Swords of Mars (Barsoom #8)

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“It is true, nevertheless,” he said. “There must be mountains of gold and platinum on Thuria, and vast plains carpeted with precious stones.”

It was a bold enterprise; but after having seen this craft, and knowing the remarkable genius of Fal Sivas, I had little doubt but that it was feasible.

Suddenly, as was his way, he seemed to regret that he had confided in me and brusquely directed me to return to my duties in the shop.

The old man had told me so much now that I naturally began to wonder if he would consider it safe to permit me to live, and I was constantly on my guard. It seemed highly improbable that he would consent to my leaving the premises, but I determined to settle this question immediately; for I wanted to see Rapas before he could visit the establishment of Fal Sivas again, thereby compelling me to destroy him. Day after day had passed and Fal Sivas had contrived to prevent my leaving the house, though he had accomplished it so adroitly that it was never actually apparent that he did not wish me to leave.

As he dismissed me that evening, I told him that I was going out to try to locate Rapas and attempt again to contact the assassins of Ur Jan.

He hesitated so long before he replied that I thought he was going to forbid me going out, but at last he nodded in acquiescence. “Perhaps it will be as well,” he said. “Rapas does not come here any more, and he knows too much to be at large, unless he is in my service and loyal to me. If I must trust one of you, I prefer that it be you, rather than Rapas.”

I did not go to the evening meal with the others, as I intended eating at the place that Rapas frequented and where we had planned to meet when I was at liberty.

It was necessary to acquaint Hamas with the fact that I was leaving, as only he could open the outer door for me. His manner toward me was not quite as surly as it had been the past few days. In fact, he was almost affable; and the change in his manner put me even more on my guard, for I felt that it boded me no good—there was no reason why Hamas should love me any more today than he had yesterday. If I induced pleasant anticipations in him, it must be because he visualized something unpleasant befalling me.

From the house of Fal Sivas, I went directly to the eating-place; and there I inquired of the proprietor regarding Rapas.

“He has been in every evening,” replied the man. “He usually comes about this time and again about half after the eighth zode, and he always asks me if you have been here.”

“I will wait for him,” I said, and I went to the table The Rat and I usually occupied.

I had scarcely seated myself before Rapas entered. He came directly to the table and seated himself opposite me.

“Where have you been keeping yourself?” he demanded. “I was commencing to think that old Fal Sivas had made away with you or that you were a prisoner in his house. I had about made up my mind to go there tonight and call on the old man, so that I could learn what had happened to you.”

“It is just as well that I got out tonight before you came,” I said.

“Why?” he demanded.

“Because it is not safe for you to go to the house of Fal Sivas,” I told him.

“If you value your life, you will never go there again.”

“What makes you think that?” he demanded.

“I can’t tell you,” I replied, “but just take my word for it, and keep away.” I did not want him to know that I had been commissioned to kill him. It might have made him so suspicious and fearful of me that he would be of no value to me in the future.

“Well, it is strange,” he said; “Fal Sivas was friendly enough before I took you there.”

I saw that he was harboring in his mind the thought that, for some reason, I was trying to keep him away from Fal Sivas; but I couldn’t help it, and so I changed the subject.

“Has everything been going well with you, Rapas, since I saw you?” I asked.

“Yes, quite well,” he replied.

“What is the news of the city? I have not been out since I saw you last, and of course we hear little or nothing in the house of Fal Sivas.”

“They say that the Warlord is in Zodanga,” he replied. “Uldak, one of Ur Jan’s men, was killed the last night I saw you, as you will recall. The mark of the Warlord’s agent was above his heart, but Ur Jan believes that no ordinary swordsman could have bested Uldak. Also he has learned from his agent in Helium that John Carter is not there; so, putting the two facts together, Ur Jan is convinced that he must be in Zodanga.”

“How interesting,” I commented. “And what is Ur Jan going to do about it?”

“Oh, he’ll get his revenge,” said The Rat; “if not in one way, then in another. He is already planning; and when he strikes, John Carter will wish that he had attended to his own affairs and left Ur Jan alone.”

Shortly before we finished our meal, a customer entered the place and took a seat alone at a table across the room. I could see him in a mirror in front of me. I saw him glance in our direction, and then I looked quickly at Rapas and saw his eyes flash a message as he nodded his head very slightly; but without that, I would have known why the man was there, for I recognized him as one of the assassins that had sat at the council with Ur Jan. I pretended not to notice anything; and my glance wandered idly to the doorway, attracted by two customers who were leaving the place at the time.

Then I saw something else of interest—of vital interest. As the door swung open, I saw a man outside looking in. It was Hamas.

The assassin at the table across the room ordered only a glass of wine; and when he had drunk it, he arose and left. Shortly after his departure, Rapas got up.

“I must be going,” he said; “I have an important engagement.”

“Shall I see you tomorrow night?” I asked.

I could see him attempt to suppress a grin. “I shall be here tomorrow night,” he said.

We went out then onto the avenue; and Rapas left me, while I turned my steps in the direction of the house of Fal Sivas. Through the lighted districts I did not have to be particularly on my guard; but when I entered the darker sections of the city, I was watchful; and presently I saw a figure lurking in a dark doorway. I knew it was the assassin waiting to kill me.

 

VIII. — SUSPICION

Cluros, the farther moon, rode high in the heavens, lighting dimly the streets of Zodanga like a dusty bulb in a huge loft; but I needed no better light to see the shadowy form of the man awaiting my coming.

