Swords of Mars (Barsoom #8)

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“They are neither invisible nor inaudible to me,” I replied.

He nodded. “Yes, I had forgotten,” he said; “but it seemed impossible that you could see and hear where there was nothing to be seen nor heard.”

“Why are they going to kill us?” demanded Gar Nal, who had overheard my conversation with Jat Or.

“We are to be offered as sacrifices to the Fire God whom they worship,” I replied.

“The Fire God?” demanded Ur Jan. “Who is he?”

“The sun,” I explained.

“But how could you understand their language?” asked Gar Nal. “It cannot be possible that they speak the same tongue that is spoken upon Barsoom.”

“No,” I replied, “they do not; but Umka, with whom I have been imprisoned ever since we were captured, has taught me the language of the Tarids.”

“What are Tarids?” asked Jat Or.

“It is the name of the people in whose power we are,” I explained.

“What is their name for Thuria?” asked Gar Nal.

“I am not sure,” I replied; “but I will ask Umka. Umka,” I said, in his own language, “What does the word, Ladan, mean?”

“That is the name of this world we live on,” he replied. “You heard Ul Vas say that we should die when the Fire God had encircled Ladan seven times.”

We Barsoomians fell into a general conversation after this, and I had an opportunity to study Gar Nal and Ur Jan more carefully.

The former was, like most Martians, of indeterminate age. He was not of such extreme age that he commenced to show it, as did Fal Sivas. Gar Nal might have been anywhere from a hundred to a thousand years old. He had a high forehead and rather thin hair for a Martian, and there was nothing peculiarly distinctive about his features, except his eyes. I did not like them; they were crafty, deceitful, and cruel.

Ur Jan, whom of course I had seen before, was just what one might have expected—a burly, brutal fighting man of the lowest type; but of the two, I thought then that I should have trusted Ur Jan farther than Gar Nal.

It seemed strange to me to be confined here in such small quarters with two such bitter enemies; but I realized, as they must have also, that it would profit us nothing to carry on our quarrel under such circumstances, whereas if an opportunity to escape presented itself, four men who could wield swords would have a very much better chance to effect the liberty of all than if there were only two of us. There would not have been more than two, had we dared to continue our quarrel; for at least two of us, and possibly three, must have died in order to insure peace.

Umka seemed rather neglected as we four talked in our own tongue. He and I had grown to be on very friendly terms, and I counted on him to assist us if an opportunity arose whereby we might attempt escape. I was therefore particularly anxious that he remain friendly, and so I drew him into the conversation occasionally, acting as interpreter for him.

For days, day after day, I had watched Umka play with the hapless creatures that were brought to him for his food, so that the sight no longer affected me; but when the food was brought us this day, the Barsoomians watched the Masena in fascinated horror; and I could see that Gar Nal grew actually to fear the man.

Shortly after we had completed our meal, the door opened again and several warriors entered. Zamak, the officer who had conducted Umka and me to the audience chamber, was again in command.

Only Umka and I could see that anyone had entered the room; and I, with difficulty, pretended that I was not conscious of the fact.

“There he is,” said Zamak, pointing to me; “fetch him along.”

The soldiers approached and seized my arms on either side; then they hustled me toward the door.

“What is it?” cried Jat Or. “What has happened to you?” he shouted. “Where are you going?” The door was still ajar, and he saw that I was headed toward it.

“I do not know where I am going, Jat Or,” I replied. “They are taking me away again.”

“My prince, my prince,” he cried, and sprang after me, as though to drag me back; but the soldiers hustled me out of the chamber, and the door was slammed in Jat Or’s face between us.

“It’s a good thing these fellows can’t see us,” remarked one of the warriors escorting me. “I think we should have had a good fight on our hands just now, had they been able to.”

“I think this one could put up a good fight,” said one of the fellows who was pushing me along; “the muscles in his arms are like bands of silver.”

“Even the best of men can’t fight antagonists that are invisible to them,” remarked another.

“This one did pretty well in the courtyard the day that we captured him; he bruised a lot of the Jeddak’s guard with his bare hands, and killed two of them.”

This was the first intimation that I had had any success whatsoever in that encounter, and it rather pleased me. I could imagine how they would feel if they knew that I could not only see them but hear them and understand them.

They were so lax, because of their fancied security, that I could have snatched a weapon from almost any of them; and I know that I should have given a good account of myself, but I could not see how it would avail either me or my fellow-prisoners.

I was conducted to a part of the palace that was entirely different from any portion that I had hitherto seen. It was even more gorgeous in its lavish and luxurious decorations and appointments than the splendid throne room.

Presently we came to a doorway before which several warriors stood on guard.

“We have come, as was commanded,” said Zamak, “and brought the white-skinned prisoner with us.”

“You are expected,” replied one of the guardsmen; “you may enter,” and he threw open the large double doors.

Beyond them was an apartment of such exquisite beauty and richness that, in my poor vocabulary, I find no words to describe it. There were hangings in colors unknown to earthly eyes, against a background of walls that seemed to be of solid ivory, though what the material was of which they were composed, I did not know. It was rather the richness and elegance of the room’s appointments that made it seem so beautiful, for after all, when I come to describe it, I find that, in a sense, simplicity was its dominant note.

There was no one else in the room when we entered. My guard led me to the center of the floor and halted.

