Llana of Gathol (Barsoom #10)

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“Do you suppose we could be mistaken?” I asked. “Could it be that he is not dead?”

Pan Dan Chee shrugged. “The knowledge and the arts of the ancients are beyond the ken of modern man,” he said.

“That doesn’t help a bit,” I said. “Do you think this chap can be alive?”

“His face was covered with dust,” said Pan Dan Chee, “and no one has been in these pits for thousands and thousands of years. If he isn’t dead, he should be.”

I quite agreed, and buckled the gorgeous harness about me without more ado. I drew the swords and the dagger and examined them. They were as bright and fine as the day they had received their first polish, and their edges were keen. Once again, I felt like a whole man, so much is a sword a part of me.

As we stepped out into the corridor I saw a light far away. It was gone almost in the instant. “Did you see that?” I asked Pan Dan Chee.

“I saw it,” he said, and his voice was troubled. “There should be no light here, for there are no people.”

We stood straining our eyes along the corridor for a repetition of the light.

There was none but from afar there echoed down that black corridor a hollow laugh.

 

CHAPTER VI

Pan Dan Chee looked at me. “What,” he asked, “could that have been?”

“It sounded very much like a laugh to me,” replied.

Pan Dan Chee nodded. “Yes,” he agreed, but how can there be a laugh where there is no one to laugh?” Pan Dan Chee was perplexed.

“Perhaps the ulsios of Horz have learned to laugh,” I suggested with a smile.

Pan Dan Chee ignored my flippancy. “We saw a light and we heard a laugh,” he said thoughtfully. “What does that convey to you?”

“The same thing that it conveys to you,” I said: “that there is some one down here in the Pits of Horz beside us.”

“I do not see how that can be possible,” he said.

“Let’s investigate,” I suggested.

With drawn swords we advanced; for we did not know the nature nor the temper of the owner of that laugh, and there was always the chance that an ulsio might leap from one of the dungeons and attack us.

The corridor ran straight for some distance, and then commenced to curve. There were many branches and intersections, but we kept to what we believed to be the main corridor. We saw no more lights, heard no more laughter. There was not a sound in all that vast labyrinth of passageways other than the subdued clanking of our metal, the occasional shuffling of our sandaled feet, and the soft whisperings of our leather harnesses.

“It is useless to search farther,” said Pan Dan Chee at last. “We might as well start back.”

Now I had no intention of going back to my death. I reasoned that the light and the laugh indicated the presence of man in these pits. If the inhabitants of Horz knew nothing of them; then they must enter the pits from outside the citadel, indicating an avenue of escape open to me. Therefore, I did not wish to retrace our steps; so I suggested that we rest for a while and discuss our future plans.

“We can rest,” said Pan Dan Chee, “but there is nothing to discuss. Our plans have all been made for us by Ho Ran Kim.”

We entered a cell which contained no grim reminders of past tragedy; and, after wedging one of our torches in a niche in the wall, we sat down on the hard stone floor.

“Perhaps your plans have been made for you by Ho Ran Kim,” I said, “but I make my own plans.”

“And they are-?” he asked.

“I am not going back to be murdered. I am going to find a way out of these pits.”

Pan Dan Chee shook his head sorrowfully. “I am sorry,” he said, “but you are going back to meet your fate with me.”

“What makes you think that?” I asked.

“Because I shall have to take you back. You well know that I cannot let a stranger escape from Horz.”

“That means that we shall have to fight to the death, Pan Dan Chee,” I said; “and I do not wish to kill one at whose side I have fought and whom I have learned to admire.”

“I feel the same way, John Carter,” said Pan Dan Chee. “I do not wish to kill you; but you must see my position—if you do not come with me willingly, I shall have to kill you.”

I tried to argue him out of his foolish stand, but he was adamant. I was positive that Pan Dan Chee liked me; and I shrank from the idea of killing him, as I knew that I should. He was an excellent swordsman, but what chance would he have against the master swordsman of two worlds? I am sorry if that should sound like boasting; for I abhor boasting—I only spoke what is a fact. I am, unquestionably, the best swordsman that has ever lived.

“Well,” I said, “we don’t have to kill each other at once. Let’s enjoy each other’s company for a while longer.”

Pan Dan Chee smiled. “That will suit me perfectly,” he said.

“How about a game of Jetan?” I asked. “It will help to pass the time pleasantly.”

“How can we play Jetan without a board or the pieces?” he asked.

I opened the leather pocket pouch such as all Martians carry, and took out a tiny, folding Jetan board with all the pieces—a present from Dejah Thoris, my incomparable mate. Pan Dan Chee was intrigued by it, and it is a marvelously beautiful piece of work. The greatest artist of Helium had designed the pieces, which had been carved under his guidance by two of our greatest sculptors.

Each of the pieces, such as Warriors, Padwars, Dwars, Panthans, and Chiefs, were carved in the likeness of well-known Martian fighting men; and one of the Princesses was a beautifully executed miniature carving of Tara of Helium, and the other Princess, Llana of Gathol.

I am inordinately proud of this Jetan set; and because the figures are so tiny, I always carry a small but powerful reading glass, not alone that I may enjoy them but that others may. I offered it now to Pan Dan Chee, who examined the figures minutely.

