Swords of Mars (Barsoom #8)

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“Perhaps it is because we have so much in common,” she said; “and again perhaps because of a force that is greater than all others and that seizes and dominates us without our volition.”

She paused and regarded me intently, and then she shook her head impatiently.

“The thing that we have in common,” she said, “is that we are both prisoners in the castle of Ul Vas. The reason that I have taken this interest in you, you would understand if you are one-tenth as intelligent as I gave you credit for.”

 

XX.— WE ATTEMPT ESCAPE

Ozara may have overestimated my intelligence, but she underestimated my caution.

I could not admit that I understood the inference that I was supposed to draw from what she had said to me. As a matter of fact, the implication was so preposterous that at first I was inclined to believe that it was a ruse intended to trap me into some sort of an admission of ulterior designs upon her people, after she had wholly won my confidence; and so I sought to ignore the possible confession in her final statement by appearing to be dumbfounded by her first statement, which really was a surprise to me.

“You, a prisoner?” I demanded. “I thought that you were the Jeddara of the Tarids.”

“I am,” she said, “but I am no less a prisoner.”

“But are not these your people?” I asked.

“No,” she replied; “I am a Domnian. My country, Domnia, lies far away across the mountains that lie beyond the forest that surrounds the castle of Ul Vas.”

“And your people married you to Ul Vas, Jeddak of the Tarids?” I asked.

“No,” she replied; “he stole me from them. My people do not know what has become of me. They would never willingly have sent me to the court of Ul Vas, nor would I remain here, could I escape. Ul Vas is a beast. He changes his jeddaras often. His agents are constantly searching other countries for beautiful young women.

“When they find one more beautiful than I, I shall go the way of my predecessors; but I think that he has found one to his liking already, and that my days are numbered.”

“You think that his agents have found another more beautiful than you?” I asked; “it seems incredible.”

“Thank you for the compliment,” she said “but his agents have not found another more beautiful than I. Ul Vas has found her himself. In the audience chamber, did you not see him looking at your beautiful compatriot? He could scarcely keep his eyes from her, and you will recall that her life was spared.”

“So was the life of the girl, Zanda,” I reminded her. “Is he going to take her also to be his jeddara?”

“No, he may only have one at a time,” replied Ozara. The girl whom you call Zanda is for the High Priest. It is thus that Ul Vas propitiates the gods.”

“If he takes this other woman,” I said, “she will kill him.”

“But that will not help me,” said Ozara.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because while one jeddara lives, he cannot take another,” she explained.

“You will be destroyed?” I asked.

“I shall disappear,” she replied. “Strange things happen in the castle of Ul Vas, strange and terrible things.”

“I commence to understand why you sent for me,” I said; “you would like to escape; and you think if you can help us to escape, we will take you with us.”

“You are commencing to understand at least a part of my reasons,” she said. “The rest,” she added, “I shall see that you learn in time.”

“You think there is a chance for us to escape?” I asked.

“Just a bare chance,” she said; “but inasmuch as we are to die anyway, there is no chance that we may not take.”

“Have you any plans?”

“We might escape in the ship, the one that is still in the courtyard.”

Now I was interested. “One of the ships is still in the courtyard?” I demanded.

“Only one? They have not destroyed it?”

“They would have destroyed it, but they are afraid of it; they are afraid to go near it. When you were captured, two of Ul Vas’s warriors entered one of the ships, whereupon it immediately flew away with them. It did not fly away before the first one who had entered it had called back to his companion that it was deserted. Now they think that these ships are under a magic spell, and they will not go near the one that lies in the courtyard.”

“Do you know what became of the other ship?” I asked. “Do you know where it went?”

“It lies in the sky, far above the castle. It just floats there, as though it were waiting—waiting for something, we know not what. Ul Vas is afraid of it.

“That is one reason why you have not been destroyed before. He was waiting to see what the ship would do; and he was also waiting to screw up his courage to a point where he might order your destruction, for Ul Vas is a great coward.”

“Then you think that there is a chance of our reaching the ship?” I asked.

“There is a chance,” she said. “I can hide you here in my apartment until nightfall, and the castle sleeps. Then if we can pass the guard at the outer doorway and reach the courtyard, we should succeed. It is worth trying, but you may have to fight your way past the guard. Are you skilled with the sword?”

“I think that I can give a good account of myself,” I replied, “but how are we to get the rest of my party into the courtyard?”

“Only you and I are going,” she said.

I shook my head. “I cannot go unless all my people go with me.”

She eyed me with sudden suspicion. “Why not?” she demanded. “You are in love with one of those women; you will not go without her.” Her tone was tinged with resentment; it was the speech of a jealous woman.

If I were to effect the escape of the others, and especially of Dejah Thoris, I must not let her know the truth; so I thought quickly, and two good reasons occurred to me why she and I could not depart alone.

