Swords of Mars (Barsoom #8)

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“There is someone aboard it,” I replied.

He looked puzzled. “But you just said that you brought no one with you,” he challenged.

“There are two Tarid warriors aboard it.”

“But how can they handle it? What can they know about the intricate mechanism of Fal Sivas’s craft?”

“They know nothing about it and cannot handle it.”

“Then how in the name of Issus did it get up there?” he demanded.

“That is something that you need not know, Gar Nal,” I told him. “The fact is, that it is there.”

“But what good will it do us, hanging up there in the sky?”

“I think that I can get it, when the time comes,” I said, although, as a matter of fact, I was not positive that I could control the ship through the mechanical brain at so great a distance. “I am not so much worried about my ship, Gar Nal, as I am about yours. We should recover it, for after we escape from this castle, our truce is off; and it would not be well for us to travel on the same ship.”

He acquiesced with a nod, but I saw his eyes narrow craftily. I wondered if that expression reflected some treacherous thought; but I passed the idea off with a mental shrug, as really it did not make much difference what Gar Nal was thinking as long as I could keep my eyes on him until I had Dejah Thoris safely aboard my own craft.

Ur Jan was sitting on a bench, glaring into space; and I knew that he was concentrating his stupid brain in an effort to cast off the hypnotic spell under which the Tarids had placed him. Umka lay curled up on a rug, purring contentedly. Jat Or stood looking out of one of the windows.

The door opened, and we all turned toward it. I saw Ulah, the Jeddara’s slave, bearing a large earthen jar of food. She set it down upon the floor inside the door, and stepping back into the corridor, closed and fastened the door after her.

I walked quickly to the jar and picked it up; and as I turned back toward the others, I saw Ur Jan standing wide-eyed staring at the door.

“What’s the matter, Ur Jan?” I asked. “You look as though you had seen a ghost.”

“I saw her!” he exclaimed. “I saw her. Ghost or no ghost, I saw her.”

“Good!” ejaculated Jat Or; “now we are all free from that damnable spell.”

“Give me a good sword,” growled Ur Jan; “and well soon be free of the castle, too.”

“We’ve got to get out of this room first,” Gar Nal reminded him.

“I think we have the means of escape here, in this jar,” I told them. “Come, we might as well eat the food, as long as we have it, and see what we find in the bottom of the jar.”

The others gathered around me, and we started to empty the jar in the most pleasurable fashion; nor had we gone deep into it before I discovered three files, and with these we immediately set to work upon the bars of one of our windows.

“Don’t cut them all the way through,” I cautioned; “just weaken three of them so that we can pull them aside when the time arrives.”

The metal of which the bars were constructed was either some element unknown upon Earth or Barsoom. or an equally mysterious alloy. It was very hard. In fact, it seemed at first that it was almost as hard as our files; but at last they commenced to bite into it, yet I saw that it was going to be a long, hard job.

We worked upon those bars all that night and all of the following day.

When slaves brought our food, two of us stood looking out of the window, our hands grasping the bars so as to cover up the evidence of our labors; and thus we succeeded in finishing the undertaking without being apprehended.

Night fell. The time was approaching when I might put to trial the one phase of my plan that was the keystone upon which the success of the entire adventure must rest. If it failed, all our work upon the bars would be set for naught, our hopes of escape practically blasted. I had not let the others know what I purposed attempting, and I did not now acquaint them with the doubts and fears that assailed me.

Ur Jan was at the window looking out. “We can pull these bars away whenever we wish,” he said, “but I do not see what good that is going to do us. If we fastened all our harnesses together, they would not reach to the castle roof below us. It looks to me as though we had had all our work for nothing.”

“Go over there and sit down,” I told him, “and keep still. All of you keep still; do not speak or move until I tell you to.”

Of them all, only Jat Or could have guessed what I purposed attempting, yet they all did as I had bid them.

Going to the window, I searched the sky; but I could see nothing of our craft.

