As these discouraging thoughts were racing through my brain, I was causing the ship to drop slowly toward the Diamond Tower and circle it; and presently I saw a red scarf across the sill of a lighted window.
Silently the ship drew closer. The doors in both sides of the cabin were open to permit Gar Nal to cross from his ship to the window in the tower.
I stood upon the threshold of the port doorway, ready to leap into the room the instant that the ship drew close enough.
The interior of the room beyond the window was not brilliantly lighted, but in the dim illumination I could see the figures of three women, and my heart leaped with renewed hope.
The discovery of the scarlet scarf flying from the window had not wholly reassured me, as I was fully conscious of the fact that it might have been placed there as a lure; but the presence of the three women in the chamber appeared reasonable evidence that Ozara had carried out her part of the agreement loyally.
As the ship came closer to the sill, I prepared to leap into the room beyond; and just as I jumped I heard a voice raised in alarm and warning far below me at the base of the tower. We had been discovered.
As I alighted from the floor of the chamber, Dejah Thoris voiced a little exclamation of happiness. “My chieftain!” she cried. “I knew that you would come. Wherever they might have taken me, I knew that you would follow.”
“To the end of the universe, my Princess,” I replied.
The warning cry from below that told me that we had been discovered left no time now for greeting or explanation, nor would either Dejah Thoris or myself reveal to strangers the emotions that were in our breasts. I wanted to take her to my heart, to crush her beautiful body to mine, to cover her lips with kisses; but instead I only said, “Come, we must board the ship at once. The guard below has raised the alarm.”
Zanda came and clutched my arm. “I knew you would come, Vandor,” she said.
I could not understand her use of that name. Could it be that Dejah Thoris had not told her who I was? Ozara also knew my name. It seemed incredible that she should not have mentioned it when she came to the room to explain to the two women imprisoned there that a rescue had been planned and who was to execute it.
The Jeddara of the Tarids, did not greet me. She scrutinized me beneath narrowed lids through the silky fringe of her long lashes; and as my eyes rested for a moment on hers, I thought that I recognized in her glance a hint of malice; but perhaps that was only my imagination, and certainly I had no time now to analyze or question her emotions.
As I turned toward the window with Dejah Thoris, I was filled with consternation. The ships were gone!
Running to the opening, I looked out; and to the left I saw both crafts moving off into the night.
What had happened to thus wreck my plans in the very instant of success?
The three women shared my consternation. “The ship!” exclaimed Dejah Thoris.
“Where has it gone?” cried Ozara.
“We are lost,” said Zanda, quite simply. “I can hear armed men running up the stairway.”
Suddenly I realized what had happened. I had directed the brain to approach the window, but I had not told it to stop. I had jumped, and it had gone on before my companions could follow me; and Gar Nal, not knowing what had occurred, had continued on with it, following me as I had directed.
Instantly, I centered my thoughts upon the mechanical brain and directed it to bring the ship back to the window and stop there. Self-reproach now was useless but I could not help but be cognizant of the fact that my carelessness had jeopardized the safety of my princess and those others who had looked to me for protection.
I could now plainly hear the warriors approaching. They were coming swiftly.
From the window, I could see both ships turning now. Would they reach us before it was too late? I commanded the brain to return at the highest speed compatible with safety. It leaped forward in response to my wishes. The warriors were very close now. I judged that they were approaching the next level below. In another moment they would be at the door.
I carried the long sword of one of the Tarid warriors that we had overpowered in the cabin of the craft, but could a single sword for long prevail over the many that I knew must be coming?
The ships drew closer, Gar Nal’s almost abreast of mine. I saw Jat Or and Ur Jan standing in the doorway of Fal Sivas’s ship.
“The alarm has been raised and warriors are almost at the door,” I called to them. “I will try to hold them off while you get the women aboard.”
Even as I spoke, I heard the enemy just outside the door of the chamber. “Stay close to the window,” I directed the three women, “and board the boat the moment it touches the sill;” then I crossed the room quickly to the door, the Tarid long sword ready in my hand.
I had scarcely reached it, when it was thrown open; a dozen warriors crowded in the corridor beyond. The first one to leap into the room leaped full upon the point of my blade. With a single, piercing scream he died; and as I jerked my steel from his heart, he lunged forward at my feet.
In the brief instant that my weapon was thus engaged, three men forced themselves into the room, pushed forward by those behind.
One thrust at me, and another swung a terrific cut at my head. I parried the thrust and dodged the cut, and then my blade clove the skull of one of them.
For a moment I forgot everything in the joy of battle. I felt my lips tense in the fighting smile that is famous in two worlds. Again, as upon so many other fields, my sword seemed inspired; but the Tarids were no mean swordsmen, nor were they cowards. They pushed forward into the room over the bodies of their dead companions.
I think that I could have accounted for them all singlehanded, with such fierce enthusiasm did I throw my whole being into the defense of my princess; but now from below I heard the tramp of many feet and the rattling of accouterments.
Reinforcements were coming!
It had been a glorious fight so far. Six lay dead upon the floor about me; but now the other six were all in the room, yet I would have felt no discouragement had I not heard the thunderous pounding of those many feet leaping rapidly upward from below.
I was engaged with a strapping fellow who sought to push me back, when one of his companions attempted to reach my side and distract my attention, while another edged to my opposite side.
