived you. I admired you, John Carter, tremendously; but I never loved you. I knew that you had come to Invak in a flier; and I knew that if you could be helped to escape in it, you might be persuaded to take me with you. I hate Invak; I was most unhappy there; I would have sold my very soul to have escaped, and so I tried to make you love me so that you would take me away. I thought I had succeeded, and I was very much ashamed of myself. You can never know how relieved I was when I found that I had failed, for I admired you too much to wish to bring unhappiness to you.”

“But why did you pretend to be so jealous of Llana of Gathol?” I asked.

“To make my love seem more realistic,” she said.

“You have lifted a great weight from my conscience, Rojas. I hope that you will like it here and that you will be very happy.”

“I shall love it,” she said, “for I already love Dejah Thoris, and she has asked me to stay here with her.”

“Now I know that you will be happy here,” I told her.

“I am sure of it, John Carter—I have seen some very handsome men already, and they can’t all have mates.”

The flight to Gathol was uneventful. I had taken an invisibility sphere some time before leaving Helium, and before I reached Gathol I had completely disappeared.

As I approached the city, I could see Hin Abtol’s army drawn up around it; there were many more than there had been when I escaped in the Dusar; and on the line from which I had stolen the ship were at least a hundred more fliers, many of them large fighting ships, with some transports.

Presently several patrol boats rose to meet me. I was flying no colors, and when they hailed me I made no response. A couple of them ranged alongside me, and I could hear the exclamations of astonishment when they discovered that there was no one aboard the ship and no pilot at the controls.

I think they were rather frightened, for no one attempted to board me; and they let me fly on without interfering.

I dropped down to the Panar line, and set my flier down beside the last ship in it. One of the patrol ships landed also, and was soon surrounded by a crowd of officers and warriors, who approached my ship with every sign of curiosity written on their faces.

“This ship is piloted by Death,” I said in a loud voice; “it is death to approach too close or to try to board it.”

The men stopped then, and most of them fell back. I dropped to the ground and wandered about at will, my purpose being to gather what information I could from conversations among the officers. These men, however, were so interested in my ship that I gained no information from them; and so I wandered away and walked down the line to the flagship, which I boarded, passing the sentry at the foot of the ladder and the watch on deck. It seemed strange to walk there among the enemy, unseen; all that I had to do was to avoid contact with any of them, and I was safe from detection.

I went to the cabin of the commander of the fleet. He was sitting there with several high ranking officers, to whom he was giving instructions.

“As soon as Hin Abtol arrives from Pankor,” he was saying, “we are to take up several thousand men equipped with equilibrimotors and drop them directly into the city; and then, with Gathol as a base, we shall move on Helium with fully a million men.”

“When will Hin Abtol arrive?” asked one of the officers.

“Tonight or tomorrow morning,” replied the commander. “He is coming with a large fleet.”

Well, at last I had learned something; and my plans were formulated instantly. I left the flagship and returned to my flier, which was being examined by a considerable number of officers and men, but from a safe distance.

I had difficulty in finding an opening through which I could pass without touching any of them; but at last I succeeded, and I was soon at the controls of my flier.

As it rose from the ground apparently without human guidance, exclamations of awe and astonishment followed it. “It is Death,” I heard a man cry; “Death is at the controls.”

I circled low above them. “Yes, it is Death at the controls,” I called down to them; “Death, who has come to take all who attack Gathol;” then I zoomed swiftly aloft and turned the nose of my ship toward Pankor.

I only went far enough from Gathol to be out of sight of Hin Abtol’s forces; and then I flew in wide circles at considerable altitudes, waiting for Hin Abtol’s fleet.

At long last I saw it in the distance. With it was the man who, with the enormous number of his conscripts, would surely take Gathol and sack it, were he not stopped.

I spotted Hin Abtol’s flagship immediately and dropped down alongside it. My little flier evoked no alarm, as it would have been helpless in the midst of this great fleet; but when those aboard the flagship saw that the flier was maneuvering without human control, their curiosity knew no bounds, and they crowded to the rail to have a better look.

I circled the ship, drawing nearer and nearer. I could see Hin Abtol on the bridge with a number of officers, and I saw that they were as much intrigued as were the warriors on deck.

Hin Abtol was leaning far out over the rail to have a better look at me; I moved in closer; the side of the flier touched the bridge lightly.

Hin Abtol was peering down at the deck and into the little control room. “‘There is no one aboard this ship,” he said; “some one had discovered the means of flying it by remote control.”

I had set the wheel to hold the flier tightly against the bridge; then I sprang across the deck, seized Hin Abtol by his harness, and dragged him over the rail onto the deck of the flier. An instant later still holding Hin Abtol, I was at the controls; the flier nosed down and dove beneath the flagship at full speed.

I heard shouts of astonishment mingled with cries of rage and fear.

A number of small craft took after me; but I knew that they could not overtake me, and that they would not dare fire on me for fear of killing Hin Abtol.

Hin Abtol lay trembling at my side, almost paralyzed with terror. “What are you?” he finally managed to stammer. “What are you going to do with me?”

I did not reply; I thought that that would terrify him the more; and I know that it did, for after a while he implored me to speak.

We flew back, high over Gathol, which was now safe from attack. Early the next morning I saw a great fleet coming out of the southeast—it was the fleet from Helium that Tardos Mors was bringing to relieve Gathol.

As I was approaching it, the effects of the invisibility sphere diminished rapidly; and I materialized before the astounded gaze of Hin Abtol.

“Who are you? What are you?” he demanded.

“I am the man whose flier you stole at Horz,” I replied. “I am the man who took it from beneath your nose in Pankor, and with it Llana of Gathol— I am John Carter, Prince of Helium; have you ever heard of me?”

Nearing the fleet, I broke out my colors—the colors of the Prince of Helium; and a great cheer rose from the deck of every ship that could distinguish them.

The rest is history now—how Helium’s great fleet destroyed Hin Abtol’s fleet, and the army of Helium routed the forces which had for so long invested Gathol.

When the brief war was over, we set free nearly a million of the frozen men of Panar; and I returned to Helium and Dejah Thoris, from whom I hope never to be separated again.

I had brought with me Jad-han and Pan Dan Chee, whom we had found among the prisoners of the Panars; and though I was not present at the meeting between Pan Dan Chee and Llana of Gathol, Dejah Thoris has assured me that the dangers and vicissitudes he had suffered for love of the fair Gatholian had not been in vain.