Llana of Gathol (Barsoom #10)

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“‘That,’ said my father, ‘is a matter that I cannot discuss with you. The daughter of Gahan of Gathol will choose her own mate.’ “Hin Abtol laughed. ‘Hin Abtol,’ he said, ‘chooses his wives—they have nothing to say about it.’ “Well, I had stood about all I could of the fellow; and so I decided to go to Helium and visit you and Dejah Thoris. My father decided that I should go in a small flier manned by twenty-five of his most trusted men, all members of my personal Guard.

“When Hin Abtol heard that I was leaving, he said that he would have to leave also—that he was returning to his own country but that he would come back for me. ‘And I hope we have no trouble about it,’ he said, ‘for it would be too bad for Gathol if she made an enemy of Hin Abtol the Panar, Jeddak of Jeddaks of the North.’ “He left the day before I set out, and I did not change my plans because of his going. As a matter of fact, I had been planning on this visit for some time.

“My ship had covered scarce a hundred haads on the journey toward Helium, when we saw a ship rise from the edge of a sorapus forest ahead of us. It came slowly toward us, and presently I recognized its ancient lines. It was the ship of Hin Abtol the Panar, so-called Jeddak of Jeddaks of the North.

“When we were close enough it hailed us, and its captain told us that something had gone wrong with their compass and they were lost. He asked to come alongside that he might examine our charts and get his bearings. He hoped, he said, that we might repair his compass for him.

“Under the circumstances there was nothing to do but accede to his request, as one does not leave a disabled ship without offering aid. As I did not wish to see Hin Abtol, I went below to my cabin.

“I felt the two ships touch as that of the Panar came alongside, and an instant later I heard shouts and curses and the sounds of battle on the upper deck.

“I rushed up the ladder, and the sight that met my eyes filled me with rage. Nearly a hundred warriors swarmed over our deck from Hin Abtol’s ancient tub. I have never seen greater brutality displayed by even the green men. The beasts ignored the commonest ethics of civilized warfare. Outnumbering us four to one, we had not a chance; but the men of Gathol put up a most noble fight, taking bloody toll of their attackers; so that Hin Abtol must have lost fully fifty men before the last of my brave Guard was slaughtered.

“The Panars threw my wounded overboard with the dead, not even vouchsafing them the coup de grace. Of all my crew, not one was left alive.

“Then Hin Abtol swaggered aboard. ‘I told you,’ he said, ‘that Hin Abtol chooses his wives. It would have been better for you and for Gathol had you believed me.’ “‘It would have been better for you,’ I replied, ‘had you never heard of Llana of Gathol. You may rest assured that her death will be avenged.’ “‘I do not intend to kill you,’ he said.

“‘I shall kill myself,’ I told him, ‘before I shall mate with such an ulsio as you.’ “That made him angry, and he struck me. ‘A coward as well as an ulsio,’ I said.

“He did not strike me again, but he ordered me below. In my cabin I realized that the ship was again under way, and looking from the port I saw that it was heading north—north toward the frozen land of the Panars.”

 

CHAPTER XI

“Early the following morning, a warrior came to my cabin. ‘Hin Abtol commands that you come at once to the control room,’ he said.

“‘What does he want of me?’ I demanded.

“‘His navigator does not understand this ship or the instruments,’ the fellow explained. ‘He would ask you some questions.’ “I thought quickly. Perhaps I might frustrate Hin Abtol’s plans if I could have a few minutes with the controls and the instruments, which I knew as well as we know the face of a loved one; so I followed the warrior above.

“Hin Abtol was in the control room with three of his officers. His face was a black scowl as I entered. ‘We are off our course,’ he snapped, ‘and during the night we have lost touch with our own ship. You will instruct my officers as to these silly instruments that have confused them.’ With that, he left the control room.

