Swords of Mars (Barsoom #8)

Page 34

When he had finished it, Ur Jan drew his short sword and offered it to me hilt first.

“It is I who am the cause of your sorrow,” he said. “My life belongs to you. I offer it to you now in atonement.”

I shook my head and pushed his hand away. “You did not know what you were doing, Ur Jan,” I said.

“Perhaps it is not the end,” said Zanda. “Where can Fal Sivas hide that determined men may not find him?”

“Let us dedicate our lives to that purpose,” said Jat Or; and there, in the quarters of Fal Sivas, we four swore to hunt him down.

As we stepped out into the corridor, I saw a man approaching. He was tiptoeing stealthily in our direction. He did not see me instantly because he was casting an apprehensive glance back across his shoulder, as though fearful of discovery from that direction.

When he faced me, we were both surprised—it was Rapas the Ulsio.

At sight of Ur Jan and me standing side by side, The Rat went ashen grey. He started to turn, as though to run; but evidently he thought better of it, for he immediately faced us again, and stood staring at us as though fascinated.

As we approached him, he affected a silly grin. “Well, Vandor,” he said, “this is a surprise. I am glad to see you.”

“Yes, you must be,” I replied. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to see Fal Sivas.”

“Did you expect to find him here?” demanded Ur Jan.

“Yes,” replied Rapas.

“Then why were you sneaking in on your tiptoes?” inquired the assassin. “You are lying, Rapas. You knew that Fal Sivas was not here. If you had thought that he was here, you would not have had the nerve to come, for you knew that he knew that you were in my employ.”

Ur Jan stepped forward quickly and grasped Rapas by the throat. “Listen, you rat,” he growled; “you know where Fal Sivas is. Tell me, or I’ll wring your neck.”

The fellow commenced to grovel and whine, “Don’t, don’t; you are hurting me,” he cried. “You will kill me.”

“At least you have told the truth for once,” growled the assassin. “Quick now; out with it. Where is Fal Sivas?”

“If I tell you, will you promise not to kill me?” asked The Rat.

“We will promise you that and more,” I said; “Tel us where Fal Sivas is, and I’ll give you your weight in treasure.”

“Speak up,” said Ur Jan, giving the fellow a shake.

“Fal Sivas is in the house of Gar Nal,” whispered Rapas, “but don’t tell him that I told you; don’t tell him that I told you or he will kill me horribly.”

I did not dare turn Rapas loose for fear he would betray us, and furthermore he promised to gain entrance to Gar Nal’s for us and lead us to the room where we would find Fal Sivas.

I could not imagine what Fal Sivas was doing in the house of Gar Nal, unless he had gone there in Gar Nal’s absence in an attempt to steal some of his secrets; nor did I bother to question Rapas about it, as it did not seem of any great importance to me. It was enough that Fal Sivas was there, and that I should find him.

It was half after the eighth zode, or around midnight earth-time, that we reached Gar Nal’s. Rapas admitted us and led us to the third level of the house, up narrow ramps at the rear of the building where we met no one. We moved silently without speaking, and at last our guide halted before a door.

“He is in there,” he whispered.

“Open the door,” I said.

He tried it, but it was locked. Ur Jan pushed him aside, and then hurled his great bulk against the door. With a loud splintering of wood, it burst in. I leaped across the threshold; and there, seated at a table, I saw Fal Sivas and Gar Nal—Gar Nal, the man whom I had thought to be imprisoned in the city of Ombra on the nearer moon.

As the two men recognized Ur Jan and me, they leaped to their feet; their evil faces were studies in surprise and terror.

I sprang forward and seized Gar Nal before he could draw his sword, and Ur Jan fell upon Fal Sivas. He would have killed him offhand, but I forbade it. All that I wanted was to learn the fate of Dejah Thoris, and one of these men must know the truth concerning her. They must not die until I knew.

“What are you doing here, Gar Nal?” I demanded. “I thought that you were a prisoner in Ombra.”

“I escaped,” he replied.

“Do you know where my princess is?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

A cunning look entered his eyes. “You would like to know, wouldn’t you?” he asked with a sneer; “but do you think Gar Nal is fool enough to tell you? No, as long as I know and you don’t, you will not dare to kill me.”

“I’ll get the truth out of him,” growled Ur Jan. “Here, Rapas, heat a dagger for me. Heat it red-hot.” But when we looked around, Rapas was not there. As we had entered the room, he had made good his escape.

“Well,” said Ur Jan, “I can heat it myself; but first let me kill Fal Sivas.”

“No, no,” screamed the old inventor. “I did not steal the Princess of Helium; it was Gar Nal.”

And then the two commenced to accuse one another, and presently I discovered that after Gar Nal’s return from Thuria, these two master inventors and great scoundrels had patched up a truce and joined forces because of their mutual fear of me. Gar Nal was to hide Fal Sivas, and in return Fal Sivas was to show him the secret of his mechanical brain.

They had both been certain that the last place in the world that I would look for Fal Sivas would be in the house of Gar Nal. Gar Nal had instructed his servants to say that he had never returned from his trip with Ur Jan, giving the impression that he was still upon Thuria; and he was planning to leave that very night for a distant hiding-place.

But all this annoyed me. I did not care about them, or their plans. I wanted to know but one thing, and that was the fate of Dejah Thoris.

“Where is my princess, Gar Nal?” I demanded; “tell me that, and I will spare your life.”

“She is still in Ombra,” he replied.

Then I turned upon Fal Sivas. “That is your death warrant, Fal Sivas,” I told him.

“Why?” he demanded. “What have I to do with it?”

“You keep me from directing the brain that operates your ship, and only thus may I reach Ombra.”

Ur Jan raised his sword to cleave Fal Sivas’s skull, but the coward went down upon his knees and begged for his life.

“Spare me,” he cried, “and I will turn the ship over to you and let you control the brain.”

“I can’t trust you,” I said.

“You can take me with you,” he pleaded; “that will be better than death.”

“Very well,” I said; “but if you interfere with my plans or attempt to betray me, you shall pay for your treachery with your life.”

I turned toward the door. “I am returning to Thuria tonight,” I said to my companions. “I shall take Fal Sivas with me, and when I return with my princess (and I shall not return without her), I hope to be able to reward you in some material way for your splendid loyalty.”

“I am going with you, my prince,” said Jat Or; “and I ask for no reward.”

“And I, too, am going,” said Zanda.

“And I,” growled Ur Jan, “but first, my prince, please let me run my sword through the heart of this scoundrel,” and as he spoke he advanced upon Gar Nal.

“He should die for what he has done. He gave you his word, and he broke it.”

I shook my head. “No,” I said. “He told me where I could find my princess; and in return for that, I have guaranteed his safety.”

Grumbling, Ur Jan returned his sword to its scabbard; and then we four, with Fal Sivas, moved toward the door. The others preceded me. I was the last to pass out into the corridor; and just as I did so, I heard a door open at the opposite end of the room we were just leaving. I turned to glance back; and there, in the doorway across the room, stood Dejah Thoris.

She came toward me with arms outstretched as I ran to meet her.

She was breathing very hard and trembling as I took her in my arms. “Oh, my prince,” she cried, “I thought I should not be in time. I heard all that was said in this room, but I was bound and gagged and could not warn you that Gar Nal was deceiving you. It was only just this instant that I succeeded in freeing myself.”

My exclamation of surprise when I first saw her had attracted the attention of my companions, and they had all returned to the room; and as I held my princess in my arms, Ur Jan leaped past me and ran his sword through the putrid heart of Gar Nal.