We looked quickly around us. Lids were being raised on innumerable chests, and cries were coming from others the lids of which were held down by the chests on top of them. Armed men were emerging—warriors in gorgeous harness. Women, rubbing their eyes and looking about them in bewilderment.
From the corridor others began to converge upon the chamber, guided by our light.
“What is the meaning of this?” demanded a large man, magnificently trapped. “Who brought me here? Who are you?” He looked around him, evidently bewildered, as though searching for some familiar face.
“Perhaps I can enlighten you?” I said. “We are in the pits of Horz. I have been here only a few hours, but if this dead thing on the floor spoke the truth some of you must have been here for ages. You have been held by the hypnotic power of this mad creature. His death has freed you.”
The man looked down at the staring head upon the floor. “Lum Tar O!” he exclaimed. “He sent for me—asked me to come and see him on an important matter. And you have killed him. You must account to me—tomorrow. Now I must return to my guests.”
There was a layer of dust on the man’s face and body. By that I knew that he must have been here a long time, and presently my surmise was substantiated in a most dramatic manner.
The awakened men and women were forcing their way from the chests in which they had been kept. Some of those in the lower tiers were having difficulty in dislodging the chests piled on top of them. There was a great clattering and tumult as empty chests toppled to the floor. There was a babel of conversation.
There were bewilderment and confusion.
A dusty nobleman crawled from one of the chests. Instantly he and the large man who had just spoken recognized one another. “What is the matter with you?” demanded the latter. “You are all covered with dust. Why did you come down? Come! I must get back to my guests.”
The other shook his head in evident bewilderment. “Your guests, Kam Han Tor!” he exclaimed. “Did you expect your guests to wait twenty years for you to return.”
“Twenty years! What do you mean?”
“I was your guest twenty years ago. You left in the middle of the banquet and never returned.”
“Twenty years? You are mad!” exclaimed Kam Han Tor. He looked at me and then at the grinning head upon the floor, and he commenced to weaken. I could see it.
The other man was feeling of his own face and looking at the dust he wiped from it. “You, too, are covered with dust,” he said to Kam Han Tor.
Kam Han Tor looked down at his body and harness; then he wiped his face and looked at his fingers. “Twenty years!” he exclaimed, and then he looked down at the head of Lum Tar O. “You vile beast!” he exclaimed. “I was your friend, and you did this to me!” He turned then to me. “Forget what I said. I did not understand. Whoever you may be, permit me to assure you that my sword is always in your service.”
I bowed in acknowledgment.
“Twenty years!” repeated Kam Han Tor, as though he still could not believe it.
“My great ship! It was to have sailed from the harbor of Horz the day following my banquet—the greatest ship that ever had been built. Now it is old, perhaps obsolete; and I have never seen it. Tell me—did it sail well? Is it still a proud ship?”
“I saw it as it sailed out upon Throxeus,” said the other. “It was a proud ship indeed, but it never returned from that first voyage; nor was any word ever heard of it. It must have been lost with all hands.”
Kam Han Tor shook his head sadly, and then he straightened up and squared his shoulders. “I shall build another,” he said, “an even greater ship, to sail the mightiest of Barsoom’s five seas.”
Now I commenced to understand what I had suspected but could not believe. It was absolutely astounding. I was looking at and conversing with men who had lived hundreds of thousands of years ago, when Throxeus and the other four oceans of ancient Mars had covered what are now the vast desert wastes of dead sea bottom; when a great merchant marine carried on the commerce of the fair-skinned, blond race that had supposedly been extinct for countless ages.
I stepped closer to Kam Han Tor and laid a hand upon his shoulder. The men and women who had been released from Lum Tar O’s malicious spell had gathered around us, listening. “I am sorry to disillusion you, Kam Han Tor,” I said; “but you will build no ship, nor will any ship ever again sail Throxeus.”
“What do you mean. he demanded. “Who is to stop Kam Han Tor, brother of the jeddak, from building ships and sailing them upon Throxeus?”
“There is no Throxeus, my friend,” I said.
“No Throxeus? You are mad!”
“You have been here in the pits of Horz for countless ages,” I explained, “and during that time the five great oceans of Barsoom have dried up. There are no oceans. There is no commerce. The race to which you belonged is extinct.”