I knew precisely what was in the man’s mind, and I must have smiled. He thought that I was coming along in total ignorance of his presence or the fact that anyone was planning upon murdering me that night. He was saying to himself that after I had passed he would spring out and run his sword through my back; it would be a very simple matter, and then he would go back and report to Ur Jan.

As I approached the doorway, I paused and cast a hasty glance behind me. I wanted to make sure, if I could, that Rapas had not followed me. If I killed this man, I did not want Rapas to know that it was I.

Now I resumed my way, keeping a few paces from the building so that I would not be too close to the assassin when I came opposite his hiding place.

When I did come opposite it, I turned suddenly and faced it. “Come out of there, you fool,” I said in a low voice.

For a moment the man did not move. He seemed utterly stunned by his discovery and by my words.

“You and Rapas thought that you could fool me, didn’t you?” I inquired. “You and Rapas and Ur Jan! Well, I will tell you a secret—something that Rapas and Ur Jan do not dream. Because you are trying to kill the wrong man, you are not using the right method. You think that you are attempting to kill Vandor, but you are not. There is no such person as Vandor. The man who faces you is John Carter, Warlord of Mars.” I whipped out my sword. “And now if you are quite ready, you may come out and be killed.”

At that, he came forth slowly, his long sword in his hand. I thought that his eyes showed a trace of astonishment and his voice certainly did, as he whispered, “John Carter!”

He did not show any fear, and I was glad of that, for I dislike fighting with a man who is really terrified of me, as he starts his fight with a terrible handicap that he can never overcome.

“So you are John Carter!” he said, as he stepped out into the open, and then he commenced to laugh. “You think you can frighten me, do you? You are a first-class liar, Vandor; but if you were all the first-class liars on Barsoom rolled into one, you could not frighten Povak.”

Evidently he did not believe me, and I was rather glad of it, for the encounter would now afford me far richer sport as there was gradually revealed to my antagonist the fact that he was pitted against a master swordsman.

As he engaged me, I saw that, while in no respect a mean swordsman, he was not as proficient as had been Uldak. I should have been glad to have played with him for a while, but I could not risk the consequences of being discovered.

So vicious was my attack that I soon pressed him back against the wall of the building. He had had no opportunity to do more than defend himself, and now he was absolutely at my mercy.

I could have run him through on the instant, but instead I reached out quickly with my point and made a short cut upon his breast and then I made another across it.

I stepped back then and lowered my point. “Look at your breast, Povak,” I said.

“What do you see there?”

He glanced down at his breast, and I saw him shudder. “The mark of the Warlord,” he gasped, and then, “Have mercy upon me; I did not know that it was you.”

“I told you,” I said, “but you wouldn’t believe me; and if you had believed me, you would have been all the more anxious to kill me. Ur Jan would have rewarded you handsomely.”

“Let me go,” he begged. “Spare my life, and I will be your slave forever.”

I saw then that he was a craven coward, and I felt no pity for him but only contempt.

“Raise your point,” I snapped, “and defend yourself, or I shall run you through in your tracks.”

Suddenly, with death staring him in the face, he seemed to go mad. He rushed at me with the fury of a maniac, and the impetuosity of his attack sent me back a few steps, and then I parried a terrific thrust and ran him through the heart.

At a little distance from me, I saw some people coming, attracted by the clash of steel.

A few steps took me to the entrance of a dark alleyway into which I darted; and by a circuitous route, I continued on my way to the house of Fal Sivas.

Hamas admitted me. He was very cordial. In fact, far too cordial. I felt like laughing in his face because of what I knew that he did not know that I knew, but I returned his greeting civilly and passed on to my quarters.

Zanda was waiting up for me. I drew my sword and handed it to her.

“Rapas?” she asked. I had told her that Fal Sivas had commanded me to kill The Rat.

“No, not Rapas,” I replied. “Another of Ur Jan’s men.”

“That makes two,” she said.

“Yes,” I replied; “but remember, you must not tell anyone that it was I who killed them.”

“I shall not tell anyone, my master,” she replied. “You may always trust Zanda.”

She cleaned the blood from the blade and then dried and polished it.

I watched her as she worked, noticing her shapely hands and graceful fingers. I had never paid very much attention to her before. Of course, I had known that she was young and well-formed and good-looking; but suddenly I was impressed by the fact that Zanda was very beautiful and that with the harness and jewels and hair-dressing of a great lady, she would have been more than noticeable in any company.

“Zanda,” I remarked at last, “you were not born a slave, were you?”

“No, master.”

“Did Fal Sivas buy you or abduct you?” I asked.

“Phystal and two slaves took me one night when I was on the avenues with an escort. They killed him and brought me here.”

“Your people,” I asked, “are they still living?”

“No,” she replied; “my father was an officer in the old Zodangan Navy. He was of the lesser nobility. He was killed when John Carter led the green hordes of Thark upon the city. In grief, my mother took the last long journey on the bosom of the sacred Iss to the Valley Dor and the Lost Sea of Korus.

“John Carter!” she said, musingly, and her voice was tinged with loathing. “He was the author of all my sorrows, of all my misfortune. Had it not been for John Carter robbing me of my parents I should not be here now, for I should have had their watchful care and protection to shield me from all danger.”

“You feel very bitterly toward John Carter, don’t you?” I asked.

“I hate him,” she replied.

“You would be glad to see him dead, I suppose.”

“Yes.”

“You know, I presume, that Ur Jan has sworn to destroy him?”