Presently a door in the opposite side of the room opened, and a woman appeared.

She was a very good-looking young woman. Later I was to learn that she was a slave.

“You will wait in the corridor, Zamak,” she said; “the prisoner will follow me.”

“What, alone, without a guard?” demanded Zamak in surprise.

“Such are my commands,” replied the girl.

“But how can he follow you,” asked Zamak, “when he can neither see nor hear us; and if he could hear us, he could not understand us?”

“I will lead him,” she replied.

As she approached me, the soldiers relinquished their grasp upon my arms; and taking one of my hands, she led me from the apartment.

The room into which I was now conducted, though slightly smaller, was far more beautiful than the other. However, I did not immediately take note of its appointments, my attention being immediately and wholly attracted by its single occupant.

I am not easily surprised; but in this instance I must confess that I was when I recognized the woman reclining upon a divan, and watching me intently through long lashes, as Ozara, Jeddara of the Tarids.

The slave girl led me to the center of the room and halted. There she waited, looking questioningly at the Jeddara; while I, recalling that I was supposed to be deaf and blind to these people, sought to focus my gaze beyond the beautiful, empress whose veiled eyes seemed to read my very soul.

“You may retire, Ulah,” she said presently.

The slave girl bowed low and backed from the room.

For several moments after she departed, no sound broke the silence of the room; but always I felt the eyes of Ozara upon me.

Presently she laughed, a silvery musical laugh. “What is your name?” she demanded.

I pretended that I did not hear her, as I found occupation for my eyes in examination of the beauties of the chamber. It appeared to be the boudoir of the empress, and it made a lovely setting for her unquestionable loveliness.

“Listen,” she said, presently; “you fooled Ul Vas and Zamak and the High Priest and all the rest of them; but you did not fool me. I will admit that you have splendid control, but your eyes betrayed you. They betrayed you in the audience chamber; and they betrayed you again just now as you entered this room, just as I knew they would betray you. They showed surprise when they rested upon me, and that can mean only one thing; that you saw and recognized me.

“I knew, too, in the audience chamber, that you understood what was being said. You are a highly intelligent creature, and the changing lights in your eyes reflected your reaction to what you heard in the audience chamber.

“Let us be honest with one another, you and I, for we have more in common than you guess. I am not unfriendly to you. I understand why you think it to your advantage to conceal the fact that you can see and hear us; but I can assure you that you will be no worse off if you trust me, for I already know that we are neither invisible nor inaudible to you.”

I could not fathom what she meant by saying we had much in common, unless it were merely a ruse to lure me into an admission that I could both see and hear the Tarids; yet on the other hand, I could see no reason to believe that either she or the others would profit by this knowledge. I was absolutely in their power, and apparently it made little difference whether I could see and hear them or not. Furthermore, I was convinced that this girl was extremely clever and that I could not deceive her into believing that she was invisible to me. On the whole, I saw no reason to attempt to carry the deception further with her; and so I looked her squarely in the eyes and smiled.

“I shall be honored by the friendship of the Jeddara, Ozara,” I said.

“There!” she exclaimed; “I knew that I was right.”

“Yet perhaps you had a little doubt.”

“If I did, it is because you are a past master in the art of deception.”

“I felt that the lives and liberty of my companions and myself might depend upon my ability to keep your people from knowing that I can see and understand them.”

“You do not speak our language very well,” she said. “How did you learn it?”

“The Masena with whom I was imprisoned taught me it,” I explained.

“Tell me about yourself,” she demanded; “your name, your country, the strange contrivances in which you came to the last stronghold of the Tarids, and your reason for coming.”

“I am John Carter,” I replied, “Prince of the house of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium.”

“Helium?” she questioned. “Where is Helium? I never heard of it.”

“It is on another world,” I explained, “on Barsoom, the great planet that you call your larger moon.”

“You are, then, a prince in your own country?” she said. “I thought as much. I am seldom mistaken in my estimate of people. The two women and one of the other men among your companions are well-bred,” she continued; “the other two men are not. One of them, however, has a brilliant mind, while the other is a stupid lout, a low brute of a man.”

I could not but smile at her accurate appraisal of my companions. Here, indeed, was a brilliant woman. If she really cared to befriend me, I felt that she might accomplish much for us; but I did not allow my hopes to rise too high, for after all she was the mate of Ul Vas, the Jeddak who had condemned us to death.

“You have read them accurately, Jeddara,” I told her.

“And you,” she continued; “you are a great man in your own world. You would be a great man in any world; but you have not told me why you came to our country.”

“The two men that you last described abducted a princess of the reigning house of my country.”

“She must be the very beautiful one,” mused Ozara.

“Yes,” I said. “With the other man and the girl, I pursued them in another ship. Shortly after we reached Ladan, we saw their ship in the courtyard of your castle. We landed beside it to rescue the princess and punish her abductors. It was then that your people captured us.”

“Then you did not come to harm us?” she asked.

“Certainly not,” I replied. “We did not even know of your existence.”

She nodded. “I was quite sure that you intended us no harm,” she said, “for enemies would never have placed themselves thus absolutely in our power; but I could not convince Ul Vas and the others.”

“I appreciate your belief in me,” I said; “but I cannot understand why you have taken this interest in me, an alien and a stranger.”

She contemplated me in silence for a moment, her beautiful eyes momentarily dreamy.