“It is a point of honor in the country from which I come,” I told her, “that a man never deserts his comrades. For that reason, I could not, in honor, leave without them; but there is another even more potent reason.”

“What is that?” she asked.

“The ship that remains in the courtyard belongs to my enemies, the two men who abducted the princess from my country. My ship is the one that floats above the castle. I know nothing at all about the mechanism of their ship. Even if we succeeded in reaching it I could not operate it.”

She studied this problem for a while, and then she looked up at me. “I wonder if you are telling me the truth,” she said.

“Your life depends upon your believing me,” I replied, “and so does mine, and so do the lives of all my companions.”

She considered this in silence for a moment, and then with a gesture of impatience she said, “I do not know how we can get your friends out into the courtyard and to the ship.”

“I think I know how we may escape,” I said, “if you will help us.”

“How is that?” she demanded.

“If you can get me tools with which we can cut the bars to the windows of their prison cells, and also describe exactly the location of the room in which the girls are imprisoned, I am sure that I can be successful.”

“If I did these things, then you could escape without me,” she said suspiciously.

“I give you my word, Ozara, that if you do as I ask, I shall not leave without you.”

“What else do you want me to do?” she asked.

“Can you gain entrance to the room where the princess and Zanda are imprisoned?”

“Yes, I think that I can do that,” she replied, “unless Ul Vas should realize that I suspected his intention and might think that I intended to kill the women; but I am not so sure that I can get the tools with which you may cut the bars to the windows of your prison. I can get them,” she corrected herself, “but I do not know how I can get them to you.”

“If you could send some food to me, you might conceal a file or saw in the jar with the food,” I suggested.

“Just the thing!” she exclaimed; “I can send Ulah to you with a jar of food.”

“And how about the bars on the windows of the girls’ prison?” I asked.

“They are in the Diamond Tower,” she replied, “very high. There are no bars on their windows because no one could escape from the Diamond Tower in that way. There are always guards at its base, for it is the tower in which are the Jeddak’s quarters; so if you are planning on your women escaping through a window, you might as well abandon the idea at once.”

“I think not,” I replied. “If my plan works, they can escape with even greater ease from the Diamond Tower than from the courtyard.”

“But how about you and the other men of your party? Even if you are able to lower yourselves from the window of your cell, you will never be able to reach the Diamond Tower to insure our escape.”

“Leave that to me,” I said; “have confidence in me, and I think that if you do your part, we shall all be able to escape.”

“Tonight?” she asked.

“No, I think not,” I said; “we had better wait until tomorrow night, for we do not know how long it will take to sever the bars of our window. Perhaps you had better send me back now and smuggle the tools to me as soon thereafter as possible.”

She nodded. “You are right.”

“Just a moment,” I said. “How am I to know the Tower of Diamonds? How am I to find it?”

She appeared puzzled. “It is the central and loftiest tower of the castle,” she explained, “but I do not know how you will reach it without a guide and many fighting men.”

“Leave that to me, but you must help guide me to the room where the two women are imprisoned.”

“How can I do that?” she demanded.

“When you reach their room, hang a colored scarf from a window there —a red scarf.”

“How can you see that from inside the castle?” she demanded.

“Never mind; if my plan works, I shall find it. And now, please send me away.”

She struck a gong hanging near her and the slave girl, Ulah, entered the apartment. “Take the prisoner back to Zamak,” she instructed, “and have him returned to his cell.”

Ulah took me by the hand and led me from the presence of the Jeddara, through the adjoining apartment and into the corridor beyond, where Zamak and the guards were waiting. There she turned me over to the warriors who conducted me back to the room in the Turquoise Tower, where my companions were imprisoned.

Jat Or voiced an exclamation of relief when he saw me enter the room. “When they took you away, my prince, I thought that I should never see you again; but now fate is growing kinder to me. She has just given me two proofs of her returning favor—I have you back again, and when the door opened I saw the Tarids who returned with you.”

“You could see them?” I exclaimed.

“I could see them and hear them,” he replied.

“And I, too,” said Gar Nal.

“How about you, Ur Jan?” I asked, for the more of us who could see them, the better chance we would have in the event that there was any fighting during our attempt to rescue the women and escape.

Ur Jan shook his head gloomily. “I could see nothing or hear nothing,” he said.

“Don’t give up,” I urged; “you must see them. Persevere, and you shall see them.”

“Now,” I said, turning to Gar Nal, “I have some good news. Our ships are safe; yours still lies in the courtyard. They are afraid to approach it.”

“And yours?” he asked.

“It floats in the sky, high above the castle.”

“You brought others with you from Barsoom?” he asked.

“No,” I replied.

“But there must be somebody aboard the ship, or it could not get up there and remain under control.”