“Extraordinary,” he said. “I have never seen anything more beautiful.” He had examined one figure much longer than he had the others, and he held it in his hand now as though loath to relinquish it. “What an exquisite imagination the artist must have had who created this figure, for he could have had no model for such gorgeous beauty; since nothing like it exists on Barsoom.”

“Every one of those figures was carved from life,” I told him.

“Perhaps the others,” he said, “but not this one. No such beautiful woman ever lived.”

“Which one is it?” I asked, and he handed it to me. “This,” I said, “is Llana of Gathol, the daughter of Tara of Helium, who is my daughter. She really lives, and this is a most excellent likeness of her. Of course it cannot do her justice since it cannot reflect her animation nor the charm of her personality.”

He took the little figurine back and held it for a long time under the glass; then he replaced it in the box. “Shall we play?” I asked.

He shook his head. “It would be sacrilege,” he said, “to play at a game with the figure of a goddess.”

I packed the pieces back in the tiny box, which was also the playing board, and returned it to my pouch. Pan Dan Chee sat silent. The light of the single torch cast our shadows deep and dark upon the floor.

These torches of Horz were a revelation to me. They are most ingenious.

Cylindrical, they have a central core which glows brightly with a cold light when exposed to the air. By turning back a hinged cap and pushing the central core up with a thumb button, it becomes exposed to the air and glows brightly.

The farther up it is pushed and the more of it that is exposed, the more intense the light. Pan Dan Chee told me that they were invented ages ago, and that the lighting results in so little loss of matter that they are practically eternal.

The art of producing the central core was lost in far antiquity, and no scientist since has been able to analyze its composition.

It was a long time before Pan Dan Chee spoke again; then he arose. He looked tired and sad. “Come,” he said, “let’s have it over with,” and he drew his sword.

“Why should we fight?” I asked. “We are friends. If I go away, I pledge my honor that I will not lead others to Horz. Let me go, then, in peace. I do not wish to kill you. Or, better still, you come away with me. There is much to see in the world outside of Horz and much to adventure.”

“Don’t tempt me,” he begged, “for I want to come. For the first time in my life I want to leave Horz, but I may not. Come! John Carter. On guard! One of us must die, unless you return willingly with me.”

“In which case both of us will die,” I reminded him. “It is very silly, Pan Dan Chee.”

“On guard!” was his only reply.

There was nothing for me to do but draw and defend myself. Never have I drawn with less relish.

 

CHAPTER VII

Pan Dan Chee would not take the offensive, and he offered very little in the way of defense. I could have run him through at any time that I chose from the very instant that I drew my sword. Almost immediately I realized that he was offering me my freedom at the expense of his own life, but I would not take his life.

Finally I backed away and dropped my point. “I am no butcher, Pan Dan Chee,” I said. “Come! put up a fight.”

He shook his head. “I cannot kill you,” he said, quite simply.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I am a fool,” he said. “The same blood flows in your veins and hers. I could not spill that blood. I could not bring unhappiness to her.”

“What do you mean?” I demanded. “What are you talking about?”

“I am talking about Llana of Gathol,” he said, “the most beautiful woman in the world, the woman I shall never see but for whom I gladly offer my life.”

Now, Martian fighting men are proverbially chivalrous to a fault, but this was carrying it much further than I had ever seen it carried before.

“Very well,” I said; “and as I don’t intend killing you there is no use going on with this silly duel.”

I returned my sword to its scabbard, and Pan Dan Chee did likewise.

“What shall we do?” he asked. “I cannot let you escape; but I on the other hand, I cannot prevent it. I am a traitor to my country. I shall, therefore, have to destroy myself.”

I had a plan. I would accompany Pan Dan Chee back almost to the entrance to the pits, and there I would overpower, bind, and gag him; then I would make my escape, or at least I would try to find another exit from the pits. Pan Dan Chee would be discovered, and could face his doom without the stigma of treason being attached to his name.

“You need not kill yourself,” I told him. “I will accompany you to the entrance to the pits; but I warn you that should I discover an opportunity to escape, I shall do so.”

“That is fair enough,” he said. “It is very generous of you. You have made it possible for me to die honorably and content.”

“Do you wish to die?” I asked.

“Certainly not,” he assured me. “I wish to live. If I live, I may some day find my way to Gathol.”

“Why not come with me, then?” I demanded. “Together we may be able to find our way out of the pits. My flier lies but a short distance from the citadel, and it is only about four thousand haads from Horz to Gathol.”

He shook his head. “The temptation is great,” he said, “but until I have exhausted every resource and failed to return to Ho Ran Kim before noon tomorrow I may do nothing else but try.”

“Why by noon tomorrow?” I asked.

“It is a very ancient Orovaran law,” he replied, “which limits the duration of a death sentence to noon of the day one is condemned to die. Ho Ran Kim decreed that we should die tomorrow. If we do not, we are not in honor bound to return to him.”

We set off a little dejectedly for the doorway through which we were expected to pass to our doom. Of course, I had no intention of doing so; but I was dejected because of Pan Dan Chee. I had come to like him immensely. He was a man of high honor and a courageous fighter.

We walked on and on, until I became convinced that if we had followed the right corridor we should long since have arrived at the entrance. I suggested as much to Pan Dan Chee, and he agreed with me; then we retraced our steps and tried another corridor. We kept this up until we were all but exhausted, but we failed to find the right corridor.

“I am afraid we are lost,” said Pan Dan Chee.