Swords of Mars (Barsoom #8)

Page 30

With the utmost caution, I entered the level above. Here it was much lighter. I was in a short corridor with a doorway on either side; ahead of me the passageway ended in a transverse corridor. I moved quickly forward, for I could now see my way quite clearly, as the corridor, although extremely gloomy, was much better lighted than that from which I had emerged.

I was congratulating myself upon my good fortune as I was about to turn into the transverse corridor, when I bumped full into a figure at the turn.

It was a woman. She was probably much more surprised than I, and she started to scream.

I knew that, above all things, I must prevent her from giving an alarm; and so I seized her and clapped a hand across her mouth.

I had just turned the corner into the other corridor when I collided with her; its full length was visible to me; and now, as I silenced the woman, I saw two warriors turn into it at the far end. They were coming in my direction.

Evidently I had congratulated myself too soon.

Unencumbered by my captive, I might have found a hiding-place, or, failing that, I could have lain in ambush for them in this darker passageway and killed them both before they could raise an alarm; but here I was with both of my hands occupied, one of them holding the struggling girl and the other effectually silencing her attempt to cry out.

I could not kill her, and if I turned her loose she would have the whole castle on me in a few moments. My case seemed entirely hopeless, but I did not give up hope. I had come this far; I would not, I could not, admit defeat.

Then I recalled the two doors that I had passed in the short corridor. One of them was only a few paces to my rear.

“Keep still, and I will not harm you,” I whispered, and then I dragged her along the corridor to the nearest door.

Fortunately, it was unlocked; but what lay beyond it, I did not know. I had to think quickly and decide what I should do if it were occupied. There seemed only one thing to do, push the girl into it and then run back to meet the two warriors that I had seen approaching. In other words, try to fight my way out of the castle of Ul Vas—a mad scheme, with half a thousand warriors to block my way.

But the room was not occupied, as I could see the moment that I entered it; for it was well lighted by several windows.

Closing the door, I stood with my back against it, listening. I had not looked down at the woman in my arms; I was too intent upon listening for the approach of the two warriors I had seen. Would they turn into this corridor? Would they come to this very room?

I must have unconsciously released my pressure upon the girl’s lips; for before I could prevent it, she tore my hand away and spoke.

“John Carter!” she exclaimed in a low tone.

I looked down at her in surprise, and then I recognized her. It was Ulah, the slave of Ozara, the Jeddara of the Tarids.

“Ulah,” I said, earnestly, “please do not make me harm you. I do not wish to harm anyone in the castle; I only wish to escape. More than my life depends upon that, so very much more that I would break the unwritten law of my caste even to killing a woman, were it necessary to do so to accomplish my purpose.”

“You need not fear me,” she said, “I will not betray you.”

“You are a wise girl,” I said; “you have bought your life very cheaply.”

“It was not to save my life that I promised,” she said. “I would not have betrayed you in any event.”

“And why?” I asked. “You owe me nothing.”

“I love my mistress, Ozara,” she said simply.

“And what has that to do with it?” I asked.

“I would not harm one whom my mistress loves.”

Of course, I knew that Ulah was romancing—letting her imagination work overtime; and as it was immaterial what she believed so long as she helped me, I did not contradict her.

“Where is your mistress now?” I asked.

“She is in this very tower,” she replied. “She is locked in a room directly above this one, on the next level. Ul Vas is keeping her there until he is ready to destroy her. Oh, save her, John Carter, save her!”

“How did you learn my name, Ulah?” I asked.

“The Jeddara told me,” she replied; “she talked about you constantly.”

“You are better acquainted with the castle than I am, Ulah,” I said; “is there any way in which I can reach the Jeddara? “Can you get a message to her? Could we get her out of that room?”

“No,” she replied; “the door is locked, and two warriors stand guard outside it day and night.”

I walked to the window and looked out. There seemed to be no one in sight. Then I leaned out as far as I could and looked up. Perhaps fifteen feet above me was another window. I turned back into the room.

“You are sure that the Jeddara is in the room directly above this?” I asked.

“I know it,” she replied.

“And you want to help her to escape?”

“Yes; there is nothing that I would not do to serve her.”

“What is this room used for?” I asked.

“Nothing, now,” she replied; “you see everything is covered with dust. It has not been used for a long time.”

“You think it is not likely that anyone will come here?” I asked. “You think I might hide here safely until tonight?”

“I am sure that you are perfectly safe,” she replied; “I do not know why anyone should come here.”

“Good!” I exclaimed. “Do you really want to help your mistress to escape?”

“With all my heart,” she replied. “I could not bear to see her die.”

“You can help her, then,” I said.

“How?”

“Bring me a rope and a strong hook. Do you think you can do it?”

“How long a rope?”

“About twenty feet.”

“When do you want them?”

