“The chests looked inviting. One of them would provide an excellent hiding place. It was just by the merest chance that the first one I opened was empty. I crept into it and lowered the lid above me. The rest you know.”
“And now you are coming out of the pits,” I said, as we started up a ramp at the top of which I could see daylight.
“In a few moments,” said Kam Han Tor, “we shall be looking upon the broad waters of Throxeus.”
I shook my head. “Do not be too disappointed,” I said.
“Are you and your friend in league to perpetrate a hoax upon me?” demanded Kan Han Tor. “Only yesterday I saw the ships of the fleet lying at anchor off the quay. Do you think me a fool, that you tell me there is no longer any ocean where an ocean was yesterday, where it has been since the creation of Barsoom? Oceans do not disappear overnight, my friend.”
There was a murmur of approval from those of the fine company of nobles and their women who were within earshot. They were loath to believe what they did not wish to believe and what, I realized, must have seemed an insult to their intelligence.
Put yourself in their place. Perhaps you live in San Francisco. You go to bed one night. When you awaken, a total stranger tells you that the Pacific Ocean has dried up and that you may walk to Honolulu or Guam or the Philippines. I’m quite sure that you wouldn’t believe him.
As we came up into the broad avenue that led to the ancient sea front of Horz, that assembly of gorgeously trapped men and women looked about them in dumfounded astonishment upon the crumbling ruins of their once proud city.
“Where are the people?” demanded one. “Why is the Avenue of Jeddaks deserted?”
“And the palace of the jeddak!” exclaimed another. “There are no guards.”
“There is no one!” gasped a woman.
No one commented, as they pushed on eagerly toward the quay. Before they got there they were already straining their eyes out across a barren desert of dead sea bottom where once the waters of Throxeus had rolled.
In silence they continued on to the Avenue of Quays. They simply could not believe the testimony of their own eyes. I cannot recall ever having felt sorrier for any of my fellow men than I did at that moment for these poor people.
“It is gone,” said Kam Han Tor in a scarcely audible whisper.
A woman sobbed. A warrior drew his dagger and plunged it into his own heart.
“And a our people are gone,” said Kam Han Tor. “Our very world is gone.”
They stood there looking out across that desert waste; behind them a dead city that, in their last yesterday, had teemed with life and youth and energy.
And then a strange thing happened. Before my eyes, Kam Han Tor commenced to shrink and crumble. He literally disintegrated, he and the leather of his harness. His weapons clattered to the pavement and lay there in a little pile of dust that had been Kam Han Tor, the brother of a jeddak.
Llana of Gathol pressed close to me and seized my arm. “It is horrible!” she whispered. “Look! Look at the others!”
I looked about me. Singly, in groups of two or three, the men and women of ancient Horz were returning to the dust from which they had sprung— “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust!”
“For all the ages that they have lain in the pits of Horz,” said Pan Dan Chee, “this disintegration has been going slowly on. Only Lum Tar O’s obscene powers gave them a semblance of life. With that removed final dissolution came quickly.”
“That must be the explanation,” I said. “It is well that it is so, for these people never could have found happiness in the Barsoom of today— a dying world, so unlike the glorious world of Barsoom in the full flush of her prime, with her five oceans, her great cities, her happy, prosperous peoples, who, if history speaks the truth, had finally overthrown all the war lords and war mongers and established peace from pole to pole.”
“No,” said Llana of Gathol, “they could never have been happy again. Did you notice what handsome people they were? and the color of their skins was the same as yours, John Carter. But for their blond hair they might have been from your own Earth.”
“There are many blond people on Earth,” I told her. “Maybe, after all the races of Earth have intermarried for many ages, we shall develop a race of red men, as has Barsoom. Who knows?”
Pan Dan Chee was standing looking adoringly at Llana of Gathol. He was so obvious that it was almost painful, and I could see that it annoyed Llana even while it pleased her.
“Come,” I said. “Nothing is to be gained by standing here. My flier is in a courtyard nearby. It will carry three. You will come with me, Pan Dan Chee? I can assure you a welcome in Helium and a post of some nature in the army of the jeddak.”
Pan Dan Chee shook his head. “I must go back to the Citadel,” he said.
“To Ho Ran Kim and death,” I reminded him.
“Yes, to Ho Ran Kim and death,” he said.
“Don’t be a fool, Pan Dan Chee,” I said. “You have acquitted yourself honorably. You cannot kill me, and I know you would not kill Llana of Gathol. We shall go away, carrying the secret of the forgotten people of Horz with us, no matter what you do; but you must know that neither of us would use our knowledge to bring harm to your people. Why then go back to your death uselessly? Come with us.”
He looked straight into the eyes of Llana of Gathol. “Is it your wish that I come with you?” he asked.
“If the alternative means your death,” she replied; “then it is my wish that you come with us.”
A wry smile twisted Pan Dan Chee’s lip, but evidently he saw a ray of hope in her noncommittal answer, for he said to me, “I thank you, John Carter. I will go with you. My sword is yours, always.”
I had no difficulty in locating the courtyard where I had landed and left my flier. As we approached it, I saw a number of dead men lying in the avenue. They were sprawled in the grotesque postures of death. Some of them were split wide open from their crowns to their bellies. “The work of green men,” I said.
“These were the men of Hin Abtol,” said Llana of Gathol.
We counted seventeen corpses before we reached the entrance to the courtyard.
When I looked in, I stopped, appalled—my flier was not there; but five more dead Panars lay near where it had stood.
“It is gone,” I said.