“I looked around the horizon in every direction. The other ship was nowhere in sight. My plan was instantly formed. Had the other ship been able to see us, it could not have succeeded. I knew that if this ship on which I was prisoner ever reached Panar I would have to take my own life to escape a fate worse than death. On the ground I might also meet death, but I would have a better chance to escape.

“‘What is wrong?’ I asked one of the officers.

“‘Everything,’ he replied. ‘What is this?’ “‘A directional compass,’ I explained; ‘but what have you done to it? It is a wreck.’ “‘Hin Abtol could not understand what it was for, which made him very angry; so he started taking it apart to see what was inside.’ “‘He did a good job,’ I said, ‘-of taking it apart. Now he, or another of you, should put it together again.’ “‘We don’t know how,’ said the fellow. ‘Do you?’ “‘Of course not.”

“‘Then what are we to do?’ “‘Here is an ordinary compass,’ I told him. ‘Fly north by this, but first let me see what other harm has been done.’ “I pretended to examine all the other instruments and controls, and while I was doing so, I opened the buoyancy tank valves; and then jammed them so that they couldn’t be closed.

“‘Everything is all right now,’ I said. ‘Just keep on north by this compass. You won’t need the directional compass.’ I might have added that in a very short time they wouldn’t need any compass as far as navigating this ship was concerned. Then I went down to my cabin.

“I knew that something would happen pretty soon, and sure enough it did. I could see from my porthole that we were losing altitude—just dropping slowly lower and lower—and directly another warrior came to my cabin and said that I was wanted in the control room again.

“Once more Hin Abtol was there. ‘We are sinking,’ he told me—a fact that was too obvious to need mention. ‘I have noticed that for some time,’ I said.

“‘Well, do something about it!’ he snapped. ‘You know all about this ship.’ “‘I should think that a man who is thinking of conquering all of Barsoom ought to be able to fly a ship without the help of a woman,’ I said.

“He flushed at that, and then he drew his sword. ‘You will tell us what is wrong,’ he growled, ‘Or I’ll split you open from your crown to your belly.’ “‘Always the chivalrous gentleman,’ I sneered; ‘but, even without your threat, I’ll tell you what is wrong.’ “‘Well, what is it?’ he demanded.

“In fiddling around with these controls, either you or some equally stupid brute has opened the buoyancy tank valves. All you have to do is close them. We won’t sink any lower then, but we’ll never go any higher, either. I hope there are no mountains or very high hills between here and Panar.’ “‘Where are the valves?’ he asked.

“I showed him.

“They tried to close them; but I had made such a good job of jamming them that they couldn’t, and we kept right on dropping down toward the ocher vegetation of a dead sea bottom.

“Hin Abtol was frantic. So were his officers. Here they were, thousands of haads from home—twenty-five men who had spent the greater parts of their lives in the glazed, hothouse cities of the North Polar lands, with no knowledge, or very little, of the outside world or what nature of men, beasts, or other menaces might dispute their way toward home. I could scarcely refrain from laughing.

“As we lost altitude, I saw the towers of a city in the distance to the north of us; so did Hin Abtol. ‘A city,’ he said. ‘We are fortunate. There we can find mechanics to repair our ship.’ “‘Yes,’ I thought; ‘if you had come a million years ago, you would have found mechanics. They would have known nothing about repairing a flier, for fliers had not been invented then; but they could have built you a stanch ship wherein you could have sailed the five seas of ancient Barsoom,’ but I said nothing. I would let Hin Abtol find out for himself.

“I had never been to Horz; but I knew that those towers rising in the distance could mark only that long dead city, and I wished the pleasure of witnessing Hin Abtol’s disappointment after he had made the long and useless trek.”

“You are a vindictive little rascal,” I said.

“I’m afraid I am,” admitted Llana of Gathol; “but, in this instance, can you blame me?”

I had to admit that I could not. “Go on,” I urged. “Tell me what happened next.”

“Will we never reach the end of these abominable pits!” exclaimed Kam Han Tor.

“You should know,” said Pan Dan Chee; “you have said that they were built according to your plans.”