My situation at that moment was embarrassing, to say the least, for the man who engaged me in front was not only a powerful fellow but a splendid swordsman; and then I saw a sword flash at my right and another at my left. Two of my adversaries went down, and in the next instant a quick glance showed me that Ur Jan and Jat Or were fighting at my side.
As the three remaining Tarids bravely leaped in to take the places of their fallen comrades, the van of their reinforcements arrived; and a perfect avalanche of yelling warriors burst into the apartment.
As I finally succeeded in spitting my antagonist, I snatched a momentary opportunity to glance behind me.
I saw the three women and Umka in the room and Gar Nal standing upon the sill of the window.
“Quick, Gar Nal,” I cried, “get the women aboard.”
For the next few minutes I was about as busy as I can remember ever having been before in my life. The Tarids were all around us. They had succeeded in encircling us. I was engaged constantly with two or three swordsmen at a time. I could not see what was taking place elsewhere in the room, but my thoughts were always of Dejah Thoris and her safety; and suddenly it occurred to me that if all of us who were fighting there in the room should be destroyed, she would be left in the power of Gar Nal without a defender.
Jat Or was fighting near me. “The princess!” I called to him; “she is alone on the ship with Gar Nal. If we are both killed, she is lost. Go to her at once.”
“And leave you, my prince?” he demanded.
“It is not a request, Jat Or,” I said; “it is a command.”
“Yes, my prince,” he replied, and fought his way to the window.
“Help him, Ur Jan,” I commanded.
The three of us managed to cut a path for Jat Or to the window, and as we stood with our backs to it, I saw something which filled me with consternation. At one side, struggling in the grip of two warriors, was Ozara, the Jeddara of the Tarids.
“Save me, John Carter,” she cried. “Save me, or I shall be killed.”
There was nothing else that I could do. No other path would be honorable. Ozara had made it possible for us to escape. Perhaps her deed had already succeeded in saving Dejah Thoris. My own stupidity had placed us in this position, which now had become a definite threat to the life of the Jeddara.
Jat Or, Ur Jan, and I had succeeded in cutting down the warriors that immediately faced us; and the others, probably the least courageous of the band, seemed to hesitate to engage us again immediately.
I turned to my companions. “On board with you, quick,” I cried, “and hold the entrance to the ship until I bring the Jeddara aboard.”
As I started toward the warriors holding Ozara, I saw Umka at my side. He had given a good account of himself in the fight, although he had carried no sword, which, at the time, I did not understand because there was a plentiful supply of weapons aboard the craft; but later I was to learn that it is not the manner of the Masenas to fight with swords or daggers, with the use of which they are wholly unfamiliar.
I had seen in this encounter how he fought; and I realized that his powerful muscles and the terrible jaws of his lower mouth were adequate weapons even against a swordsman, aided as they were by the catlike agility of the Masena.
Umka had received a number of wounds; and was bleeding profusely, as, in fact, were all of us; but I thought that he looked about finished and ordered him back to the ship. He demurred at first, but finally he went, and I was alone in the room with the remaining Tarids.
I knew that my position was hopeless, but I could not leave to her death this girl who had aided me.
As I sprang forward to attack her captors, I saw another contingent of reinforcements burst into the room.
My case was now, indeed, hopeless.
The newcomers paid no attention to me; they ran straight for the window where the ship lay. If they succeeded in boarding her, the doom of Dejah Thoris would be sealed.
There was only one way in which I could circumvent them, though it definitely spelled the end for me.
The two men holding Ozara were waiting for me to attack them, but I paused long enough to hurl a mental order at the mechanical brain in the nose of Fal Sivas’s ship.
I cast a glance back at the craft. Ur Jan and Umka stood in the doorway; Jat Or was not there; but at the very instant that the ship started to move away in obedience to my command, the young padwar sprang into view.
“My prince,” he cried, “we have been betrayed. Gar Nal has fled with Dejah Thoris in his own ship.”
Then the Tarids were upon me. A blow upon my head sent me down to merciful unconsciousness.
XXII. — IN THE DARK CELL
Enveloped in darkness, surrounded by the silence of the grave, I regained consciousness. I was lying on a cold, stone floor; my head ached; and when I felt it with my palms, it was stiff with dried blood; and my hair was matted.
Dizzily, I dragged myself to a sitting posture and then to my feet. Then came realization that I probably was not seriously injured, and I commenced to investigate my surroundings.
Moving cautiously, groping through the darkness with outstretched hands before me, I soon came in contact with a stone wall. This I followed for a short distance, when I discovered a door. It was a very substantial door, and it was securely fastened from the opposite side.
I moved on; I encircled the room and came to the door again. It was a small room, this new cell of mine. It had nothing to offer to either my eyes or to my ears. I commenced to realize the sort of world that the blind and the deaf must live in.
There were left to me then, only the senses of taste and smell and touch.
The first, of course, was useless to me under the circumstances; my nose, at first, identified a stale and musty odor; but presently becoming accustomed to it, it did not react at all. There was left to me then only the sense of touch.
A strong wall broken by a wooden door—this was my world.
I wondered how long they would leave me here. It was like being buried alive. I knew that I must steel my will against the horrible monotony of it, with only the stone wall and that wooden door and my thoughts for company.