“Man, you are mad!” he cried.
“Do you know how to get out of these pits?” I asked—”out into the city proper—not up through the—” I was going to say citadel but I recalled that there had been no citadel when these people had been lured to the pits.
“You mean not up through my palace?” asked Kam Han Tor.
“Yes,” I said, “not up through your palace, but out toward the quays; then I can show you that there is no longer a Throxeus.”
“Certainly I know the way,” he said. “Were these pits not built according to my plans!”
“Come, then,” I said.
A man was standing looking down on the head of Lum Tar O. “If what this man says is true,” he said to Kam Han Tor, “Lum Tar O must have lived many ages ago. How then could he have survived all these ages? How have we survived?”
“You were existing in a state of suspended animation,” I said; “but as for Lum Tar O—that is a mystery.”
“Perhaps not such a mystery after all,” replied the man. “I knew Lum Tar O well. He was a weakling and a coward with the psychological reactions of the weakling and the coward. He hated all who were brave and strong, and these he wished to harm. His only friend was Lee Um Lo, the most famous embalmer the world had ever known; and when Lum Tar O died, Lee Um Lo embalmed his body. Evidently he did such a magnificent job that Lum Tar O’s corpse never realized that Lum Tar O was dead, and went right on functioning as in life. That would account for the great span of years that the thing has existed – not a human being; not a live creature, at all; just a corpse the malign brain of which still functioned.”
As the man finished speaking there was a commotion at the entrance to the chamber. A large man, almost naked, rushed in. He was very angry. “What is the meaning of this?” he demanded. “What am I doing here? What are you all doing here? Who stole my harness and my weapons?”
It was then that I recognized him—Hor Kai Lan, whose metal I wore. He was very much excited, and I couldn’t blame him much. He forced his way through the crowd, and the moment he laid eyes upon me he recognized his belongings.
“Thief!” he cried. “Give me back my harness and my weapons!”
“I’m sorry,” I said; “but unless you will furnish me with others, I shall have to keep these.”
“Calot!” he fairly screamed. “Do you realize to whom you are speaking? I am Hor Kai Lan, brother of the jeddak.”
Kam Han Tor looked at him in amazement. “You have been dead over five hundred years, Hor Kai Lan,” he exclaimed, “and so has your brother. My brother succeeded the last jeddak in the year 27M382J4.”
“You have all been dead for ages,” said Pan Dan Chee. “Even that calendar is a thing of the dead past.”
I thought Hor Kai Lan was going to burst a blood vessel then. “Who are you?” he screamed. “I place you under arrest. I place you all under arrest. Ho! the guard!”
Kam Han Tor tried to pacify him, and at least succeeded in getting him to agree to accompany us to the quays to settle the question of the existence of Throxeus, which would definitely prove or disprove the unhappy truths I had been forced to explain to them.
As we started out, led by Kam Han Tor, I noticed the lid of a chest moving slightly. It was raised little by little, and I could see two eyes peering out through the crack made by the lifting of the lid; then suddenly a girl’s voice cried, “John Carter, Prince of Helium! May my first ancestor be blessed!”
Had my first ancestor suddenly materialized before my eyes, I could not have been more surprised than I was to hear my name from the interior of one of those chests in the pits of Horz.
As I started to investigate, the lid of the chest was thrown aside; and a girl stepped out before me. This was more surprising than my first ancestor would have been, for the girl was Llana of Gathol!
“Llana!” I cried; “what are you doing here?”
“I might ask you the same question, my revered progenitor,” she shot back, with that lack of respect for my great age which has always characterized those closest to me in bonds of blood and affection.
Pan Dan Chee came forward rather open-mouthed and goggle-eyed. “Llana of Gathol!” he whispered as one might voice the name of a goddess. The roomful of anachronisms looked on more or less apathetically.
“Who is this person?” demanded Llana of Gathol.
“My friend, Pan Dan Chee of Horz,” I explained.