“You are insolent,” snapped Kam Han Tor. “You shall be punished.”

“You have been dead a million years,” said Pan Dan Chee. “You should lie down.”

Kam Han Tor laid a hand upon the hilt of his longsword. He was very angry; and I could not blame him, but this was no time to indulge in the pleasure of a duel.

“Hold!” I said. “We have more important things to think of now than personal quarrels, Pan Dan Chee is in the wrong. He will apologize.”

Pan Dan Chee looked at me in surprise and disapproval, but he pushed his sword back into its scabbard. “What John Carter, Prince of Helium, Warlord of Barsoom, commands me to do, I do,” he said. “To Kam Han Tor I offer my apology.”

Well, Kam Han Tor graciously accepted it, and I urged Llana of Gathol to go on with her story.

“The ship dropped gently to the ground without incurring further damage,” she continued, “Hin Abtol was undecided at first as whether to take all his men with him to the city or leave some to guard the ship. Finally he concluded that it might be better for them all to remain together in the event they should meet with a hostile reception at the gates of the city. You would have thought, from the way he spoke, that twenty-five Panars could take any city on Barsoom.

“‘I shall wait for you here,’ I said. ‘There is no reason why I should accompany you to the city.’ “‘And when I came back, you would be gone,’ he said. ‘You are a shrewd wench, but I am just a little bit shrewder. You will come with us.’ “So I had to tramp all the way to Horz with them, and it was a very long and tiresome tramp. As we approached the city, Hin Abtol remarked that it was surprising that we saw no signs of life—no smoke, no movement along the avenue which we could see paralleling the plain upon which the city faced, the plain that had once been a mighty ocean.

“It was not until we had entered the city that he realized that it was dead and deserted—but not entirely deserted, as we were soon to discover.

“We had advanced but a short distance up the main avenue when a dozen green warriors emerged from a building and fell upon the Panars. It might have been a good battle, John Carter, had you and two of the warriors of your guard been pitted against the green men; but these Panars are no warriors unless the odds are all on their side. Of course they outnumbered the green men, but the great size and strength and the savage ferocity of the latter gave them the advantage over such weak foemen.

“I saw but little of the fight. The contestants paid no attention to me. They were too engrossed with one another; and as I saw the head of a ramp close by, I dodged into it. The last I saw of the engagement revealed Hin Abtol running at the top of his speed back toward the plain with his men trailing behind him and the green men bringing up the rear. For the sublimation of speed, I accord all honors to the Panars. They may not be able to fight, but they can run.”

 

CHAPTER XII

“Knowing that the green men would return for their thoats and that I must, therefore, hide, I descended the ramp,” Llana went on. “It led into the pits beneath the city. I intended going in only far enough to avoid discovery from above and to have a head start should the green men come down the ramp in search of me; as I knew they might—they would not quickly forego an opportunity to capture a red woman for torture or slavery.

“I had gone down to the end of the ramp and a short distance along a corridor, when I saw a dim light far ahead. I thought this worth investigating, as I did not wish to be taken unexpectedly from behind and, perhaps, caught between two enemies; so I followed the corridor in the direction of the light, which I presently discovered was retreating. However, I continued to follow it, until presently it stopped in a room filled with chests.

“Looking in, I saw a creature of most horrid mien—”

“Lum Tar O,” I said. “The creature I killed.”

“Yes,” said Llana. “I watched him for a moment, not knowing what to do. A lighted torch illuminated the chamber. He carried another in his left hand. Presently he became alert. He seemed to be listening intently; then he crept from the room.”

“That must have been when he first heard Pan Dan Chee and me,” I suggested.

“I presume so,” said Llana of Gathol. “Anyway, I was left alone in the room. If I went back the way I had come, I might run into the arms of a green man. If I followed the horrid creature I had just seen, I would doubtless be in just as bad a fix. If I only had a place to hide until it would be safe to come out of the pits the way I had entered!