Nevertheless, I sought to concentrate my thoughts upon the metallic brain wherever it might be. I directed it to drop down and approach the window of the tower where I stood. Never before in my life, I think, had I so concentrated my mind upon a single idea. There seemed to be a reaction that I could feel almost as definitely as when I tensed a muscle. Beads of cold sweat stood our upon my forehead.

Behind me the room was as silent as the grave; and through the open window where I stood, no sound came from the sleeping castle below me.

The slow seconds passed, dragging into a seeming eternity of time. Could it be that the brain had passed beyond the sphere of my control? Was the ship lost to me forever? These thoughts assailed me as my power of concentration weakened. My mind was swept into a mad riot of conflicting hopes and doubts, fears and sudden swift assurances of success that faded into despond as rapidly as they had grown out of nothing.

And then, across the sky I saw a great black hulk moving slowly toward me out of the night.

For just an instant the reaction left me weak; but I soon regained control of myself and pulled aside the three bars that we had cut.

The others, who had evidently been watching the window from where they either sat or stood, now pressed forward. I could hear smothered exclamations of surprise, relief, elation. Turning quickly, I cautioned them to silence.

I directed the brain to bring the ship close to the window; then I turned again to my companions.

“There are two Tarid warriors aboard her,” I said. “If they found the water and food which she carried, they are still alive; and there is no reason to believe that starving men would not find it. We must therefore prepare ourselves for a fight. Each of these men, no doubt, is armed with a long sword and a dagger. We are unarmed. We shall have to overcome them with our bare hands.”

I turned to Ur Jan. “When the door is opened, two of us must leap into the cabin simultaneously on the chance that we may take them by surprise. Will you go first with me, Ur Jan?”

He nodded and a crooked smile twisted his lips. “Yes,” he said, “and it will be a strange sight to see Ur Jan and John Carter fighting side by side.”

“At least we should put up a good fight,” I said.

“It is too bad,” he sighed, “that those two Tarids will never have the honor of knowing who killed them.”

“Jat Or, you and Gar Nal follow immediately behind Ur Jan and me.” And then, in his own language, I told Umka to board the ship immediately after Jat Or and Gar Nal. “And if the fighting is not all over,” I told him, “you will know what to do when you see the two Tarid warriors.” His upper mouth stretched in one of his strange grins, and he purred contentedly.

I stepped to the sill of the window, and Ur Jan clambered to my side. The hull of the craft was almost scraping the side of the building; the doorway was only a foot from the sill on which we stood.

“Ready, Ur Jan,” I whispered, and then I directed the brain to draw the doors aside as rapidly as possible.

Almost instantly, they sprang apart; and in the same instant Ur Jan and I sprang into the cabin. Behind us, came our three companions. In the gloom of the interior, I saw two men facing us; and without waiting to give either of them a chance to draw, I hurled myself at the legs of the nearer.

He crashed to the floor, and before he could draw his dagger I seized both his wrists and pinioned him on his back.

I did not see how Ur Jan handled his man; but a moment later, with the assistance of Jat Or and Umka, we had disarmed them both.

Ur Jan and Gar Nal wanted to kill them offhand, but that I would not listen to.

I can kill a man in a fair fight without a single qualm of conscience; but I cannot kill a defenseless man in cold blood, even though he be my enemy.

As a precautionary measure, we bound and gagged them.

“What now?” demanded Gar Nal. “How are you going to get the women?”

“First, I am going to try and get your ship,” I replied, “for even if we extend our truce, we shall stand a better chance of returning to Barsoom if we have both ships in our possession, as something might happen to one of them.”

“You are right,” he said; “and, too, I should hate to lose my ship. It is the fruit of a lifetime of thought and study and labor.”

I now caused the ship to rise and cruise away until I thought that it was out of sight of the castle. I adopted this course merely as a strategy to throw the Tarids off our track in the event that any of the guards had seen the ship maneuvering among the towers; but when we had gone some little distance, I dropped low and approached the castle again from the side where Gar Nal’s ship lay in the courtyard.