“Whenever you can bring them without danger of detection, but certainly before midnight tonight.”

“I can get them,” she said. “I will go at once.”

I had to trust her; there was no other way, and so I let her depart.

After she had gone and I had closed the door behind her, I found a heavy bar on the inside. I dropped this into its keeper so that no one could enter the room unexpectedly and take me by surprise. Then I sat down to wait.

Those were long hours that dragged themselves slowly by. I could not but constantly question my wisdom in trusting the slave girl, Ulah. What did I know about her? By what loyalty was she bound to me, except by the thin bond engendered by her foolish imagination? Perhaps, already, she had arranged for my capture. It would not be at all surprising that she had a lover among the warriors, as she was quite beautiful. What better turn could she serve him than by divulging the place of my concealment and permitting him to be the means of my capture and perhaps thereby winning promotion?

Toward the end of the afternoon, when I heard footsteps coming along the corridor toward my hiding place—the first sounds that I had heard since Ulah left me—I was certain that warriors were coming to seize me. I determined that I would give a good account of myself; and so I stood by the door, my long sword ready in my hand; but the footsteps passed by me. They were moving in the direction of the stairway up which I had come from the black corridor leading to my cell.

Not long after, I heard them returning. There were a number of men talking excitedly, but through the heavy door I could not quite catch their words. When they had passed out of hearing, I breathed a sigh of relief; and my confidence in Ulah commenced to take new heart.

Night fell. Light began to shine beyond many of the windows in the castle visible from the room in which I hid.

Why did not Ulah return? Had she been unable to find a rope and a hook? Was something or someone detaining her? What futile questions one propounds in the extremity of despair.

Presently I heard a sound outside the door of the room. I had heard no one approaching; but now I knew that someone was pushing on the door, attempting to enter. I went close to it and put my ear against the panels. Then I heard a voice. “Open, it is Ulah.”

Great was my relief as I drew the bar and admitted the slave girl. It was quite dark in the room; we could not see one another.

“Did you think I was never going to return, John Carter?” she asked.

“I was commencing to have my doubts,” I replied. “Were you able to get the things I asked for?”

“Yes, here they are,” she said, and I felt a rope and a hook pressed into my hand.

“Good!” I exclaimed. “Have you learned anything while you were away that might help me or the Jeddara?”

“No,” she said, “nothing that will help you but something that may make it more difficult for you to leave the castle, if that were possible at all, which I doubt.”

“What is that?” I demanded.

“They have learned of your escape from the cell,” she replied. “The warrior who was sent there with your food did not return; and when other warriors went to investigate, they found him bound and gagged in the cell where you should have been.”

“It must have been they I heard passing the door late in the afternoon,” I said.

“It is strange they have not searched this room.”

“They think you went in another direction,” she explained. “They are searching another part of the castle.”

“But eventually they will come here?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said; “eventually they will search every room in the castle, but that will take a long time.”

“You have done well, Ulah,” I said. “I am sorry that I can offer you nothing more in return than my thanks.”

“I shall be glad to do even more,” she said; “there is nothing that I would not do to help you and the jeddara.”

“There is nothing more that you can do,” I told her; “and now you had better go, before they find you here with me.”

“You are sure that there is nothing more I can do?” she asked.

“No, nothing, Ulah,” and I opened the door, and she went out.

“Good-bye, and good luck, John Carter,” she whispered, as I closed the door behind her.

I went at once to the window, after rebolting the door. It was very dark outside. I had wanted to wait until after midnight and until the castle was asleep before I attempted to put into practice the plan I contemplated for the rescue of Ozara, but the knowledge that they were searching the castle for me forced me to put aside every consideration except haste.

I fastened one end of the rope securely to the hook that Ulah had brought me.

Then I sat on the window sill and leaned far out.

I took one end of the rope in my left hand where I grasped the frame of the window, and held the hook in my right hand, permitting the slack of the rope to fall free beneath me against the side of the tower outside the window.

I gauged the distance upward to the sill of the window above. It seemed too far for me to hope to make a successful cast from the position in which I was sitting, and so I arose and stood on the sill of the window. This brought me a few feet nearer my goal and also gave me a little more freedom of action.

I was very anxious to be successful at the first cast; for I feared that if I missed, the rattling of the metal hook against the side of the tower might attract attention.

I stood there several minutes gauging the distance and going through all the motions of throwing the hook except actually releasing it.

When I felt that I had the timing and the distance as accurately gauged as it was possible to do in this manner, I swung the hook upward and released it.

I could see the sill above me, because a faint light was coming from the room beyond it. I saw the hook swing into this light; I heard it strike the sill with a metallic ring; then I pulled down upon the rope.

The hook had caught! I put considerable weight upon the rope, and still the hook held. I waited a moment to see if I had attracted the attention of Ozara or anyone else who might be in the room with her.