Pan Dan Chee unbuckled his sword and laid it at her feet, an act which is rather difficult to explain by Earthly standards of conduct. It is not exactly an avowal of love or a proposal of marriage. It is, in a way, something even more sacred. It means that as long as life lasts that sword is at the service of him at whose feet it has been laid. A warrior may lay his sword at the feet of a man or a woman. It means lifetime loyalty. Where the object of that loyalty is a woman, the man may have something else in mind. I am sure that Pan Dan Chee did.
“Your friend acts with amazing celerity,” said Llana of Gathol; but she stooped and picked up the sword and handed it back to Pan Dan Chee hilt first! which meant that she was pleased and accepted his offer of fealty. Had she simply refused it, she would have left the sword lying where it had been placed. Had she wished to spurn his offer, she would have returned his sword to him point first. That would have been the final and deadly insult. I was glad that Llana of Gathol had returned Pan Dan Chee’s sword hilt first, as I rather liked Pan Dan Chee. I was particularly glad that she had not returned it point first; as that would have meant that I, as the closest mate relative of Llana of Gathol available, would have had to fight Pan Dan Chee; and I certainly didn’t want to kill him.
“Well,” interrupted Kam Han Tor, “this is all very interesting and touching; but can’t we postpone it until we have gone down to the quays.”
Pan Dan Chee bridled, and laid a hand on the hilt of his sword. I forestalled any unseemly action on his part by suggesting that Kam Han Tor was wholly right and that our private affairs could wait until the matter of the ocean, so vital to all these other people, had been settled. Pan Dan Chee agreed; so we started again for the quay of ancient Horz.
Llana of Gathol walked at my side. “Now you may tell me,” I said, “how you came to be in the pits of Horz.”
“It has been many years,” she began, “since you were in the kingdom of Okar in the frozen north. Talu, the rebel prince, whom you placed upon the throne of Okar, visited Helium once immediately thereafter. Since then, as far as I have ever heard, there has been no intercourse between Okar and the rest of Barsoom.”
“What has all that to do with your being in the pits of Horz?” I demanded.
“Wait”‘ she admonished. “I am leading up to that. The general belief has been that the region surrounding the North Pole is but sparsely inhabited and by a race of black-bearded yellow men only.”
“Correct,” I said.
“Not correct,” she contradicted. “There is a nation of red men occupying a considerable area, but at some distance from Okar. I am under the impression that when you were there the Okarians themselves had never heard of these people.
“Recently there came to the court of my father, Gahan of Gathol, a strange red man. He was like us, yet unlike. He came in an ancient ship, one which my father said must have been several hundred years old—obsolete in every respect. It was manned by a hundred warriors, whose harness and metal were unknown to us. They appeared fierce and warlike, but they came in peace and were received in peace.
“Their leader, whose name was Hin Abtol, was a pompous braggart. He was an uncultured boor; but, as our guest, he was accorded every courtesy. He said that he was Jeddak of Jeddaks of the North. My father said that he had thought that Talu held that title.
“‘He did,’ replied Hin Abtol, ‘until I conquered his country and made him my vassal. Now I am Jeddak of Jeddaks of the North. My country is cold and bleak outside our glazed cities. I would come south, looking for other lands in which my people may settle and increase.’ “My father told him that all the arable lands were settled and belonged to other nations which had held them for centuries.
“Hin Abtol merely shrugged superciliously. ‘When I find what I wish,’ he said, ‘I shall conquer its people. I, Hin Abtol, take what I wish from the lesser peoples of Barsoom. From what I have heard, they are all weak and effete; not hardy and warlike as are we Panars. We breed fighting men, in addition to which we have countless mercenaries. I could conquer all of Barsoom, if I chose.’ “Naturally, that sort of talk disgusted my father; but he kept his temper, for Hin Abtol was his guest. I suppose that Hin Abtol thought that my father feared him, his kind often believing that politeness is a sign of weakness. I know he once said to my father, ‘You are fortunate that Hin Abtol is your friend. Other nations may fall before my armies, but you shall be allowed to keep your throne. Perhaps I shall demand a little tribute from you, but you will be safe. Hin Abtol will protect you.’ “I do not know how my father controlled his temper. I was furious. A dozen times I insulted the fellow, but he was too much of an egotistical boor to realize that he was being insulted; then came the last straw. He told Gahan of Gathol had decided to honor him by taking me, Llana of as his wife. He had already bragged that he had seven!