“Hin Abtol,” said Llana of Gathol. “The coward abandoned his men and fled in your flier. Only two of his warriors succeeded in accompanying him.”
“Perhaps he would have been a fool to remain,” I said. “He would only have met the same death that they met.”
“In like circumstances, John Carter would have been a fool, then,” she shot back.
Perhaps I would, for the truth of the matter is that I like to fight. I suppose it is all wrong, but I cannot help it. Fighting has been my profession during all the life that I can recall. I fought all during the Civil War in the Confederate Army. I fought in other wars before that. I will not bore you with my autobiography. Suffice it to say that I have always been fighting. I do not know how old I am. I recall no childhood. I have always appeared to be about thirty years old. I still do. I do not know from whence I came, nor if I were born of woman as are other men. I have, so far as I know, simply always been.
Perhaps I am the materialization of some long dead warrior of another age. Who knows? That might explain my ability to cross the cold, dark void of space which separates Earth from Mars. I do not know.
Pan Dan Chee broke the spell of my reverie. “What now?” he asked.
“A long walk,” I said. “It is fully four thousand haads from here to Gathol, the nearest friendly city.” That would be the equivalent of fifteen hundred miles—a very long walk.
“And only this desert from which to look for subsistence?” asked Pan Dan Chee.
“There will be hills,” I told him. “There will be deep little ravines where moisture lingers and things grow which we can eat; but there may be green men, and there will certainly be banths and other beasts of prey. Are you afraid, Pan Dan Chee?”
“Yes,” he said, “but only for Llana of Gathol. She is a woman—it is no adventure for a woman. Perhaps she could not survive it.”
Llana of Gathol laughed. “You do not know the women of Helium,” she said, “and still less one in whose veins flows the blood of Dejah Thoris and John Carter. Perhaps you will learn before we have reached Gathol.” She stooped and stripped the harness and weapons of a dead Panar from his corpse and buckled them upon herself. The act was more eloquent than words.
“Now we are three good sword arms,” said Pan Dan Chee with a laugh, but we knew that he was not laughing at Llana of Gathol but from admiration of her.
And so we set out, the three of us, on that long trek toward far Gathol – Llana of Gathol and I, of one blood and two worlds, and Pan Dan Chee of still another blood and of an extinct world. We might have seemed ill assorted, but no three people could have been more in harmony with each other—at least at first.
For five days we saw no living thing. We subsisted entirely upon the milk of the mantalia plant, which grows apparently without water, distilling its plentiful supply of milk from the products of the soil, the slight moisture in the air, and the rays of the sun. A single plant of this species will give eight or ten quarts of milk a day. They are scattered across the dead sea bottoms as though by a beneficent Providence, giving both food and drink to man and beast.
My companions might still have died of thirst or starvation had I not been with them, for neither knew that the quite ordinary looking plants which we occasionally passed carried in their stems and branches this life-giving fluid.
We rested in the middle of the day and slept during the middle portion of the nights, taking turns standing guard—a duty which Llana of Gathol insisted on sharing with us.
When we lay down to rest on the sixth night, Llana had the first watch; and as I had the second, I prepared to sleep at once. Pan Dan Chee sat up and talked with Llana.
As I dozed off, I heard him say, “May I call you my princess?”
That, on Barsoom, is the equivalent of a proposal of marriage on Earth. I tried to shut my ears and go to sleep, but I could not but hear her reply.
“You have not fought for me yet,” she said, “and no man may presume to claim a woman of Helium until he has proved his metal.”
“I have had no opportunity to fight for you,” he said.
“Then wait until you have,” she said, shortly; “and now good-night.”
I thought she was a little too short with him. Pan Dan Chee is a nice fellow, and I was sure that he would give a good account of himself when the opportunity arose. She didn’t have to treat him as though he were scum. But then, women have their own ways. As a rule they are unpleasant ways, but they seem the proper ways to win men; so I suppose they must be all right.
Pan Dan Chee walked off a few paces and lay down on the other side of Llana of Gathol. We always managed to keep her between us at all times for her greater protection.
I was awakened later on by a shout and a hideous roar. I leaped to my feet to see Llana of Gathol down on the ground with a huge banth on top of her, and at that instant Pan Dan Chee leaped full upon the back of the mighty carnivore.
It all happened so quickly that I can scarcely visualize it all. I saw Pan Dan Chee dragging at the great beast in an effort to pull it from Llana’s body, and at the same he was plunging his dagger into its side. The banth was roaring hideously as it tried to fight off Pan Dan Chee and at the same time retain its hold upon Llana.
I sprang close in with my short-sword, but it was difficult to find an opening which did not endanger either Llana or Pan Dan Chee. It must have been a very amusing sight; as the four of us were threshing around on the ground, all mixed up, and the banth was roaring and Pan Dan Chee was cursing like a trooper when he wasn’t trying to tell Llana of Gathol how much he loved her.
But at last I got an opening, and drove my short-sword into the heart of the banth. With a final scream and a convulsive shudder, the beast rolled over and lay still.
When I tried to lift Llana from the ground, she leaped to her feet. “Pan Dan Chee!” she cried. “Is he all right? Was he hurt?”
“Of course I’m all right,” said Pan Dan Chee; “but you? How badly are you hurt?”
“I am not hurt at all. You kept the brute so busy it didn’t have a chance to maul me.”
“Thanks be to my ancestors!” exclaimed Pan Dan Chee fervently. Suddenly he turned on her. “Now,” he said, “I have fought for you. What is your answer?”
Llana of Gathol shrugged her pretty shoulders. “You have not fought a man,” she said, “—just a little banth.”
Well, I never did understand women.