I kept very low above the trees of the forest and moved very slowly without lights. Just beyond the castle wall, I brought the ship to a stop and surveyed the courtyard just ahead and below us.

Plainly I saw the outlines of Gar Nal’s ship, but nowhere upon that side of the castle was there any sign of a guard.

This seemed almost too good to be true, and in a whisper I asked Umka if it could be possible that the castle was unguarded at night.

“There are guards within the castle all night,” he said, “and upon the outside of the Tower of Diamonds, but these are to guard Ul Vas against assassination by his own people. They do not fear that any enemy will come from beyond the walls at night, for none has ever attacked except by day. The forests of Ladan are full of wild beasts; and if a body of men were to enter them at night, the beasts would set up such a din of howling and roaring that the Tarids would be warned in ample time to defend themselves; so you see, the beasts of the forest are all the guards they need.”

Thus assured that there was no one in the courtyard, I took the ship across the wall and dropped it to the ground beside Gar Nal’s.

Quickly I gave my instructions for what was to follow. “Gar Nal,” I said, “you will go aboard your ship and pilot it, following me. We are going to the window of the room where the girls are confined. As I draw in and stop at their window, both the doors in the sides of my ship will be open. Open the door on the port side of your ship and place it alongside mine, so that if it is necessary you can cross through my ship and enter the room where the women are confined. We may need all the help that we have, if the women are well guarded.”

 

XXI. — IN THE TOWER OF DIAMONDS

Vague misgivings disturbed me as I saw Gar Nal enter his ship. They seemed a premonition of disaster, of tragedy; but I realized that they were based upon nothing more substantial than my natural dislike for the man, and so I sought to thrust them aside and devote my thoughts to the business in hand.

The night was dark. Neither Mars nor Cluros had risen. It was, indeed, because of the fact that I knew neither of them would be in the sky that I had chosen this hour for my attempt to rescue Dejah Thoris and her companion.

Presently I heard the motors of Gar Nal’s ship, which we had decided should be the signal that he was ready to start. Leaving the ground, I rose from the courtyard, crossed the wall and set a course away from the city. This I held until I felt that we were out of sight of any possible watcher who might have discovered us. Trailing us was the dark hulk of Gar Nal’s ship.

In a wide spiral, I rose and circled back to the opposite side of the castle; and then, approaching it more closely, I picked out the lofty Tower of Diamonds.

Somewhere in that gleaming shaft were Dejah Thoris and Zanda; and if Ozara had not betrayed me and if no accident had befallen her plan, the Jeddara of the Tarids was with them.

There had been moments when I had been somewhat concerned as to the honesty and loyalty of Ozara. If she had spoken the truth, then there was every reason why she should wish to escape from the clutches of Ul Vas. However, she might not be so enthusiastic about the escape of Dejah Thoris and Zanda.

I confess that I do not understand women. Some of the things that they do, their mental processes, are often inexplicable to me. Yes, I am a fool with women; yet I was not so stupid that I did not sense something in Ozara’s manner toward me, something in the very fact that she had sent for me, that indicated an interest on the part of the Jeddara of the Tarids that might prove inimical to the interests of the Princess of Helium.

Ozara, Jeddara of the Tarids, however, was not the only doubtful factor in the problem which confronted me. I did not trust Gar Nal. I doubt that anyone who had once looked into the man’s eyes could trust him. Ur Jan was my avowed enemy.

His every interest demanded that he either betray or destroy me.

Zanda must have learned by this time from Dejah Thoris that I was John Carter, Prince of Helium. That knowledge would, undoubtedly, free her from all sense of obligation to me; and I could not but recall that she had sworn to kill John Carter if ever the opportunity presented itself. This left only Jat Or and Umka upon whom I could depend; and, as a matter of fact, I was not depending too much upon Umka. His intentions might be good enough, but I knew too little of his fighting heart and ability to be able to definitely assure myself that the cat-man of Ladan would prove an important and effective ally.